The NBA’s summer checklist is nearly complete. First, the Finals were over before it truly started, and LeBron James finally hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in his life. Second, the New Orleans Hornets drafted Anthony Davis and his trademarked unibrow as the first tandem in league history to be selected first overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Thirdly, free agency is nearly complete, but the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets have already been labeled the biggest winners. The last major task that needed to be completed was the release of the NBA schedule and it is done.
Last Thursday night, the 2012 NBA schedule was released to the general public, and for the Minnesota Timberwolves it may be the most important season in recent memory. Head coach Rick Adelman and the Minnesota Timberwolves will begin their regular season against the Sacramento Kings at the Target Center on Friday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. The most visible goal for the team is to earn a playoff berth and keep All-Star Kevin Love happy.
“I think sometimes Kevin thinks that he’s the only person here who wants to make the playoffs next year. I think we all are motivated to do so. It’s just the right time,” Minnesota’s vice president of basketball operations David Kahn told the Washington Post. “Provided we stay healthy we think that next season, that’s the year where this is within our reach.”
As soon as free agency began, Kahn enacted arguably his best, and riskiest, off-season acquisition plan since he joined the Minnesota franchise. Kahn’s two biggest free agent signings, Brandon Roy and Andrei “AK-47” Kirelinko, were players that missed the entire 2011-12 NBA season for separate reasons. Roy was thought to have accepted NBA retirement because of a degenerative knee issue, however, the former All-Star guard decided he could play at least two more seasons. Kirelinko, 31, left the NBA after the 2010-11 season to play for CSKA Moscow in his home country, Russia. Minnesota signed the former Utah Jazz forward last Wednesday to a two-year, $20 million contract.
Although these two players were not thought of as top-tier free agents, they are still former All-Stars. Before returning to Russia, Kirelinko was one of the best wing defenders in the NBA. In 2010-11, AK-47 held opponents to an efficiency rating of 12.2 as opposed to the NBA average of 15.0, according to 82games.com. Roy performed well in a limited role for the Blazers when he averaged 12.2 points and shot 40 percent from the field in 27.9 minutes in 2010-11.
The acquisitions of Kirelinko and Roy pleased Minnesota management, however, their biggest target was swingman Nicolas Batum. The 23-year-old initially signed a four-year offer sheet to become a member of the Timberwolves, but Portland GM Neil Olshey did everything he could to retain his forward. Minnesota believed the Frenchman could have impacted their team the same way Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, and Gerald Wallace do for their teams. In the end, Portland matched Minnesota’s offer sheet and signed Batum to a $46.5 million deal.
“We think he can earn the contract that he signed,” Olshey said of Batum to HoopsWorld.com. “He took the offer sheet route. That was his prerogative. His agent did a great job, got him an above-market value deal probably; but Nicolas is 23 years old. He’s a building block. He’s part of the [Blazers] foundation.
By spending so much time trying to acquire Batum, Minnesota squandered opportunities to acquire free agents Courtney Lee (Boston Celtics), O.J. Mayo (Dallas Mavericks), Ronnie Brewer (New York Knicks) and Jordan Hill (Los Angeles Lakers). Fortunately, the team was able to add three other players to their bench from the free agent and trade market, Dante Cunningham, Alexey Shved, and Greg Stiemsma.
Cunningham, 25, was acquired last Tuesday from the Memphis Grizzles in exchange for guard Wayne Ellington. The 6-foot-8 forward will provide added depth to the frontcourt after the team lost Michael Beasley, Brad Miller, and Darko Milicic this off-season. Stiemsma, who will be introduced to the media on Thursday, agreed to a one-year, $3 million deal with the Timberwolves to help Minnesota’s big men guard the basket. After playing alongside Kirelinko on CSKA Moscow, Shved will begin his NBA career playing for Minnesota with a three-year, $10 million contract. Kahn told reporters that his 6-foot-5, 160-pound guard will not be called upon to be a consistent producer for the team this upcoming season.
“When he arrives we can make him stronger, but there are other skinny players in our league who’ve been successful,” Kahn said to the Washington Post. “I have very high hopes for him.”
Although Kahn and the Timberwolves acquired five key new players this month, the team also said goodbye to some familiar faces as well. Beasley, Miller, Milicic, Wesley Johnson, and Wayne Ellington will not be found on the opening night roster. Besides Miller, the other four players, two of whom were T-Wolves first round draft picks, were thought to have underachieved during their time with the team.
Minnesota’s acquisitions may not have been the splashiest, they should be able to get this young Timberwolves squad at least an eighth seed in the 2013 playoffs. Minnesota missed the playoffs last season because of late season injuries to guards Luke Ridnour and Ricky Rubio, and their wing players’ lack of scoring ability. The Timberwolves should be one of the NBA’s elite offensive teams in 2012-13 if Roy, Kirlenko, Chase Budinger, and Derrick Williams play to their potential. Hopefully, for Minnesota’s sake, July’s acquisitions will do their part to help the team play late into April 2013 and hopefully longer.
News & Notes:
- According to TwinCities.com, Minnesota owner Glen Taylor has “sort of” found an unidentified investor that is willing to eventually take over controlling interest of the franchise. The team was valued by Forbes to be worth $239 million, but Taylor has not stated an official asking price.
- Roy’s contract is reportedly worth $10.4 million over the next two seasons. The second season is unguaranteed.
- Guard Malcolm Lee will give up the No. 3 for No. 8 so his new teammate, Roy, will be able to wear No. 3. The number is significant for the new Minnesota guard because he wore it while playing for Seattle’s Garfield High School and the University of Washington.
- Stiemsma, 26, was a rookie last year for the Celtics and averaged 2.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game in 55 appearances.
- Cunningham averaged 5.2 points and set career-highs in field goal percentage (51.6) and rebounds per game (3.8).
- Williams has reportedly lost 15 pounds in order to fit better into the small forward position. In order to earn playing time at the small forward position, Williams will have to stop settling for jump shots and three pointers, be more aggressive on the boards, and pound the ball inside.
- The Timberwolves are considering re-signing forward Anthony Tolliver. Last season, the 27-year-old averaged 4.1 points and 3 rebounds, but missed 30 games due to a wrist injury.
About the Author
Written by Jourdan Shepard
New York born. New Jersey bred. Earned my degree on a Georgia clay hill. "Rooting for my rival is like wanting the house to win in blackjack...."