Granted: S*&# happens. But if David Kahn knows what he is doing, I mean, really knows, really has some sort of plan.... If that were the case, how would/how could the Timberwolves end up with the same back-up point guard they play the 2008-2009 season with, that of course being the estimable Sebastien Telfair? Granted, Kahn acquired Telfair because he had a cheap contract that the Wolves could buy out of cheaply. No sooner, of course, had Kahn done the acquiring than first-string, second-year "1" Jonny Flynn went down for the first quarter of the season with an injury. And guess who is one of only two "1"'s on the Wolves' roster. You guessed it. Now, don't get me wrong. If the Wolves get into a gun-fight somewhere along the line, Telfair has shown himself to be prepared. But, for a basketball game, not so much.
Not to jump too quickly on the David Kahn-Non-Bandwagon, but let's be honest, hope does not spring eternal in the breasts of T-Wolves fans. So when Kahn says the Wolves are improved, "vastly, no question" over the roster he inherited a year ago, one can hardly help but ask, "Who's he kidding?"
Strib reporter Jerry Zgoda helpfully provided a side-by-side on Thursday, July 15.
Then: Al Jefferson, Jason Collins, Mark Madsen
Now: Darko Milicic, Nikola Pekovic, Ryan Hollins
Jefferson is the only proven NBA ball player among 'em, though of course it was proven only that he can play offense, not defense. Zgoda goes on to point out that the Wolves went 2-31 after Darko's acquisition last spring. Any improvement here remains to be seen, though it's true that an improvement on defense even at the loss of some offense might on balance be a good thing.
Then: Jefferson, Kevin Love, Craig Smith
Now: Love, Michael Beasley, Hollins
The same questions have always surrounded Love as Jefferson--i.e. can he defend? The good news with Beasley is you get a different set of questions. Well, one of 'em is the same. Can the two natural power forwards play together? Kahn promises they will, but that's what he said about Flynn and Sessions, and he also promises that Milicic is going to get a lot of minutes, too. So, can Beasley play the 3? Is his head screwed on straight, or no?
In the end, I can't help but think if there's an improvement here, it's going to be Beasley out-scoring even Big Al. And where, then, does that leave Kevin "I Wanna Be a Starter" Love?
Then: Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes, Rodney Carney
Now: Brewer, Wesley Johnson, Lazar Hayward
Wesley Johnson is not better than Ryan Gomes today, I don't think, though his upside--especially on a cost-basis, medium-term--is much better. And the fact is that Brewer was never better than Gomes either, so if there's an immediate improvement here, it probably comes from Beasley moving down to the 3, and not these guys, and it depends on Milicic's alleged improvement at the post to ripple down through the roster. If you don't think Milicic is the savior, then the Milicic-Love-Beasley dream isn't worth much, either.
Then: Mike Miller, Randy Foye, Bobby Brown
Now: Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington, Brewer and/or Johnson
Whaddya know about Webster? Me, neither. But he's gotta be better than the most reluctantly shooting shooting guard you ever saw (Miller, a perfect teammate for LeBron and Dwayne for exactly that reason, but not ideal for a team with no other perimeter shooters). But, Ellington may be the real star of this group and of the Wolves' 2009 draft. If so, then this is one pretty good group that Kahn has assembled--a guy who scores on the run (Webster), a catch and shoot guy (Ellington) and a defensive stopper (Brewer).
Then: Foye, Sebastien Telfair
Now: Jonny Flynn, Ramon Sessions, Luke Ridnour
The question remains, Do the Wolves have an NBA "1" on their roster, or don't they? If so, frankly, it might be Ridnour, though Kahn and coach Kurt Rambis are not going to have the nerve to start Ridnour ahead of the much-hyped Flynn. Which in turn means that Flynn has the proverbial break-out or we're just biding our time for Ricky Rubio, who is a proven NBA "1" to approximately the same degree that Flynn is and Foye was. That's a whole lotta hopin' if you ask me.
Can the Wolves really master the NBA's most complex offense? Is it a fool's errand to put them on that track? Yes, it is, unless Flynn, Beasley and Wesley Johnson suddenly show a mastery thereof...but, hey, 2 of them will be running it for the first time this year. Rambis needs a new schtick, if you ask me. Wrong guy at the wrong time.
It is exactly the kind of bravado that Kahn and Rambis have exhibited with that "much improved" talk and that triangle offense that really worries me. If Flynn, et al, continue to struggle with the latter, the Wolves are not going to be improved this year, and the stress on all of the players will continue to rise--and, particularly, on that new front line of Milicic, Love and Beasley, all of whom Kahn preferred to Al Jefferson.
The best 5-some the Wolves can put out there will consist of Ridnour, Ellington, Brewer, Milicic, and Love or Beasley. They won't start, but they'll finish. But, is this really better than Jefferson, Love, Brewer, Miller and Foye? Or Jefferson, Love, Brewer, Miller and Flynn? Maybe, defensively. But there's a potential for a lot of unhappiness among guys who are not getting "their" minutes. Love and Beasley will be the key guys under that microscope.
The T-Wolves won 15 last year. This year's improved roster, "vastly, no question," seems poised to win 20. Then in 2011-2012 we finally find out whether Rubio represents an improvement or not.