MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — No more mulligans for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Team president David Kahn and coach Kurt Rambis billed their first season in Minnesota as one of experiment and discovery and now say they are ready to proceed with the rebuilding project that has been sorely needed.
Owner Glen Taylor was willing to sit through that miserable year and watch his Timberwolves tie a franchise low with 15 wins. But Taylor has made it clear that he needs to see progress now.
“I call it holding people accountable,” Taylor said. “Now you can say that we’ve brought in a number of players that the coaches have asked for. So I think you can hold them accountable and say we want to see the results.”
Ever since he took the reins in the summer of 2009, Kahn has feverishly worked to reshape an organization that has not made the playoffs since 2004. Only five players were brought back this season, and both the president and coach say they have assembled a deeper, more athletic, better shooting team that they expect will make a considerable step up from last year’s team.
“Very pleased,” Rambis said this week. “I feel we’re a lot further along at both ends of the court at this point in time this year as opposed to last year.”
They better be.
From start to finish, last year’s demoralizing season continued to push fans even further away from the franchise, shoving the Timberwolves to the bottom of the Twin Cities sporting landscape. Target Center was half-empty on most nights last season and the team was hardly able to give tickets away.
To that end, Taylor signed off on an aggressive price cut for season tickets. The Timberwolves slashed many seats by as much as 50 percent, with some in the lower bowl at Target Center as low as $10 per game.
Those who have taken advantage of the more affordable tickets will see an entirely different team this season. The Wolves traded Al Jefferson — the main building block who came from Boston in the Kevin Garnett trade — to Utah this summer to clear more cap space, essentially putting a bow on the Garnett era in Minnesota.
“I would’ve preferred that when we traded Kevin Garnett we were able to get the base of the guys and stay with them,” Taylor said. “We went through, I got to know them. We certainly brought in some very nice people we thought we could build around. It just didn’t work.”
The Timberwolves brought in the talented but troubled Michael Beasley from Miami, underperforming former lottery pick Martell Webster from Portland and Serbian big man Nikola Pekovic from Europe. They drafted sweet-shooting Wesley Johnson fourth overall, signed veteran point guard Luke Ridnour and re-signed Darko Milicic to a $16 million, four-year deal.
They will start the year with the youngest team in the league, one that is still looking for a go-to star player. But they think the foundation is finally in place to start building again.
“We see this as a team that’s going to be together for years,” Rambis said. “This is just the first step of many years of progress.”
Playing a more up-tempo style and shooting the 3-pointer much more proficiently, the Timberwolves won five of their first seven games in the preseason. Kevin Love, who spent the summer playing with Team USA in the world championship, appears to be poised for a breakout season, and the young team is showing signs of bonding that weren’t there in previous seasons.
“We’re loose,” Love said after a preseason game. “It’s almost like the Boston Red Sox when they had the idiots. You remember those guys? That’s kind of how we are.”
Beasley was standing at a nearby locker and playfully interrupted. “You callin’ me an idiot?”
Love: “A little bit.”
That sense of humor may come in handy. The Wolves open against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday and then host the Bucks on Oct. 29. Then they go on the road for 18 of the next 27 games, including trips to Miami, the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City, Dallas and San Antonio in a daunting start.
“As of now, we’re still the regular old Timberwolves,” Beasley said. “But we’re coming out. We’re going to be ready to play every night. Every night.”
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