The free agents have just about all been signed up. The NBA is down to a series of Instagram photos from moving yachts and crossed fingers from worried teams hoping their players stay safe in the summer off. There’s nothing going on, save for that clock on the wall that is ticking down to the 2013-14 season.
And it’s moving SO SLOWLY.
This is why we’ve decided to pick 26 things we’re looking forward to in 2013-14. Or, at the very least, 26 things that intrigue us as we wait out an offseason that feels like it has thousands of miles left to cross before we can get to Halloween and opening week. Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet – you guessed, NBA A-through-Z.
We continue with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Nikola Pekovic, the restricted free agent and last available player that could possibly secure an eight-figure deal in this market, has just signed a five-year, $60 million deal (with $8 million in incentives) with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The offseason, effectively, is just about over. Nobody’s really left, outside of the fringe cases that teams are hesitant to risk even a minor deal on.
This means the Timberwolves are back. Back to where they were this time last year when the team was set to become one of the NBA’s more entertaining teams, possibly taking advantage of available spots in the West’s low-end playoff bracket, and becoming a League Pass go-to fixture once Ricky Rubio returned from his ACL reconstruction. Even with the specter of David Kahn’s miserable moves hanging over the franchise, coach Rick Adelman seemed like the perfect fit for a fluid, offensive-minded team that surely suited his style.
This was before Kevin Love did whatever he did to his hands, sitting out for all but 18 games and missing nearly 65 percent of his shots. Rubio, while entertaining, wasn’t much better from the field, hitting for 36 percent from the floor in another worrying turn, a poor shooting pattern that was established years before he came to the NBA. Andrei Kirilenko and Pekovic sat out a combined 38 games, Alexey Shved tailed off after an impressive start, and Chase Budinger was forced to sit out four months with a torn meniscus in his left knee.
By the time spring rolled around, Rick Adelman was contemplating leaving the team to aid in his wife’s recovery from a series of frightening seizures. And though Kahn was eventually sent out to pasture, finally, new president of basketball operations Flip Saunders has us a little worried as to how forward-thinking his front office acumen may be, especially in an NBA that is becoming more and more analytics-driven on an executive level.
Peel this back, though. Forget the potential of Love’s impermanence, Rubio’s shooting woes, and the fact that the team just handed a potential $68 million to a player few outside of heavy NBA circles knew about two years ago.
This is still a team coached by Rick Adelman, to start, which immediately warrants it must-watch status. Then there is the angry return of Love, happy to show Kahn that he was worth that extra year, sick of never making the playoffs. This is countered by the steely Pekovic (who is just entering his prime; if he continues improving at this rate this will be a great contract), and the cheery Rubio. All intertwining in a motion-based offense that welcomes back the athletic Budinger, the (honestly) improving Derrick Williams and a player in Kevin Martin that Adelman did some wonderful, wonderful things with at two different stops.
This isn’t a surefire, eventual 50-game winner. The addition of Martin and re-introduction of Budinger could limit Pekovic’s looks from the interior, and nobody should convince you that Ricky Rubio is going to come out of nowhere to start providing percentages from the field that won’t leave you holding your nose. In August, that’s not the point.
The point is that entertaining basketball could spring out of Minnesota again, and the team could cut and curl its way into the postseason for the first time since Sam Cassell’s untimely injury cost the Timberwolves a place (not a shot, a place) in the 2004 NBA Finals. It’s true that the Wolves will be approaching the luxury tax level in 2014-15 even with Williams and Rubio’s contracts still on the board, and that Love could decide to take his game elsewhere during the 2015 offseason.
For now, though, it’s fun. No Kahn, healthy Love, all of the Rubio, and Pekovic is back. The unholy amalgamation of Kevin McHale (who drafted Love), David Kahn and Flip Saunders’ work probably won’t ever win a championship, but for a city starved for its first meaningful game in April, 2013-14 should be a treat even if the Timberwolves eventually fall short again.
And until we get there, before things thaw? This team should once again top your list of NBA League Pass must-watches. With actual wins, this time.