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Minnesota Timberwolves

The NBA’s biggest surprises, halfway through the season–Part 1

There are only three teams over .500 in the Eastern Conference. Lance Stephenson is somehow not just a rotation player, but a…great one? I still barely know who Lance Stephenson is. The casualty list of serious injury to franchise cornerstones is higher than usual: Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Russell Wesetbrook, Chris Paul, Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez and Al Horford, amongst others. Derek Fisher is still getting major minutes for one of the best teams in the league.

It’s been a weird NBA season. Very weird.

Somehow, we’re almost at the halfway mark of the year and I’ve been astounded at every turn. Just to round up how we’ve gotten to where we are, here are some thoughts on some of the biggest surprises of the year:

The Brooklyn Nets are getting better, but have generally been pretty horrible

Pretty easy to summarize: a ton of injuries + a bad coach = a bad team.

However, what’s most surprising is how none of us saw this coming. Even this prestigious blog predicted the Nets would finish third in the Eastern Conference. I would have locked that in knowing just how completely barren they are of competent teams east of the Mississippi. Most of us figured that adding the defensive monstrosity of Kevin Garnett, the late game shot making of Paul Pierce and adding pieces like Jason Terry and Andre Kirilenko to the bench would make this one of the toughest, most physical teams in the league.… Read more...

It’s All About Health: Minnesota Timberwolves Season Preview


Starting Five: PG Ricky Rubio, SG Kevin Martin, SF Corey Brewer, PF Kevin Love, C Nikola Pekovic
Key Bench Players: PG Alexey Shved, G JJ Barea, G-F Chase Budinger (eventually?), F Derrick Williams, PF Dante Cunningham
Notable offseason additions: G Shabazz Muhammad (14th pick), F-C Gorgui Deng (21st pick), G Kevin Martin, G-F Corey Brewer, G-F Chase Budinger
Notable offseason subtractions: F Andrei Kirilenko, PG Luke Ridnour
FACT OR FICTION: The Timberwolves are under real pressure to make the playoffs this year.
FACT. I’m as surprised to write this as to be honest. I fully expected to be writing that the Timberwolves were an up-and-comer that just needed 82 games of mostly healthy basketball to announce themselves in the Western Conference playoff picture. There’s lot of reasons for optimism and lots of excuses for the past. But here’s the case that went through my head:… Read more...

(Not So Instant) Trade Analysis: Kevin Martin to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Andrei Kirilenko to the Brooklyn Nets

Minnesota Timberwolves get: SG Kevin Martin (four years, $30 million), re-signed SF Chase Budinger (three years, $16 million), re-signed Corey Brewer (three years, $15 million)
Milwaukee Bucks get: PG Luke Ridnour, Minnesota second round draft pick
Oklahoma City Thunder get: The draft rights to second round PF Szymon Szewczyk. Szeriously.
Brooklyn Nets get: F Andrei Kirilenko (three years, $9 million)
In a series of transactions that slapped each other like dominoes, five major league basketball players switched squads as if a group of GMs played a round of high stakes musical chairs.
The Timberwolves were at the center here, first passing on the opportunity to re-sign Kirilenko after the Russian forward opted out of a Minnesota contract that would have paid him $10 million this year. Vastly overestimating the market of contending teams that would offer him the same money over multiple years, AK47 signed a cut rate deal with the Brooklyn Nets for three years and $9 million, with the third year being a player option. With that extra money coming off the books, the Wolves re-signed forward Chase Budinger, brought back their 2007 number 7 draft pick Corey Brewer and dumped Luke Ridnour onto the Bucks in order to sign-and-trade for Kevin Martin. For their participation in facilitating Martin’s end of the transaction, the Oklahoma City Thunder got the rights to 2009 second round draft pick and Polish sensation Szymon Szewczyk, who may never play in the NBA. Even amidst all these signings, the Timberwolves still have enough cap room to retain free agent center Nikola Pekovic and possibly still be under the luxury tax threshold (depending on how nuts they decide to go with his contract).… Read more...

Bad NBA Contract of the Week: Michael Beasley

(In the vein of the highly esteemed David Shoemaker, AKA The Masked Man’s Deadspin column entitled “Dead Wrestler of the Week”, we here at MAMBINO are going to parse our way through the worst contracts the NBA has to offer. Part dedication to the great men who have swindled their way to big checks, part commemoration to GMs that should have been fired and part commentary on the ills of a capitalist society gone wrong, we’ll be here every week with a look at the L’s worst deals)
Contract: 3 years, $18 million
Signed by:
Phoenix Suns
Salary this season: $5.7 million
2013 Slash Line: 10.1/3.8/1.5 in 75 games
Expires: 2015
If not for a torn ACL, there’d be even money this year on Derrick Rose finishing as a top-5 MVP candidate. The point guard already has the cache of being the 1st overall pick in 2008, that year’s Rookie of the Year and the 2011 MVP award to go along with three All-Star berths and one All-NBA First Team nod. He’s been the best player on two number 1 seeds in the Eastern Conference and—for a short time–arguably the best player at his position. When healthy and at the peak of his powers, Derrick Rose is one of the best six players in the NBA. There’s few who would question that.
But it wasn’t always a forgone conclusion. There was once a time where Derrick Rose wasn’t unquestionably the best. Where he would have been the second pick. And that was the debate leading up to the 2008 NBA Draft. Derrick Rose…or Michael Beasley?
The buzz that spring had been whether or not the former Memphis Tiger would be selected first over the former Kansas State Wildcat. Both finished as finalists for the John Wooden Players of the Year award, an honor that eventually went to Tyler Hansbrough of UNC. While Beasley finished as a first-team All-American, Rose had the most NCAA postseason success, taking his Tigers to the championship game only to lose to Mario Chalmers and the Kansas Jayhawks. It was obvious that Rose played a more important position in today’s NBA at point guard, but Beasley’s enticing combination of shooting and physicality drew several comparisons to Carmelo Anthony. Believe it or not, this all made for a hotly contested debate.Read more...

Waiting for Ricky — Minnesota Timberwolves Season Preview

Starting Five:  PG Luke Ridnour, SG Brandon Roy, SF Andrei Kirilenko, PF Kevin Love, C Nikola Pekovic

Key Bench Players:  PG Ricky Rubio (out until December-January), F Derrick Williams, SF Chase Budinger, G J.J. Barea, G Alexey Shved, C Greg Stiemsma, PF Louis Amundson

Notable Offseason Additions: SG Brandon Roy, SF Andrei Kirilenko, SF Chase Budinger, G Alexey Shved, C Greg Stiemsma

Offseason Losses:  SF Michael Beasley, C Brad Miller, SG Wayne Ellington, F Anthony Randolph

The Minnesota T’Wolves were one of the biggest surprises in the NBA last year.  A team most considered to be bound for the Lottery were actually a .500 team thanks largely to a new coach and the emergence of two players, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.

A 6-foot-10-inch power forward brute, Love blossomed in his fourth season as a legitimate MVP candidate, a consistent 26 point/13 rebound low-post beast who had added a lethal step-back 3 to his offensive repertoire.  Love also spent the Lockout playing beach volleyball and eating a “Zen diet,” which helped him lost 25 pounds, enabling a previously plodding forward to move around on the court with much more ease and addressing what had been one of his major weaknesses: conditioning. 

While Love’s trimmed-down physique was a revelation, the T’Wolves became must-see TV thanks to a rookie, wunderkind Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio.  Rubio had been touted since age 15 as a Spanish Pistol Pete, a tall guard with floppy hair and an absolute wizard with the ball.  Most American fans saw him for the first time in the 2008 Olympics, when, as a baby-faced 17-year old, he more than held his own in the Gold Medal Game in the 2008 Olympics. 

Drafted in 5th overall in 2009, Minnesota fans had to wait two long years as Rubio played out his contract in Spain.  Rubio’s first two games were ho-hum, but he was frontpage news by the third game of the season with his 12-point, 12-assist, 6-rebound effort against the Miami Heat in a narrow 103-101 loss.  In January, Rubio averaged 12-points, 9-assists, 5-rebounds, and over 2-steals per game, and pleasing fans across the country with the complete package of passes: no look, through the legs, line drives through the defense.  In February, Rubio’s numbers dropped slightly, to 10-points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, and over 2-steals per game, but the Wolves kept fighting and were winning as much as they were losing, with the other players embracing Rubio’s willingness to share the ball and hit the open man.  Minnesota was Must See TV for any hoop head.

On March 7th Minnesota were 21-19, in the playoff hunt and looked like a young team finding its footing and poised to have a strong finish to the season.  Then, late in 4th quarter, Rubio’s knee buckled and he went down in a heap, taking the T’Wolves playoff chances with him.  It was a torn ACL for Rubio, and he is scheduled to return sometime in December or January.  The Wolves went 5-20 the rest of the way, and to add insult to injury, owed their first-round pick (10th overall) to the New Orleans Hornets.

The T’Wolves biggest area of weakness last year was the perimeter, with Minnesota getting almost no production out of the shooting guard and small forward position.  GM David Kahn addressed that this offseason, acquiring Chase Budinger from Houston for a first-round pick, signing former Blazer Brandon Roy and former Utah Jazz swingman Andrei Kirilenko, as well as Russian guard Alexey Shved.
Former Blazer guard Brandon Roy briefly retired from the professional basketball due to a nagging knee injury, and will attempt a comeback this year.  Early report

Instant Trade Analysis: Chase Budinger to the Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves get: SF Chase Budinger

Houston Rockets get: 18th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft

In the first major pre-draft trade involving picks, the Houston Rockets have sent their sharp-shooting small forward Chase Budinger to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 18th selection.

On the surface, the main ramification of this trade is pretty clear; the Rockets and their GM Daryl Morey are stockpiling picks for a run at an All-Star caliber player. Houston now owns the 14th, 16th, and 18th picks in the draft, with other trade assets such as guards Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin and Courtney Lee, as well as big men Marcus Morris, Luis Scola, Samuel Dalembert and Patrick Patterson. Rumors are circulating that the Rockets are going to use some combination of players and picks to eventually make a big play for Dwight Howard (even without the assurance that he’d sign an extension), with Pau Gasol and Josh Smith as back-up options.

Obviously the other shoe has yet to drop, so we’re just left to spectulate for now. On the immediate impact side, Chase Budinger looks like a solid pickup for the Wolves. Minnesota is likely to lose Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph to free agency this summer, as it’s quite obvious that SG Wesley Johnson isn’t who they thought they were when they drafted the swingman out of the ‘Cuse with the number 3 pick two years ago. With GM David Kahn likely to take a shooter or small forward with the 18th pick, trading for a proven gunner like Budinger could prove a shrewd move. The former Wildcat shot a career-high 40% from the arc in 2012 and along with his 10 point per game career average and better than expected rebounding from a swingman (4 per game).

The Timberwolves, who’ve been out of the playoffs for nearly a decade (their last appearance was with the Garnett-Cassell-Sprewell crew in 2003-2004), are poised to make a run next year with the emergence of Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, JJ Barea and the aforementioned Williams. While the number 18 pick would likely bring them another young, talented and cheap player, coach Rick Adelman needs some NBA-ready bodies in there if they hope to compete in 2012-2013. Budinger is that guy.

What this also shows is that the team still might not see Derrick Williams as a small forward in the NBA. Last year’s number 2 overall pick certainly has the build and three-point acumen similar to a big 3-man, but the acquisition of a starting-caliber forward like Budinger certainly puts this into doubt.… Read more...

WWE for a NBA Fan – Northwest Division (Part 5)

OHHHHH we’re back baby. The NBA season is in full swing, and coincidentally or not, the road to Wrestlemania starts this Sunday with the Royal Rumble in St. Louis, Missouri. For those of you that are just catching on, I started writing the WWE for a NBA Fan at the very bottom of my lockout doldrums. With no basketball to keep my mind sane, I started drawing parallels between various NBA fan bases and the WWE stars I thought they would most identify with. Even as a deal was struck and real ball was played again, the WWE for a NBA Fan series has soldiered on. Presented here is part 5 of 6, the Northwest Division.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Cody Rhodes

For the Wolves and the great (and long-suffering) fans of Minnesota, I had to think of a guy who would carry the requisite features of the greatest sports stars of the state. I was trying to think of a salt of the earth type guy, someone who looks like he could grow up next door to you. Someone who would succeed with a blue-collar work ethic. Someone like a Joe Mauer, Jack Morris, Kirby Puckett, Kevin Love or Kevin Garnett. So I came up with John Cena.

But that’s obviously not who we’re going with. He’s too much of a larger than life person, too much of a transcendent pop-culture figure. I need a guy a little understated, a little more demure.

But then I realized that for Minnesota, that hasn’t touched gold since 1991 with the Twins and hasn’t seen a championship round in any sport since then, they needed a guy to follow with a certain amount of swagger contrary to what they’ve always worshiped. They need a guy who’s got a little bit of an edge to him, with a little more confidence than smarts. They need all this, but also for him to look like he could have been your buddy in high school.

Enter Cody Rhodes. Son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes, Cody looks like a normal guy (albeit, a extremely jakked normal guy…and maybe a little douchey). He’s come up through the ranks of the WWE with various tag teams and playing different characters, paying his dues at the bottom of the card. He’s had to earn his way to his spot, even though he emerged through the door his father undoubtedly opened for him. He’s improved as a wrestler every year since his introduction to the company. But even more impressive than his physical work ethic, is how he’s worked on the extracurricular features of his game. When he first came into the company, Cody was lifeless and uncharismatic. He was the skinny son of the larger than life personality (and human) Dusty Rhodes. Cody couldn’t speak, and even when he did, he had a noticeable speech impediment. However, several years later, you have to struggle to hear hints of it when he cuts weekly killer promos running down his latest opponent.

He’s moved his way up the corporate ladder the right way, the way a Timberwolves fan could identify with. But he’s also got that championship swagger that they long to feel.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Dolph Ziggler

Dolph Ziggler is the stupidest name in the WWE. The Thunder have the logo and colors of an amateur basketball squad. This comparison is already bearing fruit.

Beyond the simple facade of names and colors, these two entities have far more in common. Ziggler is one of the WWE’s shining young stars. He has limitless talent and a comparable amount of potential. In his current gimmick, Ziggler brags about being a so-called “show-off”. He claims that every single night, his match will be the one you remember most. He thinks he has the most dynamic move set, co… Read more...

The Life and Times of Timberwolves GM David Kahn

David Kahn is the General Manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves. This is Kahn’s fourth career; he began as a sportswriter for the Oregonian newspaper in Portland, then moved on with a law degree to working for the prestigious sports law firm Proskauer Rose. After several years working as counsel for the NBA, Kahn took an opportunity to work within one of its franchises as an executive with the Indiana Pacers. I’ve read conflicting reports about Kahn’s role; some say that he worked directly under President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh as General Manager, but that he was mostly involved in the business development side of the Pacers (and their arena, Conseco Fieldhouse), rather than player acquisition or movement. Whatever the case in his somewhat murky employment history, Kahn went on to gain employment under Glen Taylor and his Minnesota Timberwolves, taking over for NBA Hall of Famer and former Wolves GM Kevin McHale.

Kahn’s 3-year stint as GM has been, to say the least, somewhat rocky. Caught in a rebuilding movement amidst the trade of franchise cornerstone Kevin Garnett, Kahn was charged with molding the team’s future starting from the ground up. Some of the incumbent Timberwolves were forwards Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes (both obtained through dealing Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics), Kevin Love, 2nd year man Corey Brewer and a bunch of other guys. Other than that, the foundation was Kahn’s to create.

Over the next few seasons, his decisions bordered between questionable, confusing and idiotic. Coupled with an arrogant attitude and a face that belongs to a villain in a Die Hard movie, Kahn and the Timberwolves have quickly became the laughingstock of the entire league. Here is a brief timeline of some of our favorite GM’s more…interesting decisions.

May 2009: Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor hires Kahn as the new President of Baskebtall Operations

Draft night, 2009: In his first public night on the job, the Timberwolves’ rebuilding movement would immediately feature Kahn’s fingerprints all over it; Minnesota had been gifted 3 first round picks that year.

With the 5th pick, Kahn raised eyebrows immediately by selecting point guard Ricky Rubio, a teenage Spanish phenom who everyone knew wouldn’t be coming overseas for at least 2 years. Moments later, with the 6th pick, he selected Jonny Flynn, a 5’11” point guard from Syracuse. 12 picks later, Kahn drew audible laughs from the room and the analysts on ESPN when he chose, yes, another point guard, Ty Lawson (later that night traded to the Nuggets for what would eventually turn out to be small forward Martell Webster from the Portland Trailblazers).

Somehow, Kahn had chosen 3 point guards, two of which were under 6′ tall and one of which that wouldn’t play until 2011. Just to compound the unintentional hilarity of his first summer on the job, he then signed another point guard, Ramon Sessions, to a 4-year, $16 million dollar deal. Even though he would have the two point guards he just drafted still on the team within the life of the deal. Yes, David. Yes.

August 9th, 2009: Kahn hires Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis to a 4-year deal for $8 million. Rambis would be fired two years later, after a 32 wins in a possible 164 games, good for a .195 winning percentage.

Draft Night, 2010: Kahn selects Wesley Johnson, a 23 year-old junior small forward from Syracuse. Left on the board were Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, all of which have shown more progressio… Read more...

BQ#12 – Who is Ricky Rubio?

Trust is earned. If you plop into a cab at 3am, smelling like a person who needs a cab at 3am, then you can’t trust the cabbie to take the most direct route to your destination. If you take a leisurely stroll in a suspect neighborhood, you can’t trust the cretins to display a friendly smile. And if you weren’t born in this fantastic country, then you can’t trust hoopheads like myself to give you an objective rooting interest.

There have been too many cab drivers who show you the scenic route, there is too much crime in scary places, and there have been too many instances of Euros getting posterized.

It took a Finals tour-de-force performance from Dirk Nowitzki to earn our trust. It took a couple of deep playoff runs for Pau Gasol to earn our trust (although, he may have just 360ed us after this past year). So who is Ricky Rubio and what has he done?
Why is this a question?

Well, he commandeered the Spanish Under-16 squad to the Eurocup championship, racking up a stat line of 51 points, 24 rebounds, 12 assists, and 7 steals in the title game. In his first Euroleague season, he averaged 3.1 thefts in just 18 minutes per game. That’s all fine and good…only that it’s not. The guys he played against are probably bagging groceries, cleaning bathrooms, or even worse…they still play basketball in Europe. (The Euro game has stepped up in the last decade. But ask me if I care.)

I turned the tube on at some ungodly hour to witness the Redeem Team face Spain in the gold medal game of the 2008 Olympics. As I shed my personal grievances against some of our countrymen to root for Lady Liberty, I, along with the rest of the world, could not take my eyes off of the 18-year-old phenom who played backup point guard for the other team. The final box score will tell you that Rubio’s production was borderline non-existent, but my trained eye fired synapses to my mouth to start salivating.

The kid stood toe-to-toe with the best point guards that America had to offer in Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams. Didn’t crumble, didn’t flinch, didn’t care. Killer crossovers, Magic Johnson-esque passes, and the moxy of a grizzled vet. His performance was so full of potential that I forgave him for not being American.

Post-Olympics? Different story. In the summer of 2010, “The Future of Spanish Basketball” went retro-Euro on us, shooting 28% from the field, including 2 for 17 from distance. He did score 36 points…but reached that total after 9 games. This past season, his Euroleague team accumulated more losses after 28 games than it did during the entire season before.

In a couple weeks, Ricky Rubio will bring his mixed bag to the NBA and debut for the Minnesota Timberwolves. We can only wait to see which kid shows up.

How will this play out?

Brandon Jennings withdrew a commitment to the University of Arizona in order to better prepare himself make more money before entering the NBA Draft. His numbers were poor and his attitude was worse. But after a year, he returned stateside and has given Milwaukee Bucks fans some glimmer of hope (well, at least until he leaves for a bigger market). Granted, he hasn’t been as impressive as the other players from his draft class (Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry), but he’s proved that Euro numbers still don’t mean a thang. Ricky Rubio will erase his below-average numbers and silence his critics with an effective rookie season.

However, I, with all my glorious roundball IQ, still can’t project the success or failure of the Ricky Rubio … Read more...

If I were GM of…the Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves confound me – every time I see Jonny Flynn on the bench and Luke Ridnour’s face instead of Ricky Rubio’s or Stephen Curry’s, I have no idea why GM David Kahn still has a job. But then I see Michael Beasley dropping 20 a game and Kevin Love putting up a 30-30 (!) and the man he was traded for, OJ Mayo, being nearly traded for Josh McRoberts and a signed Larry Bird Jersey (an Indiana State throwback jersey though) and I think that maybe the man has a plan.

Sure he signed Darko Milicic to a 4-year deal (please watch this video, as Khan tries to compare Darko to Chris Webber…while doing live, on-air commentary with Chris Webber. I thought C-Webb might commit his first murder) and drafted two point guards that both basically don’t play in the league when Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, George Hill, Roddy Beaubois and Ty Lawson were still on the board. Yeah he drafted Corey Brewer over Joakim Noah and Wesley Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe. And hey, maybe he hired one of the worst coaches in the league and signed Nikola Pekovic to a 3 year deal, guaranteed. The guy might…just might have a plan.

Wait, before you never come to this blog again, I didn’t say it was a GOOD plan. I just said it was a plan. He thought that Kevin Love was a better building block than Al Jefferson (who his predecessor, Kevin McHale traded for, not Kahn) and jettisoned him (though, for 70 cents on the dollar). He knew that a guy who goes number 2 like Michael Beasley in the draft had to be worth the second round picks he was giving up for. He is praying that Rubio comes over, is better than advertised and can throw 14 lobs a game to B-Eazy and can make Darko look like Shaquille. He hopes that Wesley Johnson and Martell Webster can make more than a few corner threes. If all this happens, IF…the Wolves might be a playoff team. One day. Maybe.

Michael Beasley: 6.2 million
Martell Webster: 5.2 million
Darko: 4.77 million
Luke Ridnour: 3.68 million
Nikola Pekovic: 4.3 million
Wesley Johnson: 4 million
Kevin Love: 4.6 million
Jonny Flynn: 3.4 million
Anthony Tolliver: 2 million
Anthony Randolph: 2.9 million
Wayne Ellington: 1.15 million
Total: 42.4 million

Eddy Curry: 11.27 million
Sebastian Telfair: 2.7 million
Delonte West: 500,000

1). Save up that cap room
The Wolves are currently 15 million under the cap – conserve that room. At the end of next season, Love, Beasley and (it might be necessary) Anthony Randolph will all be eligible for extensions. I’m guessing that they will all make between 7 and 15 million annually, which will definitely munch up the rest of the cap space. I imagine that in a small market, the franchise will not want to go too far into the luxury tax, so I’d try to preserve whatever flexibility they have. I imagine that Love is an automatic extension candidate, while Beasley and Randolph have to do a little bit more this season to prove themselves worthy of that big money.

Just don’t do anything rash Mr. Kahn, like signing Travis Outlaw to a 35 million dollar deal. Like anyone would do something that stupid.

2). Draft the most talented player in the draft, no matter what the position is.
In regards to young players, the Wolves are stacked at almost every position with a young “developing” player (the definition of “developing” will change depending on the player. He might have already “developed” into being mediocre or terrible):

Point: Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn
SG: Martell, Wes Johnson
S…