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2009-10 Minnesota Timberwolves Preview

2009-10 Minnesota Timberwolves Preview

By John McMullen, NBA Editor

(Sports Network) - The Kevin McHale era in Minnesota is over.

New basketball chief David Kahn is now running things in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and hopes to build on a nucleus that includes one of the top power forwards in the game, Al Jefferson, and the emerging Kevin Love.

Kahn remade the roster and brought in former Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis after an extensive head coaching search, hoping the former overachieving forward can bring some of the Laker magic back to Minneapolis.

However, Kahn's first big move was drafting Spanish star Ricky Rubio despite rumors that the young point guard wanted no part of the Twin Cities. To his credit Kahn seemingly convinced Rubio to give Minneapolis a try and made every attempt at prying the youngster away from his Spanish team, DKV Joventut. In fact, Kahn at one point in the offseason was convinced he landed Rubio until the 19-year-old opted to stay in Spain.

Whether it was the impending Twin Cities winter, a desire to remain in his homeland or a last minute ploy to force a deal to a more desirable location (New York, anyone?), Rubio waffled with the skill of a seasoned politician.

"While the term sheet was being finalized, Ricky informed me that, despite considering us his first option the previous weekend - and, admittedly, after some back-and-forth throughout the summer - he preferred to stay at home to play for FC Barcelona, which earlier this summer had made a buyout offer to Joventut," Kahn said when news leaked of Rubio's desire to stay overseas.

For what it's worth, Kahn took the high road despite being left at the altar.

"The NBA is the best basketball league in the world, by far," Kahn said. "As an 18-year-old man, Ricky would have been challenged on a nightly basis to a degree he has never experienced. In order for Ricky to meet this challenge fully, I believe it is important that his family and other people important to him were comfortable with the move to the NBA and fully supportive.

"I also agreed with Ricky's position that two more years of competition in Spain and the Euroleague will only aid his development and that he will be much more ready for the NBA when he joins us."

So, Kahn is left to deal with a disgruntled and dwindling fan base. The Wolves are in a rebuilding mode after a disastrous 24-58 season.

"On the night of the draft, I explained that the decision to draft Ricky was not difficult - that he was 18, the youngest player in the draft, and we were a building team that could wait for him," Kahn said. "Nothing has changed. When we received signals from Ricky this summer that he was considering accelerating his path to the NBA and joining us sooner, we threw ourselves into this process willingly and energetically, including meeting with Joventut on four separate occasions.

"I explained to Ricky, I would now focus all my attention on the coming season for the Timberwolves and our current roster. We have begun the process to build a championship-contending team and this coming season will be an exciting one. I wished Ricky well and told him that, while I could not predict the future, I expected to see him in Minnesota soon."

Not soon enough...

Like many 18-year-olds, Rubio is struggling to find his place. The teenager clearly has no idea what he wants for himself and his desires likely change on a daily basis

Anyone predicting where Rubio will end up two years from now is just throwing a fastball at the dartboard, but I have a sneaking suspicion he will never call the Twin Cities home.

At this point, I'm not sure what Rubio's top skill is, his vaunted passing ability or his impressive capacity to change his mind like a tween girl wavering between which Jonas brother she likes the most. Either way, its the Wolves' fans that suffer.

McHale also stumbled on recent draft days, taking studs like Brandon Roy and O.J. Mayo and then dealing them. Coming into this year's draft, Kahn has three first round picks at his disposal and needed a natural point guard along with some more frontcourt help for Jefferson, who is coming off an ACL injury.

He was able to take a pair of contributors for the backcourt in Jonny Flynn and Wayne Ellington, while also inking free agent point Ramon Sessions after Rubio made his decision.

2008-09 Results: 24-58, fourth in Northwest. Missed playoffs

ADDITIONS: G Jonny Flynn, G Wayne Ellington, C Ryan Hollins, G/F Sasha Pavlovic, G Ramon Sessions, C Oleksiy Pecherov, G Chucky Atkins, G/F Antonio Daniels, F Damien Wilkins, F/C Nathan Jawai

SUBTRACTIONS: C Jason Collins, G Kevin Ollie, F Shelden Williams, G Bobby Brown, G Mike Miller, G Randy Foye, F Mark Madsen, G Sebastian Telfair, F Craig Smith


PG- Ramon Sessions SG- Corey Brewer SF- Ryan Gomes PF- Kevin Love C- Al Jefferson

KEY RESERVES: G Wayne Ellington, C Ryan Hollins, G/F Sasha Pavlovic, F/C Nathan Jawai

FRONTCOURT: Jefferson and Love should prove to be quite the combination at the four and five spots and are both daily double-double threats. They should be interchangeable depending on the night's matchup. Both like to bang and bring great low post skills to the dance but the combination will have to wait since Love went down with a fractured left hand in the preseason.

Love led all NBA rookies with 29 double-double games and has a terrific basketball IQ. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound UCLA product averaged 11.1 points and 9.1 rebounds in 81 games (37 starts) last year. He also set a club rookie mark last season with 734 rebounds but fractured the fifth metacarpal in his left hand during a preseason game with the Chicago Bulls.

"I was on the right block, there was a missed free throw, I went to go grab it and I hit Pech's [Oleksiy Pecherov] elbow with my left hand pretty hard and it ended up being broken. I was in such a good rhythm," Love said. "Hopefully I'll be able to come back by the end of November or early December. Fortunately it's my non-shooting hand."

Love underwent surgery at New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery on Oct. 20 and will be sidelined anywhere from six to eight weeks.

"Kevin will have all the resources necessary here to help with his recuperation, and ideally he'll be back on the court closer to six weeks than eight weeks," said Kahn. "Having said that, the most important thing is that his hand fully heals before he plays."

Jefferson reported to camp in Mankato, Minn., 31 pounds lighter than last year when torn knee ligament cost him the final two months of the season. When healthy he's one of the more underrated players in all of basketball.

The Wolves don't have a lot of depth behind Love or Jefferson and it's conceivable starting small forward Ryan Gomes could slide over in Love's absence. Gomes is a solid player that gives Rambis a little bit on both ends of the floor.

"I worked on my ball handling, outside shooting and lateral quickness because I knew with the alterations we made to the roster in the off-season, I would be playing a lot more three this year," Gomes said.

The Wolves send a second-round pick to Dallas for 6-foot-10 forward Nathan Jawai after the Love injury but Jawai is just a stop-gap.

BACKCOURT: Corey Brewer will likely get another shot at nailing down the two guard position. At 6-foot-9 but slight, Brewer needs to develop a tougher personality to excel in the NBA.

Sessions had a breakout year in Milwaukee last season and has some offensive skills but isn't the steadiest point guard around. He's clearly holding sown the fort for either Flynn or Rubio.

BENCH: Flynn, a former Syracuse star, is lighting fast with quite an upside. He needs to develop a more consistent jumper to compliment his driving ability and prove he can handle the rigors of NBA defense.

A solid defender and shooter, former Cav Sasha Pavlovic should see plenty of minutes on the wing.

Ellington was a great college player at North Carolina but strikes me as more of a 20-minute guy in the pros that can do a lot of things. Unfortunately, Minnesota doesn't have a ton of options so Ellington should get major minutes early on.

Veteran big Ryan Hollins offers size and the ability to bang in the paint.

COACHING: Rambis briefly coached the Lakers during the 1999 lockout season following the firing of Del Harris. He achieved moderate success, registering a 24-13 record in the regular season before being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference semifinals.

It remains to be seen what kind of coach Rambis will be in a rebuilding situation. He certainly doesn't have the personnel to implement the triangle offense but he does have a winning pedigree as both a player and assistant and that can be underrated.

STEVE SCHWARZ'S FANTASY FOCUS: Jefferson (23.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg) has been a major force since coming over to Minnesota and second-year player Love should continue to develop into a solid contributor and a double-double guy at center. Sessions (12.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 5.7 apg) had a good year in Milwaukee, but might have to share too much court time with Syracuse rookie Flynn

OUTLOOK: The Timberwolves are clearly making strides but have little chance to contend in the ultra-tough Western Conference.

"I can't speak on nobody else, but we get paid to do a job," Jefferson told "Every night when we step out on that court, we get paid to do it to the max. Actually, I can speak for everybody else because I'm supposed to be one of the leaders on this team, so every time we step on that floor we're going to play to win."

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