The poor Timberwolves, they get home court advantage for the first time in the playoffs and who is their opponent...none other than the 3 time defending champions the Lakers along with the dynamic duo of Shaq/Kobe. Valiant effort or not, it became the 7th straight year that the Twolves exited the playoffs in the 1st round. They had their chances, including going up 3-1, but it just wasn't meant to be...Wally proved he is no better than a 3rd scoring option, Rasho disappeared in the massive shadow of Shaq, and even our MVP KG missed crucial free throws...As bad as things look the Twolves come into the summer feeling like an improved team that can make some noise this off season. The "Big Ticket" is up for a new contract, but he would like to see the Twolves add a few more pieces before he shows his loyalty and resigns for a 'friendlier' contract. The Twolves have their a 1st round pick for the first time in 3 years, no thanks to the Joe Smith debacle so they look to add some youth to a truly veteran team. Rahso Nesterovic is a UFA and is high priority to be resigned and this leaves them with only 7 players under contract. So, lets look at the players they got and then we can discuss some options that they have.
What can you say about Troy Hudson, how about "true bargain". In his first year as a starting PG he set career highs in scoring and assists, then went on to almost single-handedly destroying the Lakers psyche by averaging 27 points and 7 assists a game in the playoffs. Unfortunately, he is also the only PG on the roster that can play since
Terrell Brandon hasn't suited up in almost a year and definitely is on the road to retiring which will be discussed later.
That dreaded SG position has been bad luck for Twolves since they drafted JR "pop can" Rider...Their starting SG coming into this year,
Wally Sczerbiak, broke a 'pinky toe' and lost 30 regular season games and never seemed to find his game...especially in the playoffs. IMHO, Wally is a SF and would move there when Flip Saunders would move to his 'small lineup' and
Anthony Peeler started. Ah AP, who is technically still under contract with team option showed a different side this year. He definitely worked hard to improve his defense, shot selection, decision making...BUT he is not a starter, he is thou the perfect SG to come off the bench to add scoring punch or stiffen up the defense. With that being said I don't think he will be in a Twolves jersey next year either through a trade or release due to the team already paying a luxury tax. IMO
Kendall Gill although a UFA will return because he showed he is still and effective all around player who would come a couple million cheaper than AP...he also seems to have become tight with KG which only helps.
The SF position is set as long as they put Wally S. there...he has the size/strength/shot to be a deadly offensive weapon and a solid defender in the league. Hopefully, he comes in healthy and has locked himself in a gym to work on improving his ball handling abilities which is the only thing I see that is below average...PS, I also hope he watched how Rip Hamilton was running off picks in the playoffs and tries to copy that. Just in case, you can move KG to the SF position which was the norm in Flip Saunders 'big lineup'...KG can play anywhere he wants...nuff said...
In the overall scheme of things, KG should play the PF position, and as I consider TDuncan a center he is the "best" PF in the game..nuff said. For depth at the PF position we have the former #1 pick who just cant stay healthy or just cant seem to find the game he had as a Maryland Terrapin or the GS Warriors, yes
Joe Smith is that man. If he can just stay healthy he would be the "best" PF in the league coming off the bench...he is a BIG key to next years success...PLEASE JOE, SHOW US THAT YOU WERE WORTH THE WHOLE FIASCO...
This is a position of strength as long as the Twolves resign Rasho Nesterovic which has been mentioned as our #1 priority. He is a solid player who if he could just show an 'aggressive' side he would become a 15/10 guy who provides solid defense. He knows how to play off KG extremely well and if he could contribute just a little more he could easily call himself a top 6 center in the league. The backup center, Marc Jackson, was a pleasant surprise in the playoffs and provided the Twolves with exactly what the thought they got when they traded for him....a solid defender/rebounder/team guy. With this combo at the center position for the Twolves you would have a hard time finding a team in the league who can match them...PS he is also one of the most vocal guys on the floor and has a high basketball IQ.
This team has a 'superstar'...and the rest of the players are definitely above average and on the verge of improving even more. Right now, with only 6-7 players under contract(depending on AP) depth is probably the biggest immediate problem. A resigned Rasho and KGill(LLE or 'vet minimum') fills some wholes, but the key to that area is Terrell Brandon. Several trade scenarios are in the works that could bring 2-3 solid veterans in that would fill the SG role and depth...the most common rumors are TB to Indy for Croshere /Mercer...or TB to Wiz for Stackhouse/Laettner...either trade brings in a startet at the SG or SF and adds depth to the bench. The other way they are looking to improve is the MLE/LLE, where an ideal scenario is Gary Payton for MLE and maybe a Walter McCarty for the LLE. More likely they will add a player like Kevin Ollie/Raja Bell/Jumaine Jones who all could provide depth for a reasonable price. The teams main core of players are in the 27-29 range in age so the time is now to add some youth through the draft...and all I have to say is Thank You International Basketball because if the 10-12 international players looking at the 1st round, this means a young player with potential or a solid 4 year college player will be available, so on to that.
The 26th pick comes down to a specific need or 'best player available' and that gives me 5 guys I will/would look at. Assuming no trades, it is obvious that the Twolves weakest positions are PG and SG and at 26th pick all these players are available.
- Troy Bell-great athlete/scorer who is making the conversion to pure PG...He IMO is a mirror image of THudson so I believe he would be a good fit.
- Zoran Planinic-solid athlete coming off injury who has great size(6'7) and can play the PG/SG position...He could be one that is kept in Europe on the Manu plan.
- Josh Howard-ACC player of the year...very similar to the unfortunate Malik Sealy..can do everything score/rebound/defend/pass/and is very intelligent 4 year guy...
- Dhantay Jones-If not the 'top' athlete in the draft he is definitely top 3...slasher who gets to the rim and plays 'great defense'..lets his weak jumpshot become easy to overlook...
- Nadu Ebi-He is my darkhorse...similar to Jonathan Bender/Darius Miles...tremendous potential that could pay off in long run..KG as mentor could be difference...
Jones, SG, 6'6" Duke
I cant pass up an athlete that can defend and get to the rim. He doesn't need shots to be effective and has a great understanding of "team"...The Twolves can score with anybody and adding a great defender at the 2 could put them at next level(poor Malik)...
Overall the summer of '03 will be a key point in the continuation of the Twolves as a contender or it could signal the start of a rebuilding process...
And one final point...I have no problems exiting in the 1st round the last seven years due the simple fact that the Twolves were not the best team in any of those series...and I would rather have a KG and make the playoffs than any team that has NOT made the playoffs for 7 consecutive years...