Thoughts after watching Wolves for the first time

I watched a pretty good chunk of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ game against the Los Angeles Clippers late Monday night in LA.

The Clippers won, collecting their first victory of the season.It was a pretty forgettable effort by the T-Pups.

Jonny Flynn showed some flashes of brilliance, mixed with the occasional rookie mistakes. I liked what I saw from him. He looked like someone that could serve as a building block for this team.

The Wolves still really need a defensive-minded big man to pair with Al Jefferson. For all of Jefferson’s offensive moves, he still lacks on the defensive end. That’s why I thought getting Hasheem Thabeet in this year’s NBA draft made sense, though he didn’t fall to them.

Speaking of the team’s defense, well … it’s awful. This is an incredibly slow-footed team. Flynn and Corey Brewer have quickness, but overall the team lacks both post and perimeter defense. It’s hard to imagine the Wolves will hold many teams below 100 points this season.

The post defense in particular looks like its headed for a long season. Jefferson, Oleksiy Pecherov and Nathan Jawai just aren’t going to get the job done against even run-of-the-mill NBA centers.

Jawai – known as "Aussie Shaq" according to his Wikipedia page – did slam home an offensive rebound on Monday, which sent me into a frenzy. He’s quite the project. Hard to believe he’ll ever be a productive NBA player, yet it’s hard not to find a guy who’s been dubbed "Aussie Shaq" or "Outback Shaq" as fascinating. Jawai reportedly hates the nickname.

My guess is this team will be hard-pressed to win 20 games. I’m thinking an 18-64 mark is what the Wolves will end up with. I realize that’s an incredibly low total – Sacramento was the only team last year to finish with fewer than 18 wins – but that’s how I feel.

Things will improve with Kevin Love, but the great qualities that Love provides don’t make up the deficiencies of this squad. It’s kind a square peg in round hole situation. Love’s a great player, but this team lacks big-time scoring and post defense. Love’s a great rebounder, but not the kind of defender the Wolves need.

This season just doesn’t matter much to the Wolves franchise. Sure, it matters to Flynn and Jefferson as far as their development. But right now GM David Kahn is simply trying to accumulate franchise-changing pieces. I believe Jefferson, Love and Flynn can all be integral members to a team’s future. And with plenty of salary cap space next offseason, more can be added.

The future looks brighter. The path to it, though, will be full of rough patches.

Wolves remain active with moves this week

When the Minnesota Timberwolves introduced newly signed guard Ramon Sessions earlier this week, general manager David Kahn hinted that the team would likely make one more move this week.

According to a Yahoo Sports report, that move was signing former Cleveland Cavaliers forward Sasha Pavlovic to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

The Wolves – aside from the signing of Sessions to a four-year deal – have seemingly done everything they can this offseason to clear money off the books for the 2010 offseason, when pending free agents LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Tracy McGrady and Dwyane Wade will be available.

When Kahn said this was a team that could afford to wait a year or two for Ricky Rubio, this is what he was talking about.

It’s going to be tough to evaluate Kahn in the short term, especially since the Wolves are clearly fielding a team poised to be good in two years, not this upcoming season.

But so far, I like what he’s done, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. This was a team in need of a major overhaul. And considering the attachment among former GM Kevin McHale and last year’s players, there’s no reason to think this would be happening without Kahn.

I reluctantly post this

I said in a recent post that I wasn’t going to get wrapped up in this Ricky Rubio stuff. But from the looks of an ESPN story, it’s a done deal.

Unless, of course, Rubio has out-Favre’d Favre.

According to the ESPN report, with information from a Minnesota Timberwolves release, the Spanish point guard the Wolves drafted with one of their lottery picks this offseason is not coming to the NBA until at least 2011.

Rubio will play in Spain for the next couple of years.

As I read this story, I kept thinking of Brett Favre and how, about a month prior to him announcing his comeback, there was the announcement where he said he wasn’t returning to the NFL. I guess Minnesotans are now just conditioned to feel that way after the Favre roller coaster.

I can’t help but be skeptical of this Rubio announcement, yet when both the team’s president and Rubio himself are quoted in a statement, it sure seems like a done deal.

What does this mean for the Wolves? Well, with or without Rubio, they aren’t expected to be a playoff team. Wolves president David Kahn knows it, and has said as much. You don’t get that too often from an executive.

Whether or not Kahn is a good executive remains to be seen, but in a world full of sports cliches, it is kind of refreshing to hear him speak with such candor when he says the Wolves are the one team that can afford to wait for Rubio.

At the very least, Rubio would have generated some excitement had he played for the Wolves this year. And in many ways, he already has. The fact that fans in the Upper Midwest are even talking about the Timberwolves during the summer months is good for the Wolves, even if the very player we were all talking about isn’t going to be here.

Ricky Rubio: The new Brett Favre

The Star Tribune’s Jerry Zgoda has on his blog today that Spanish media reports say that Minnesota Timberwolves first-round draft pick Ricky Rubio is ready to sign a six-year deal to remain in Spain, with the deal having a two-year opt-out to join the NBA in 2011.

We’ve heard it all with Rubio, and I think I am reaching the point where I will stop acknowledging these reports on the blog, much like I did with Brett Favre. Too exhausting. Hey, I’m a busy guy. No really, I am.

Until I see Rubio sporting a team’s uniform, I’m not going to pay much attention to these reports anymore.

I think Rubio will end up with the Wolves one way or another this season, but time will tell.

Rubio news pops up with Shooter’s touch

Charley "Shooter" Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press mentioned in one of his online columns recently that Ricky Rubio is trying to make endorsement deals in the Twin Cities to help pay for his buyout with the Spanish club he plays for.

Things have apparently gotten pretty icy between Rubio and DKV Joventut, so if Walters is correct, Rubio must be at least interested in going to the NBA right now.

It was mentioned tonight in the office how much the Wolves’ lack of a head coach might be discouraging Rubio from bringing his shaggy hair and precocious* demeanor overseas to play in Minnesota.

* I feel like I have to point out that every – and I mean EVERY – Rubio story that passes on the AP wire calls Rubio "precocious." Maybe he has those tendencies. Maybe they’re impossible to ignore. But really? Every time? Same with Joey Logano. Just a couple of precocious athletes.

That leaves me wondering if Rubio has any influence – probably indirectly – on who that coach is going to be. The Wolves front office can talk the big game, but considering that there were plenty of good seats available at Target Center last year, I’m sure they’d like to have someone on the roster who can put some meat in the seats.

I imagine things will start falling into place once the head coaching vacancy is filled. But it’s nearing mid-August, and I am shocked that hasn’t happened yet.

 

Wolves appear to be leaning toward Rambis

Nothing is official as of yet, but the Los Angeles Times reports that it looks like the Minnesota Timberwolves are preparing to offer Kurt Rambis their head coaching position.

Rambis – a Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach known for sporting goofy glasses during his playing career – reportedly rejected a two-year deal from Sacramento in previous negotiations. It looks like Rambis wants at least three years for any head coaching job, which I think is reasonable.

Let’s face it: Nobody should be expected to turn this ship around in one or two years. This is very much a rebuilding team, and new team president David Kahn says as much.

The Wolves do have some young pieces in forwards Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, and maybe things will work out with Ricky Rubio. But there are a ton of question marks, and as is the case in the NBA, teams need to build slowly, taking steps each season before reaching the point where a championship is within reach.

Rambis got a lot of credit for his defensive expertise as the Lakers contained the Orlando Magic’s offense during the NBA Finals.

Recap of the last week

I’ve been kind of lazy with the blog lately – I guess the dog days of August are officially here – so here’s a look at the last week.

Twins acquire Orlando Cabrera
The Minnesota Twins didn’t make a big splash prior to Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline, but they did trade for shortstop Oakland Cabrera, sending the Oakland A’s former second-round pick Tyler Ladendorf.

As I stated before, I would have preferred Marco Scutaro, but I’m sure the Toronto Blue Jays were a little more reluctant to have a fire sale without trading Roy Halladay away (though they did deal Scott Rolen to Cincy, which I thought was odd).

Still, it’s a solid move for the Twins, trading a Single-A prospect away for a solid veteran shortstop. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan all expressed frustration in the previous weeks about a lack of activity from the front office, so at least the Twins did something.

However, as we’ve seen in the last few days, this struggling pitching staff was neglected again.

Other baseball teams re-load
In addition to the Twins, I really liked the moves that the Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies made.

I had a feeling prior to Friday’s trade deadline that things were eerily quiet with the White Sox. It just seemed like with a veteran team that they would do something, and sure enough, the Sox acquire starting pitcher Jake Peavy from San Diego.

Peavy will be out until September in all likelihood. But what an addition for the stretch run – and for coming seasons – if he returns.

The Phillies got Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee from Cleveland to bolster their pitching staff for four minor leaguers.

This move must make the Phillies favorites to win the World Series again. And, in my opinion, this was a better move than the rumored trades for Halladay because they didn’t give up anyone who was on their big league roster.

Michael Vick to be back soon
The NFL reinstated former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who spent two years in prison for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring.

I’m interested to see who takes a chance on Vick. He’d be better suited going to a team with an already established option at quarterback, but I doubt that will happen.

Timberwolves yet to hire a coach
It’s now August, and the Minnesota Timberwolves remain without a head coach.

Seems like it’s a little late in the game to be still looking for a coach, but I’m sure the front office is still sorting through the Ricky Rubio situation.

Wolves get Richardson … and so much more

I’ve been away for the last few days at my high school reunion. It’s an odd feeling to see a group of people that you haven’t seen for 10 years, many of which you probably won’t see again for another 10 years. You don’t really get that anywhere else in life.

Anyway, much has happened while I was away, including some breaking news today.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, according to Yahoo Sports, have acquired guard/forward Quentin Richardson from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for guard Sebastian Telfair and forwards Craig Smith and Mark Madsen.

I like this trade – don’t love it, but like it – for a number of reasons:

  • Salary cap space. Only in the NBA are expiring bad contracts so valuable. Richardson recently exercised his nearly $10 million player option for this season, but he will be a free agent prior to the 2010-11 season. The Wolves could be players in free agency next offseason.
  • Shooting guard depth. Other than first-round pick Wayne Ellington, the Wolves have no other shooting guards on their roster. Richardson’s not a game-changing player, but he is 29 years old and has experience. Hopefully, he understands this is a rebuilding team and doesn’t feel the need to take a tremendous amount of shots. The Wolves can’t lose sight of developing their younger players. 
  • What was given up? Telfair? Madsen? Hardly two players the Wolves will miss. And while I like Smith, he’s of little value to a team that has Kevin Love and Al Jefferson already at power forward.

In short, the Wolves didn’t exactly turn lemons into lemonade by getting Richardson. But I doubt many fans will sour on the move.

And if you’re former NDSU point guard Ben Woodside, the loss of Telfair might even help your chances of making this team too.

Twins sign 2B Grudzielanek

The Minnesota Twins probably have pulled the plug on any Freddy Sanchez trade rumors by signing veteran second baseman Mark Grudzielanek to a minor league deal.

Grudzielanek hasn’t played in the big leagues since last season with Kansas City. He’s known as a solid player with over 2,000 career hits and a good glove.

Assuming the 39-year-old is still in good shape, he could help the Twins in a few weeks if Alexi Casilla can’t carry his weight at the big league level. Heck, if Casilla could HIT his weight, that would be an improvement.

Shaq pays tribute to the "King of Pop"

I was hearing on the radio on the way back to Fargo-Moorhead about this video tribute that NBA players Shaquille O’Neal and Damon Jones had made in honor of Michael Jackson.

Well, here it is. And it’s great. It’s a remake the knife fight in "Beat it." I absolutely love the slow-motion stuff in it. So funny.

I just never tire of Shaq’s act. I was a big fan of his growing up. He seems to have a pretty good sense of humor.

Woodside makes Summer League debut

Former North Dakota State guard Ben Woodside saw his first NBA Summer League action today (Monday).

Woodside – who did not play in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Summer League opener – scored one point in the team’s second game.

He played a little more than eight minutes, going 0-for-1 from the field and 1-for-2 from the free-throw line. He also had an assist.

The Wolves lost 96-91 to the NBA D-League Select Team. For you Wolves junkies, first-round pick Wayne Ellington scored 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Fellow first-rounder Jonny Flynn had 12 points and 14 assists.

Rubio saga gains steam, even when nothing is said

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been getting quite a bit of attention from national media outlets, and not necessarily for anything good.

Reports out of the Twin Cities had Ricky Rubio meeting with Wolves officials last weekend, yet neither side refuses to acknowledge it, and no one is quite sure whether or not there actually was a meeting. At least as far as I can tell.

It’s looking more and more like Rubio is never going to play for the Wolves. He will either return to Spain and remain overseas or, in a more likely scenario, be traded to the NBA team of his choice.

It’s a shame. I think it’s a shame that a guy like Rubio – who is 18 and has no NBA experience – can have this type of leverage. A kid his age should just be glad to have the opportunity to play in the NBA. It’s a naive stance on my part, but still. It reminds me of Steve Francis when he was drafted by Vancouver a decade ago. I wasn’t happy about it then, and I’m not happy about it now. Play out the three years of your rookie contract and move on if you don’t like it.

It’s also a shame from the Wolves standpoint. If he’s really that unhappy playing in Minnesota, how did the Wolves not know about it? Or did they know about it and just figured they would take him anyway after being unable to work out a pre-draft trade? I don’t know. It all seems very peculiar, though I assume the latter is true. It’s the only explanation for taking back-to-back point guards at 5 and 6 (though the fact that the draft had NOTHING but point guards could be another reason).

Rubio is among the many athletes nowadays using Twitter to keep fans in touch with their lives. But – no big surprise – Rubio hasn’t updated his status since the day of the draft, when he wrote:

"Ser el #5 del draft es increíble. ¡Estoy muy contento! Be the 5th pick in the NBA draft is incredible. ¡I’m very happy!"

He’s had little trouble containing his excitement while avoiding the public eye during the last five days.

I hope the Wolves can work things out with Rubio. He might be a bust. Who knows? But man, that guy’s highlight reel was something. At the very least, maybe he could put some meat in the seats at the Target Center this season.

UPDATE
Rubio has reportedly filed a lawsuit against his team in Spain, hoping to help diminish some of his buyout. This is a positive sign, yet it’s hard to ignore the fact that Rubio has yet to make any sort of a public appearance with the Wolves since the draft.