HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

December 31, 2007

Timberwolves are rock bottom, baby!

By Jesse Menden

The trading of Kevin Garnett has given the Minnesota Timberwolves an opportunity to start fresh.

The T-Wolves were given the rare chance to get a complete do-over for the previous 18 years of ineptitude and basically start from scratch (not counting Marko Jaric and his $6 million a year).

Over this offseason, the Wolves got rid of some cumbersome contracts and aging players that had no interest in playing on a young team. Fans supported the complete rebuild because the Wolves appeared to finally have a plan to become relevant again in the NBA.

Owner Glen Taylor told everyone to expect a more entertaining brand of basketball from the Wolves, and there was a level of excitement heading into the season. But the team has hit rock bottom and has become the worst team in the league . . . by far.

Through last week’s game against Golden State, the Wolves had a league-worst 4-23 record. The next-worst team is Miami at 8-21. The Wolves were expected to take a step backwards, but to have one of the worst starts in the history of the NBA?

I don’t think so.

I fully support the team in starting over again and bottoming out, but only if it results in a complete turnaround, which apparently has not begun yet in this early stage. Being one of the worst teams in league history is an ominous sign.

The main way the Wolves can turn around the franchise is through the draft. They are on pace to have the most ping pong balls in the chance to get the top pick in the next draft, but will they be able to do anything with it? As a whole, the organization has been unsuccessful in drafting, and if the Wolves want to climb back into relevance in the NBA this time around, they must start making right decisions with their personnel.

Their 2007 draft class is not an encouraging start, as their top picks have shown next to nothing through the first 30 games.

Corey Brewer, who was the Timberwolves’ first-round pick, has not lived up to expectations so far. It is understandable for a rookie to have a period of transition into the NBA, but certain things about Brewer are disconcerting.

At the top of that list is Brewer’s shooting. The 6-foot-9 forward is shooting just 31 percent from the floor and is averaging just 5.5 points a game in 24 minutes. Being in the NBA requires a nice touch, which is something he has not shown so far.

In fact, Brewer ranks as one of the last in the entire league in shooting accuracy for players with a minimum of 100 shots. Somehow, I don’t believe the Wolves were expecting that when they drafted him. He has been a disappointment so far.

OK, Brewer does show some good basketball instincts at times and he is very young. Hopefully, for the Wolves, his shooting will get better as his experience grows.

Their other draft pick from 2007, Chris Richard, has not shown much in his 9.1 minutes a game, either.

Speaking of draft mishaps, do you remember when the Wolves swapped rookies with Portland in 2006? Brandon Roy, who the Wolves traded away for Randy Foy and cash, is currently averaging 19 points and six assists a game for the Trailblazers. The Wolves’ Foye has been hurt this season after a below-average 2006-07 season.

The Wolves’ struggle in drafting the right players is causing struggles on the floor.

My concern is whether all of the money the Wolves freed up in the offseason will go to waste. Will a talented free agent want to come to a team that won 10 games the season before? The team might still be many years away from being a playoff team if they can’t bring in impact free agents.

There are signs of hope from this team, though. Al Jefferson is the real deal. He is averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds, which is basically what Garnett gave them.

The Wolves’ second-round pick in 2006, Craig Smith, has shown improvement and is averaging 11 points a game. Sebastian Telfair is surpassing expectations, and Rashad McCants has taken a step forward.

But outside of Jefferson, the team is filled with mostly role players. To climb from the bottom, the Wolves have to make good decisions and stick to their plan.