Minnesota is not in the playoffs.
This should not come as news for those who have seen the team play since around 2005. It's been an awfully long time since the team rose above the level of "decidedly mediocre," and so for another off-season, fans have nothing to discuss except for how the team might be less embarassing next year.
Here, we examine the Timberwolves' off-season needs - from the obvious, to the bizarre.
1. Find someone to occupy either end of the lineup.
I've put together a little chart, detailing the Wolves' contract situation for the next few years.
|2010||Telfair||Foye | Miller||Miller | Brewer | Gomes | Love | Smith||Jefferson | Love | Smith||Jefferson|
|2011||Telfair||Foye||Brewer | Gomes | Love||Jefferson | Love||Jefferson|
|2012||Brewer | Gomes | Love||Jefferson | Love||Jefferson|
|2013||Love||Jefferson | Love||Jefferson|
Obviously, this doesn't include various contract options (Sebastian Telfair has a player option in 2011, the team has options on Love and Brewer coming up, and the last year of Foye, Brewer, and Love's contracts are all qualifying offers); it also doesn't include Brian Cardinal or Mark Madsen, who both specialize mostly in earning tremendous amounts of money.
As you can see, Minnesota has plenty of guys in the middle of the lineup, but the "ends" are extremely thin. We've all seen what happens when Al Jefferson plays center: Al scores 30 points, but the Wolves still get outscored in the paint. Also, if Jefferson is at center, either Kevin Love or Craig Smith has to play power forward, and neither is adept defensively down low.
On the other end, regardless of whether you're a Bassy Believer or not, the Wolves need another point guard. If Telfair's going to start, then the team needs a backup. (Bobby Brown does have a player option for next year, but we'll believe it when we see it.). If Telfair's not going to be the guy, then the team has a gaping hole at the point.
2. Lobby the NBA to allow a special 'tweener exemption, allowing the Wolves to play five small forwards in addition to their regular lineup.
Seriously, look at that glut in the middle of the rotation, and remember this: if Mike Miller isn't going to shoot, he's kind of useless as an off guard (especially defensively.) Corey Brewer can play defense but can't score, so he's iffy as an off guard as well. Love and Smith are both a little small to be playing with the bigs, and Gomes is a step slow to be defending anybody out top. Really, Minnesota could play an entire lineup of small forwards; if they could throw all five on the floor, plus three other players, they'd be unstoppable!
3. Find a coach that doesn't look like he'd rather be anywhere else.
3a. If that's not possible, find somebody to help Kevin McHale on game day.
McHale seems to really enjoy the teaching aspect of the game. As far back as the mid-90s, he was excited to work with a young Kevin Garnett, and he repeatedly said this year how much he enjoyed working with guys in practice. He treats his players like responsible adults, rather than as "action figures," and would much rather spend his time working with Big Al on footwork than trying to get his rotation set.
This is a valuable skill, but an NBA head coach needs to be more than a tutor. McHale doesn't enjoy trying to mange a game, and it shows on his face on the sidelines; he always looks like a kid stuck in parochial school on a warm spring day, fidgeting with his tie and looking haunted by outdoor opportunities lost.
Either the Wolves need a new coach that can take care of both - or they need someone to help McHale.
4. "Are you there, God? It's us, Timberwolves fans."
Minnesota has never once, in 11 tries, won the lottery and moved up in the draft. A top-two pick in 2009 would help the Wolves an awful lot.
5. Whoever the new general manager is, let's hope he's better at player evaluation and drafting than the old regime.
The Wolves have five draft picks this year, three of them in the first round. Last year, the Wolves' three picks ended up turning into exactly one player (plus two of the picks this year, and a European project that will never see the light of day.) Minnesota needs to make the most of its opportunity in this year's draft.
CONCLUSION: Timberwolves fans are screwed.
Until I sketched this all out, I hadn't realized how far Minnesota was from respectability. A review of the team's off-season to-do list shows they need a GM, a coach, some new players, and a complete reversal of the franchise's entire draft history.
(CHORUS: "Oh, is that all?")
The Wolves are no better off than an expansion franchise, albeit with a few very good assets under contract. Starting with this off-season, they have an extremely long road ahead - and they need to get on the right track.