Me: The 2012-13 Minnesota Timberwolves will win 50 games.
You: I'm sorry, there's a police stand-off outside the building and 100 police sirens are blaring, and I'm also currently wearing my October earmuffs. Can you repeat that?
Me: The 2012-13 Minnesota Timberwolves will win 50 games.
You: I still don't think I heard you right. I was interrupted by my iPhone 5, which just played a Justin Bieber clip, meaning I got a text message from my mom's friend. One more time, what did you say?
Me: The 2012-13 Minnesota Timberwolves will win 50 games.
You: *starts dialing 9-1-1*
Hey, I agree, 50 games seems like a lot… OK, and when a team hasn't won more than 33 games in EIGHT YEARS, it really, really seems like a lot… And considering that the Western Conference could feature as many as nine OTHER 50 game winners this year, including three 60 game winners… Well, OK, 50 games really is a lot.
Nevertheless, the 2012-13 Minnesota Timberwolves will win at least 50 games. Here's why:
1. Last year's team was THIS close.
Contrary to popular B.A.B. (Bay Area Belief), had the 2011-12 season ended prior to the date that now lives in infamy (March 9, 2012: Ricky's Injury), the Minnesota Timberwolves would have been the 8th Seed in the NBA Playoffs. What??? Oh that's right, you, like everyone else, completely blacked out after the date that lives in infamy and don't recall anything from the rest of the season, aside from Michael Beasley rubbing Anthony Tolliver's knee on the bench and thinking it was actually his own. Is this really true that the Timberwolves were the 8th seed at one point last year? Yes, it's true. Prior to Ricky's injury, the Wolves were a playoff team. The team was 21-19 to be exact on that date, but more importantly the team was in the midst of picking up steam and running downhill on an 18-13 run since allowing the unicorn to take over in the starting lineup. Extrapolating that 18-13 record (58.1 winning pct.) over an 82 game season amounts to 47.6 wins. Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on a sec… you're saying that LAST YEAR's haphazardly thrown together squad of misfit toys was on a 48 win pace once Ricard entered the starting lineup?? Actually 47.6 wins, but yes, that is correct. And as we continue, just remember, that was LAST YEAR's haphazardly thrown together squad of misfit toys, complete with Darko Milicic straightjacket and Anthony Randolph changing table.
2. This year's team is THIS much better than last year's team.
Let's take a moment to examine the transformation resulting from one summer's worth of Adelman & Sons asserting their collective will upon the franchise which had seen the squad assembled over the previous summers under David Kahn's "brain: optional" roster construction policy:
OUT: Beasley, Wes, Webster, Ellington, Darko, Randolph, Tolliver, Miller
IN: Kirilenko, Roy, Budinger, Stiemsma, Shved, Amundson, Cunningham
SAME: Love, Rubio, Pekovic, Ridnour, Williams, Barea, Lee
Re-read that "IN" list one more time. Now give the "OUT" list another look. OK, now this time really stare at the "OUT" list. Now read the "OUT" list, followed quickly by the "SAME" list, followed even more quickly by the "IN" list. OK, we're ready. Let's break this down objectively. From the list of last year's players no longer on the club, there are literally ZERO guys that would play rotational minutes on a GOOD team. Anthony Tolliver is the only player that's even close. Karaoke favorite Michael Beasley is an above average, albeit streaky, offensive player, but he will never play meaningful minutes for a championship team, unless of course he joins a team in the skittles-eating league, in which case he would be a lock for 20 consecutive Finals MVPs.
Now, as we look at the list of players coming "IN", it could be argued that EVERY single player could play rotational minutes on a good team, with the current exception possibly being Alexey Shved (although current should be emphasized). Well, this must be an exaggeration right? No. But you're basically saying that all of the "OUT" players are garbage and all of the "IN" players can contribute to a good team. Prove it. OK, no problem. Dante Cunningham played 7.0 rotational minutes per game in 7 PLAYOFF games for the Grizzlies last year. Lou Amundson played 8.5 minutes per game in 11 PLAYOFF games for the Pacers last year. Greg Stiemsma played 7.5 minutes per game in 19 PLAYOFF games for the Celtics last year. And these three guys are arguably the 5th, 6th and 7th best players picked up by the Wolves this summer. You see where we're going here? It's not about accumulating as much "length" and "athleticism" as humanly possible. It's about assembling the best and most cohesive unit. The three guys mentioned are solid role players, nothing more, nothing less. They're not being brought in to put the team on their shoulders. That's what is already required of the group of guys we're about to discuss.
Well, we can all agree that the positive vibes flowing from the last two paragraphs regarding the roster turnover is great but get this: from our "SAME" list we see a Top-10 (borderline Top-5) player in the league who is likely still improving, a Top-10 point guard in the league (Top-3 Passing and Top-3 Defensively) who is definitely improving and has the potential to be transcendent (only a mild exaggeration), a Top-10 center in the league who is definitely adding skulls to the pile (i.e., improving), a couple role playing guards and a player still with potential. So, basically, the cornerstones of the roster were all left in place. These are the guys, specifically Love, Rubio and Pekovic, upon which the team will be carried as far as it's going to go no matter who's around them. Kirilenko, Roy, Budinger and the rest of the cast are here to make their jobs easier. And they will. Especially compared to last year's ensemble of fast food workers. So, essentially as of now, all of the pieces are in place.
You're having trouble comprehending/believing this. Me too. How could a team go about trimming ALL of its fat (literally, in the case of Dorko), while obtaining nothing but muscle in its stead, while also simultaneously retaining and allowing its existing muscle to further strengthen (literally, in the case of The Godfather Nikola Pekovic)? This sounds like the work of Adelman & Sons.
3. This year's team is THIS much better than last year's team: Part II.
To simplify things even further, here's a categorical breakdown comparing last year's squad to this year's:
Offense: Let's see, last year Wes Johnson took the second most three-point attempts on a team with the sixth most three-point attempts in the league, a team with the eighth worst three-point shooting percentage in the league. In related news, no one would be surprised if Wes Johnson were to smile and thank the cop for the speeding ticket he just gave him. In unrelated news, Chase Budinger plays for this year's team and last year, he shot 48.5% on corner threes. Wes Johnson shot 28% on corner threes last year. Having guys capable of converting a wide-open jump shot is a definite leap forward, but there's a whole host of other factors that make this year's team much better offensively, including the team IQ level and the amount of guys that can actually dribble a basketball this year, but we'll keep this one short. ADVANTAGE: This Year's Team
Defense: Was Andrei Kirilenko on last year's team? Oh, he wasn't? Well, is he on this year's team? He is?!?!?! ADVANTAGE: This Year's Team
Rebounding: From the list of "OUT" players no longer on the team, Michael Beasley is the best rebounder. It should probably also be noted that this year's team features a starting front-line of Love, Pekovic and Kirilenko. These might be the only three guys in the league that have heard the phrase "boxing out" before. ADVANTAGE: This Year's Team
Passing: Admittedly, there is definitely an elephant in the room here that needs to finally be addressed. The western conference features a team where Jeremy Lin is arguably its best player. LOL. Talk about a team with issues. OK, OK, so we don't know exactly when Ricky Rubio will play again, and we don't know how long it will take for things to eventually start clicking once he returns. However, that being said, Ricky's return needn't be rushed, because the team will manage for the time being, and there are two primary reasons why. One, Rick Adelman is the head coach for the Timberwolves. And two, Rick Adelman constructed this year's roster for the Timberwolves. A Rick Adelman coached/constructed team relies primarily on basketball intelligence, but also on high energy and character. A seemingly long-lost concept called playing "team basketball" is also a primary pillar. Everybody on this year's roster knows how to pass, how to move without the ball and how to communicate and help on defense. Basketball 101 you say? Try telling that to Darko as he competes with himself for the most disinterested/psychotic expression one can maintain while sitting at the end of the bench. So anyway, what you're saying is that we shouldn't be worried about counting down the seconds until the Return of Ricky since Adelman has everything under control right? Heck no, of course we need to get that second-counter going!! Getting struck by lightning would not be fun! OK, now we've clarified the troubling elephant-unicorn-lightning corollary. What category were we talking about again? Passing, right. Hmm… no Ricky for a couple months… hmm… oh right… Adelman coached/constructed team! ADVANTAGE: This Year's Team
Chemistry/Intangibles: There's a multitude of factors to be weighed here, making this potentially one of the trickiest categories to decipher. On one hand… you have five fingers. ADVANTAGE: This Year's Team
Coaching: No doubt Rick Adelman did a masterful job last year. But let's face it, no longer having "babysitter" as one of his primary roles is a massive upgrade. ADVANTAGE: This Year's Team
Well, what have we learned? The 2012-13 Phoenix Suns featuring a reunion of Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson, in the starting lineup no less, will lead the league in LOLs. OK, very true, but what else? The 2012-13 Houston Rockets feature the least intelligent Harvard grad ever and the most philosophical shoplifter that's afraid to fly ever, allowing them to lead the league in :(. OK, we're definitely on to something here, but we're missing one more thing. The 2012-13 Minnesota Timberwolves will win 50 games!! Yes!!! What a learned individual you are! So, without further ado, let's move on to the predictions.
OK, we now know that 50 wins is the baseline for this season's Wolves. What that means is that we're no longer merely talking about a team making the playoffs for the first time since 2004 (a much simpler time, back when Latrell Sprewell was still able to feed his family), but we're now talking about how high of seed can be achieved. The way I see it, barring injury, only the top two seeds in the West are out of reach. From there, number three is probably unrealistic as well, but spot four is definitely up for grabs. As was touched on earlier, the West is loaded again this year, but the Wolves figure to be right in the thick of things.
2012-13 Western Conference Standings
1. OKC 61-21… Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka, Perkins, Sefolosha, N.Collison, Maynor… The fact that they seem likely to retain both Ibaka AND Harden at less than max deals is unfair to the rest of "our league" (David Kahn ©2009).
2. LAL 60-22… Bryant, Howard, Nash, Gasol, Artest, Jamison, J.Hill, Meeks... Along with the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers comprise a three team league known as the "National Basketball Association" or "NBA" (ESPN ©2012).
3. SAN 56-26… Duncan, Parker, Ginobli, K.Leonard, Diaw, Splitter, S.Jackson, D.Green… Can someone check the expiration date on this nuclear fallout care package of Twinkies and #CokeZero?
4. LAC 52-30… C.Paul, Griffin, D.Jordan, Butler, Billups, Odom, Crawford, Bledsoe… The Wolves own this squad. Next.
5. DEN 51-31… Iguodala, Lawson, Gallinari, Faried, McGee, Chandler, A.Miller, Koufos... A true superstar does not exist on this team, but an above average starter resides at every position, easily making this one of the most balanced teams in the league.
6. MEM 51-31… M.Gasol, Gay, Z.Randolph, Conley, Allen, Speights, Arthur, Ellington(lol)… The reeling Grizzlies must pull together and attempt the unfathomable: moving on in the Post-Mayonnaise Era.
7. MIN 50-32… Love, Rubio, Pekovic, Kirilenko, Roy, Budinger, Ridnour, D.Williams, Stiemsma, Barea, Shved, Amundson, Cunningham, Lee… Out of respect for the quality of the other teams alone, Minnesota is at the bottom of this tier. They can compete with and take down any of them, however. #RealTweet
8. UTA 45-37… A.Jefferson, Millsap, Favors, Hayward, Mo.Williams, Ma.Williams, Kanter, Burks… If Big Al and/or Millsap can be packaged for a point guard of some kind, look out.
9. DAL 44-38… Nowitzki, Marion, D.Collison, Kaman, Mayo, Brand, D.West… The reeling Mavericks must pull together and attempt the unfathomable: moving on in the Mayonnaise Era.
10. GSW 40-42… S.Curry, D.Lee, Bogut, K.Thompson, H.Barnes, C.Landry, B.Rush, J.Jack, R.Jefferson… Everything hinges on the collective glass appendages of this team. On paper, 50 wins is not out of the realm of possibility. Within the realm of reality, however, a 40 win season seems more than generous.
11. POR 32-50… Aldridge, Batum, Matthews, Lillard, M.Leonard, Hickson… We all saw Nic Batum in the Olympics unleash his pent-up frustration over not fulfilling his "dream" of playing for the Wolves. What a steal for Portland though. $46M over four years for this superstar really sets them up for four years of title contention.
12. NOH 30-52… E.Gordon, A.Davis, R.Anderson, Aminu, Vasquez, Lopez, Rivers… This team features The Brow. 'Nuff Said. Oh wait, they added "Most Improved Player" Ryan Anderson from Orlando. A 40 win season seemed remotely possible before this fact was remembered.
13. PHX 29-53… Beasley, Wes J...(just kidding; not really)…Dragic, Scola, Gortat, Dudley… LOL.
14. SAC 28-54… Cousins, T.Evans, M.Thornton, J.Thompson, I.Thomas, T.Robinson, Jimmer… Meh. Too many John Smiths on this team to elicit interest.
15. HOU 27-55… J.Lin, K.Martin, Parsons, Asik, Patterson, J.Lamb, Morris, T.Jones, R.White… Look for the return of out-and-out Linsanity early in the season. Three straight TIME magazine covers minimum. And that's just the start. By the Lin-Star break (formerly "All-Star break"), look for ESPLin (formerly "ESPN") to move its headquarters from Bristol, Connecticut to HoustLin (formerly "Houston"), Texas (now known as the "Lin Star State"). Following his other-worldly Finals MVP performance, look for Jeremy Lin to immediately move to 1600 PennsLinvania Avenue and start his much-deserved U.S. Presidency, where his only task will be looking to increase his 100% approval rating. The End.
Ultimately, the key for the Wolves will be simply reaching the playoffs. If and when this happens, we can expect a potentially devastating rotation looking something like this:
Versatility. Energy. IQ. The Thunder and Lakers want no part of this seven or eight seed. If one or even two of Brandon Roy, Derrick Williams or Alexey Shved shines this year, watch out. In all honesty, a first round playoff exit is the likeliest of scenarios, but forcing Oklahoma City to six games would be quite an accomplishment for a team that employed Jonny Flynn a little over a year ago. If everything goes right though, who knows… Second Round… Western Conference Finals… Fina… nah we'll hold that thought for now. Next year though? Look for the Wolves to be in the running for their first banner, attempting to accompany the THREE Lynx banners that will just be hanging around by that time.
(Note #1: For the readers out there who are chronically addicted to gambling, please note that the Wolves opened in Vegas at 38.5 wins and have since jumped to 40.5, still well below our baseline of 50.)
(Note #2: All comments regarding one, Jeremy Lin, are in no way meant to detract from the integrity of this piece. They are meant to detract only from the integrity of those who believe in and support one, Jeremy Lin. Go Wolves! We're comin'! We're comin'!)