MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Training camp had a much different feel for the Minnesota Timberwolves this year as they headed to Minnesota State University in Mankato for six straight days of workouts and practice.
The Timberwolves enter the 2014-15 season much younger than they were a year ago, and far more athletic. A year of trade speculation surrounding Kevin Love ended late in the summer as the star power forward was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Wiggins — this year’s No. 1 overall draft pick — Anthony Bennett and another draft pick. That was used to go get Thaddeus Young from the Philadelphia 76ers.
With Love last year, the Timberwolves went 40-42. While he filled stat sheets to the tune of about 26 points and 12 rebounds per game last year, between getting upset with teammates and calling out the organization, he wasn’t much of a leader. In Love’s six seasons with the Timberwolves, Minnesota never made the playoffs. Minnesota has moved on without him, and a nucleus of new, young talent should make it and entertaining squad this year.
Success probably won’t be immediate with this year’s team, but the potential should be there with such a young and athletic squad. Here’s five reasons the Timberwolves will be a fun team to watch this year, even if their record isn’t that great or they miss the playoffs.
Trading Kevin Love, Improving Team Attitude On And Off Court
It sounds odd to say, but in the long run the Timberwolves will probably be better off without Kevin Love. He would’ve been a free agent after this season, so trading him and getting something in return was the best option available and really the only option for management. They got a potentially budding superstar and two very capable other players in return. The mood among returning players at the team’s media day was more relaxed, and the players seem to be excited about the year ahead. There’s no doubt that Love’s frustration with the organization led to some tension in the locker room. The Timberwolves haven’t been to the playoffs in 10 years, something that several players want to change sooner rather than later. It starts with getting good players who actually want to be in the organization, and having them meet or exceed expectations.
Start of the Andrew Wiggins Era
The day LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland was the day the trade speculation heated up for both Andrew Wiggins and Kevin Love. James wanted Love, but the Cavaliers couldn’t get him without giving up Wiggins. This year’s No. 1 overall draft pick was a star at Kansas for one year and is ready for the professional game. Wiggins’ athleticism and skill on the court make him look older than he really is. He’s already a favorite among fans as hundreds turned out for his introduction at the Minnesota State Fair. He’s got size, can shoot and score from pretty much anywhere on the floor but might be known best for his defense. That, combined with a likeable personality has the Timberwolves organization buzzing about his potential.
New Additions in Zach LaVine, Thaddeus Young
Wiggins isn’t the only new player the Timberwolves are excited about as they get ready to start the season. With the No. 13 pick in the NBA Draft, they took UCLA guard Zach LaVine. He’s tall by NBA standards for a guard (6′ 5″) but brings a ton of athleticism to the position, which was put on display during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. He’ll back up Ricky Rubio but should see a lot of time in his rookie season. As part of the trade for Love, the Timberwolves also acquired Thaddeus Young from Philadelphia. He’ll replace Love at power forward, but he was quick to shoot down expectations of putting up Love-type numbers. He’s another extremely athletic player at the rim that should give Minnesota a boost on both ends of the court. Anthony Bennett, also involved in the Love trade, gives the Timberwolves another young player with plenty of athleticism.
Flip Saunders Back on the Bench
After running the player personnel decisions from the front office last year, Flip Saunders put himself in a different and perhaps more comfortable spot for this season: The bench. Saunders is replacing Rick Adelman, who retired after last season, as head coach. While Saunders remains the director of basketball operations, many of those duties will go to General Manager Milt Newton while Saunders runs the sidelines. Saunders will bring a new energy to the court and emphasize player development, which is what got him to be the most successful coach in franchise history during his first stint. Plus, that’s where he wants to be and now, he’s running the team with his son as an assistant.
Ricky Rubio’s Chemistry with new Talent
The Timberwolves could be a playoff team this season if they can get the returning veterans to mesh quickly with the rookies and new players. That starts with Ricky Rubio, who could become a restricted free agent after this season. He wants a maximum contract, but has yet to prove that he can be the one player a team can build around. The team hired a full-time shooting coach to work exclusively with Rubio, who has been inconsistent at his best from the perimeter. What makes him an exciting player to watch, though, is when he’s on the court with the likes of Young, Wiggins and even LaVine. Rubio should have a fun time distributing the ball to all the new athletes, but it’ll come down to his shooting, defense and playing in crunch time to determine if the Timberwolves can be a postseason team.
The reality is it would be a pretty big surprise if the Timberwolves were a playoff team this season. They’re young and they’ll make mistakes, but they should be a competitive that’s at least fun to watch on a nightly basis. Confidence is a funny thing, so if they can get off to a good start wand win early it could be a fun product to watch as we hunker down for the harsh, cold winter in Minnesota.