This should be theseasonthat the rebuildingMinnesotaTimberwolves finally turn that corner and get back to the playoffs, something they haven't done since 2004 when they reached the Western Conference Finals with future Hall-of Famer Kevin Garnett leading the way. Now with All-Star and Olympic gold medalist Kevin Love as the team's leader,Minnesotais almost expected to make the post-season.
Love is coming off his best season as a pro as he averaged a staggering 26 points and 13 rebounds a game. Love showed that not only could he bang down low but could step outside and hit the three-ball, making 103 shots from beyond the arc which is pretty amazing for a6'-10" power forward. Love lost 25 pounds during the lockout and was in the best shape of his life and hiscommitmentto fitness showed as he put up those incredible stats.
Loveobviouslycan't do it on his own and will need some help from the likes of second year players Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams in the upcoming 2012-13 campaign.
The Timberwolves were contending for a playoff spot last season with a 21-20 record before Rubio went down in March with a torn ACL and the team struggled from that moment on finishing 26-40. Rubio averaged 10 points and 8 assists at point guard before he got injured. Rubio's flair and uncannyabilityto find the open man made the Wolves a tough team to defend. Without him, they struggled mightily so the Wolves need him back healthy to contend this season.
Out of the NBA last season because of a bad knee, the Wolves signed former All-Star guard Brandon Roy almost as an insurance policy in case Rubio is not ready to go. Roy retired prior to the 11-12 season citing his injury but underwent an alternative kneeprocedureand claims he is good to go. Roy was the Rookie of the Year in 2007 and was an All-Star from 08-10 and has career averages of 19 points and 5 assists. Roy can play both guard positions and if he can stay healthy he could really be a key contributor for the already guard heavy Wolves.
Luke Ridnour and Jose Juan Barea return in the back court for the Wolves and it will be interesting to see how coach Rick Adelman divvies up the minutes between these two players off the bench.
Up front the Wolves will need Williams -- the former 2 overall pick in the draft -- to step up his play for Minnesota to be a factor in the western conference. Williams averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds in his rookie season. That's good but not great for a top 5 pickandthere's no doubt that Williams will have to improve. He likely will start the season coming off the bench behind free agent pickup Andrei Kirilenko.
The 6'-9" Kirilenko signed a to a two-year 20 million deal this summer. Kirilenko played overseas last year but hasaveraged12 points and 5 rebounds in his 10 year NBA career. Kirilenko will also provide defense down low with his ability to block shots and can also guard players on the wing.
Forward Nikola Pekovic is back after emerging as a legitimate NBA player, scoring 13 points and 7 rebounds a game last season.Minnesota also traded the 18th pick in the NBA Draft to get veteran Chase Budinger. The high-flying small forward averaged 10 points and 4 rebounds off the bench for the Rockets last season.
Michael Beasley, Wayne Ellington and Darko Milicic are notable players gone from last year's team but Love is still there and that's the key ingredient.
Love will lead the way but he's going to need some serious help if the Wolves will get back to the playoffs.