Season preview: Timberwolves
The Timberwolves appear to be on track with their post-KG rebuilding plan
Newcomers Mike Miller and Kevin Love should help diversify the offense
Defense is a glaring weakness that coach Randy Wittman will have to address
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
Timberwolves at a glance
Last season: 22-60
Notable additions: Kevin Love (R), Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins (trade with Grizzlies), Rodney Carney and Calvin Booth (trade with 76ers)
Notable losses: Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric and Greg Buckner (trade with Grizzlies), Kirk Snyder (FA), Michael Doleac (FA).
Coach: Randy Wittman (34-90 in 1½ seasons with Wolves; 96-192 overall in 3½ NBA seasons).
Reasons for hope
1. Phase 1 is complete. Near the end of Kevin Garnett's final, cranky season in Minnesota (2006-07), the Wolves' marketing department unveiled a "Blueprint for the Future'' campaign. Actual work got underway last year -- mostly, the demolition and tear-down demands. This roster still was churning with the likes of Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Juwan Howard, Gerald Green, Walker and Jaric, all of them unhappy, disinterested or both. Now the dumpsters are gone and the players who will be employed in November will be guys who allegedly are part of that touted future. There actually are some expectations for how this club performs on the court, refreshing for a team that spent most of the past three springs angling for extra Ping-Pong balls.
2. Randy Foye is healthy. The numbers don't lie. Without Foye for 43 games from the start of last season -- the stocky guard missed much of his second season with a stress reaction in his left knee -- Minnesota went 8-35. After he returned, the Wolves went 14-25. Foye isn't another Dwyane Wade, in terms of taking over games, but he does have supreme confidence in his offensive skills and a serious knack for playing well in crucial moments. He spares Al Jefferson from taking all the big shots.
3. Space is the final frontier. Speaking of Jefferson, the big guy got ground down last season by the constant attention of double- and even triple-teams. The Wolves had no reliable secondary threat on offense while Foye was out, and never had enough shooters to stop defenses from collapsing on their power forward. Now they've got sharpshooter Miller, who was acquired with rookie Love on draft night. Love, too, has a decent mid-range game that could draw big defenders out of Jefferson's lap.
Reasons for worry
1. They still miss the point. Foye can be dynamic with the ball in his hands, but too often winds up attacking like a pocket LeBron James in a version of Cleveland's 1-on-5 tactics. He has not shown the instincts, inclination or vision to be a playmaker first, scorer second, which leads to a lot of standing around by his mates. Sebastian Telfair plays like a point guard but that moves Foye to shooting guard, which makes Minnesota way small in the backcourt.
2. Defense as a second language. There is perhaps only one man from last season's team, Corey Brewer, who embraces and takes pride in his defense. That's not enough, especially on a team stocked with young players who ought to have more want-to. Jefferson took heat from the coaches last season for his D, picked up the pace to prove them wrong and wound up tipping his hand -- they know he can do it, so they're expecting it nightly. Dribble penetration has shredded this team for several seasons, and Love and Jefferson will give up size to several West tandems up front.
3. Wittman faces scrutiny this time. The head coach's go-round in Cleveland way back when was not pleasant. Neither have been most of his 124 games as Minnesota's coach. But with the junk gone, management will be expecting progress -- vice president Kevin McHale has talked about a shot at .500, frighteningly unrealistic for this club in this conference at this time. But that could be used to make Wittman a fall guy, and buy the next coach (and the ticket sellers) an extra season of "development.''
Keep an eye on ...
Mike Miller as a team leader. Miller has been a solid pro for eight seasons, was the league's top sixth man in 2005-06 and, with Memphis last season, averaged 16.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists while hitting 50 percent of his field goals and 43 percent of his three-pointers. But he never has been asked to do as much leading, on the court and in the locker room, as Minnesota has sought. It's early, but he seems up to the task, warming up to the franchise closest (250 miles) to his Mitchell, S.D., roots.
The Timberwolves allowed 12.1 more points per 100 possessions with Jefferson on the court last season. That was the worst on-/off-court defensive impact for any player in the league.
The Wolves start this season with a much cleaner slate and talent where there was baggage a year ago. Jefferson is ready to be an All-Star and Foye would love to close the gap with 2006 draft-night rival Brandon Roy. A gain of 10-12 victories would be admirable, given the competition out West. More than that? October daydreaming.
Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue will be on newsstands Wednesday, Oct. 22.