Throughout the years, there have been many experts stating that “X” team or “Y” team will be the next best team in the NBA. SLAM Magazine once predicted that the New Jersey Nets would be champions by 2001 and also claimed that the 2001-02 New Jersey Nets were the best team in the world. Not a bad prediction considering they made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals.
On the flip side, many felt that the 2007-11 Portland Trail Blazers were on their way to bringing a championship to Oregon with a lineup including Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden. Sadly, we all know how that story ended.
With the 2015-16 season just nearly three weeks old, the Minnesota Timberwolves have put together a roster that may be the recipient of the same accolades. After scratching out just 16 victories last season, the Timberwolves have already put away a quarter of those victories to start this season.
When you consider the pieces that have been put in place and the average age of the roster, the future looks mighty promising for the Wolves. Now, before you jump too far with regards to the average age of the squad, yes they’re tied for ninth in the league for the oldest team. However, when you consider that seniority comes from 39-year-olds Andre Miller and Kevin Garnett, 35-year-old Tayshaun Prince and 32-year-old Kevin Martin, the core of the team is relatively young. While Garnett and Martin are the only two currently under contract to return next season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Miller and Prince re-signed for another year of tutoring.
Last season and throughout the summer, the late Flip Saunders had a vision for his team, bringing in veteran players at each position to mentor the young, inexperienced pups. Miller has been given the task of educating Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine and Tyus Jones. Martin and Prince team up to guide LaVine and Andrew Wiggins. KG is blessed with the opportunity to work with first overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng. Interestingly enough (aside from the three other vets), Garnett has been in the league longer than the rest of the Wolves roster combined!
When you look at the positional talent and the considerable amount of cap room ($60.26M guaranteed for next year, which leaves about $30M under projected cap), the Wolves front office, with a little bit of luck, has done great job at rebuilding the franchise properly.
Rubio may not be a great shooter like Stephen Curry or as explosive as Russell Westbrook, but the Timberwolves don’t need him to be. As a facilitator, Rubio has averaged eight assists throughout his career. On the wings, the athleticism of LaVine and Wiggins is unmatched throughout the league, and both have put in work improving their shooting range. In the paint, KAT can not only score down low, but also step out to the perimeter. Throw in role players like Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad, Nemanja Bjelica and the wily veterans, and the Timberwolves can put two adequate lineups on the floor at any point throughout the night.
With the cap space they have, the Wolves could throw a big offer at a free agent next summer to add to their talented young core. The big question is this: Would a top-shelf free agent willingly relocate to Minnesota? The past has shown that not many have been, but knowing they’d be joining a team with four key positions covered and depth off the bench, the enticement may peak someone’s interest. The next hurdle would be convincing their young core to remain with the team once their contracts expire. Will Wiggins, Towns and LaVine be willing to see the fruits of their labor ripen?
The Wolves no doubt will exceed their 16-win season from a year ago and will likely finish on the outside looking in of the playoffs this season. However, with a little luck here and there and consistent health throughout the season to key players, 30-35 victories isn’t out of the realm of possibility. 2016-17 could see the club return to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. While it might be a couple years away, Wolves players and fans may see their team grace the front page of Today’s FastBreak and the cover of SLAM Magazine with the same caption that the Nets once held.