Friday, July 03, 2009

Talking Off-Season with Howlin' T-Wolf

The Timberwolves have been in the news a ton lately. Maybe you have heard. We got a chance to talk to the Howlin' T-Wolf about his team. Also make sure you check out his site, just a tremendous blog.

1. This whole Ricky Rubio stuff is crazy. You take him with the fifth pick in the draft, he doesn't show up to meet the press in Minnesota, he's totally unsure on if he'll play with the Wolves or overseas next year (written before it was reported he will be in Spain for two years). Give us the latest on this whole situation and predict where you think Rubio will be playing next year.

The Ricky Rubio situation can only be described as a poker game or a chess match. The latest is that Rubio was said to have flown into town with his dad this past Saturday with a meeting with Kahn. Although there was no official confirmation of this both Timberwolves beat writers as well as a source I have with the organization pointed to this being true. The sounds of silence afterward (no confirmation, no press-conference, no contract etc.) seem to point to this continuing on during the summer. As Henry Abbott over at TrueHoop pointed out yesterday in his piece on Rubio, Kahn made a very good strategic move in this game to take one of Rubio's largest stacks of chips immediately, that is the threat of staying over in Spain for a year or two, by saying right away that the Timberwolves understood this was going to be a tough situation and that the Wolves were going to be patient with Ricky and are willing to wait. As a result Rubio's only true option to hurt the Wolves badly, his "all-in" move, is to not play professional basketball next year and re-enter the draft. (The rule is the Timberwolves hold his rights indefinitely ONLY if he is playing professional basketball elsewhere.) I really can't imagine that this is a viable option as he would still have the buyout to pay to DKV Joventut and it could also hurt his stock even if he were training professionally. Rubio's biggest talents are shown in the full-court game so sitting out from that for a year just doesn't seem like he would even entertain the idea. That leaves two options, one being coming to the Wolves next year after a buyout with DKV or staying overseas for another year or two. Personally I think if he can negotiate the buyout down from $6 million to say $3 million we will see Rubio in a Wolves uniform next season. If not I bet he signs with Real Madrid for a year who helps him with the buyout and he comes over next year. As I mentioned yesterday the two keys the Wolves have are that Rubio wants to be in the NBA and he wants to get to that second contract and fast. The good news for the Wolves is that they are the answer to both of those desires.

UPDATE: And after answering this question the news has come out that Rubio will stay in Spain and play out the last two years of his contract and will also drop the suit on his buyout. This certainly isn’t good news for the Wolves but more importantly it’s not bad news. He’s not forcing them to trade him and he’s still going to progress in Europe (and it will be off the Wolves books to boot). With this development my best guess is he plays one year and negotiates his buyout for next year down. (It’s already only $3 million next year I believe). Also can’t rule out another European team like Real Madrid paying a a large chunk of his buyout and signing him for a year. So my prediction is Rubio will be the Wolves starting point guard in 2010. The thing to keep in mind is this is an extremely fluid situation and the situation could change 8 different times even before this season starts.

2. You discussed the Wolves coaching situation recently in Kahn's summer to do list. Sam Mitchell, former Raptors coach, is the guy you want to take the job. Talk about what he could bring to the team and why you think he's the right coach for a young, rebuilding team.

I’ll give 3 reasons I like Sam Mitchell as the next Timberwolves head coach. #1 is that he likes guys that play hard and that's really what he asks of them. Right now I think the Wolves are in a good position in that they have some good young players that want to play hard and are going to go out there and bust there butt to prove what they are worth. Even a guy like Telfair whose been maligned a bit in the past I think will play hard for a coach like Sam who rewards for that hard work. #2 Sam, at least in Toronto, liked to push the pace. I think this is the brand of basketball that Kahn wants to put on the floor and I think with the news that Jefferson is slimming down this off-season while rehabbing his knee solves the only argument against it. If you think of the personnel they have now, Kevin Love is perfectly suited as one of, if not the best, rebounder/outlet passer in the league, Rubio (when he comes), Flynn, Ellington, and Brewer are all suited to pushing the pace, and Jefferson is the perfect big man/trailer in that he is a force down low in the half-court for when the fast break falls apart or when the other team is slowing it down. #3 is that I think Sam would be good for the Wolves in developing the young guys on our squad. He was the guy that as a player for the Wolves took a young K.G. under his wing and helped him develop into a star. He did the same for Bosh in Toronto and is the only guy that has ever been able to get Mike James to play hard and play well also. Those are my three reasons for rooting for Mitchell to get the gig as well as the fact that he is generally well thought of and liked by Wolves fans for his time here as a player.

3. Looking at the Wolves roster, there certainly are plenty of guards to go around (six including Rubio). Should any of these guys stay or go? I'm betting Telfair is on the move.

I can see Telfair being on the move at some point. He's probably not happy with the Wolves taking 2 point guards in the draft this year. That being said his trade value isn't all that high and he's actually a pretty good backup for the Wolves at pg. The question would be what he does in the locker-room and if he does want out. Ultimately he probably gets shipped at the trade deadline when the Wolves should be active with their ~$24 million in expiring contracts. I’d like to see them bring in through free agency or trade a veteran point in the Lindsey Hunter/Darrell Armstrong mold that would help be almost another assistant coach to help Flynn develop as well

4. You yourself say you're a biased Wolves fan. How hard has it been to cheer during these down years? How confident are you that guys like Flynn, Jefferson, and Love will lead the Wolves back the promise land?

It hasn't been easy that's for sure. My first Wolves game after they traded K.G. was maybe the most depressing sporting event I'll ever go to. His absence was just so amazing for a fan base that basically thrived off of his energy for 12 years. It's hard to describe but even when they were struggling with him after their great run in '04, every game was worth going to, to see K.G. battle with more energy and desire than anyone in the league. My best shot at an analogy would be to think of the movie 300 and the Spartans giving everything they have and then some in the war. Then try watching the movie without them and in their place you have the cast of another war movie say Saving Private Ryan or something. Sure they still are worth rooting for and not bad actors but it’s not exactly the same movie it once was, is it?

That being said for our new core of Flynn, Jefferson, and Love as well as Rubio (in a year or two) I couldn't be more excited. A lot of it has to do with the fact that the Wolves now actually have a GM with a plan, which segues into your next question nicely.

5. Question from thatalldude on Twitter: How long until the Wolves can make a push for the Finals?

For finals contention I think the window is in 2014-2016. At that point Big Al will be at his peak at age 28-30 and the team will have come together by then and hopefully had some good playoff experience too.

6. David Kahn is the new GM on the block. He joined the Wolves not that long ago. Do you trust his philosophy and how would you rate what he's done so far? I personally am behind him after hearing a press conference of his.

I've written this a couple of times already but every time David Kahn speaks about the Minnesota Timberwolves I just feel really good about the team and the direction we're headed. I know it's extremely tough to be "unbiased" (which is why my blog is admittedly said to otherwise) and that everyone has been beating this guy up for doing something no one else would have ever considered in drafting two point guards in the same draft, but really I trust in what he is doing and that he has a plan for this team to be a championship contender in 3-4 years. He's just so cool, calm, and collected when discussing the plan and his goals for this team. He comes across as a master chess player that sees a couple moves ahead. Sure we might lose a pawn or two and maybe even a bishop or rook but we are going to get a checkmate. Every move he’s made so far which he’s explained to the media, season ticket holders, and Wolves fans, he has very good solid reasons for them and I think those that listen objectively and don’t throw him out before they hear him out will be swayed by those reasons. Another analogy to help explain: it’s kind of like we were a blind fan base and we were feeling are way around a dark room trying to find a kitchen because we’re hungry. Before we had McHale with a large MagLite (K.G.) but he didn’t know where he was going and we just walked around in circles and he never explained why. Now Kahn is here leading us and he has a smaller flash light but he says he knows exactly where the kitchen is and although it may take us a little while to get there he explains to us all how he’s going to do it. So personally I think I’d have to rate him a solid A- so far and the minus is only because I don’t know the next step but I’m confident he does.

7. Also from thatalldude: How does the frontcourt rotation work with Jefferson, Love, and Thomas?

Thomas will probably only be around this year (unless he plays well and signs cheap) but I would envision Jefferson playing 30% of the teams minutes at both PF and C with Love playing about 25% at each and Thomas playing somewhere between 25% and 40% at Center.

8. Corey Brewer is a forgotten Wolf. He hasn't played a game since November 29th. Injuries really set his last season back. You still think is part of the Wolves future? What did he bring while he was playing?

You are right in that he’s been out of sight, out of mind. That being said it’s going to be interesting to see what he will bring to the table for us this year. He definitely has the ability to become a very solid SF in the league in the mold of Trevor Ariza, a guy that isn’t a star but does lots of great little things and doesn’t take anything off the table. Looking forward to seeing him get some burn and hope him and Flynn can become a suffocating perimeter team on defense.

9. What is the current mood of Wolves fans? Are there ready to start next season, or just yearning to hear if they will be able to watch Ricky Rubio next year?

Wolves fans are generally pretty fickle. The team in it’s current state rates 4th behind the Vikings, Wild, and Twins in town. That being said with Kahn in town and our crazy draft night a LOT of people are talking Wolves that haven’t since K.G. left. What usually happens is that everyone gets jacked up about them for the new season and then after they start 4-12 and the “honeymoon” part of the season is over it dies out. That being said the true fans (like the ones that will read this) are pumped about having a plan and a future. It is going to be a really fun 3-4 years as we watch these guys grow and get better and better.

10. Where do you see the Wolves a couple season from now? Are they making the playoffs by that point?

A lot depends on Kahn’s 16th month plan he laid out (with the trade deadline, next year’s draft, and next year’s free agency being the biggest things on the agenda) but I’m pretty confident that the Wolves will challenge for a 6-8 seed in the 2010-’11 season and continue to build on that in the seasons after.

11. How does the time table look for when the Wolves will hire a new coach? Has Kahn indicated when they would like to have that spot filled?

I believe the time table was by August 1st and it sounds like Kahn has a long list of candidates for the job. Just yesterday Portland’s Monty Williams was added to the list that already included Mitchell, Mark Jackson, Bill Lambier, Kurt Rambis, and Brian Shaw. Personally I think it would be great if he got one this week so he can be in Vegas to coach our summer league team, which will look more similar to our “winter” league team that you might imagine.

12. What are your expectations for the team next season? Any chance Flynn or Rubio could grab Rookie of the Year?

Flynn is probably a good bet for a sleeper candidate to win ROY. He’s going to get lots of minutes and will have the opportunity to be the #2 scorer behind Jefferson as well. I think for sure that barring injury he’ll be a first team all-rookie player this year. That being said with Zach Randolph being moved to make room for Griffin he’s got to be very good odds to win it. He’s just a beast.

13. Tell us about your recent joining of the Truehoop network. How fortunate are you to join and how is it going to help your site?

So very fortunate and it really is going to make the blog by sending people to it and by forcing me to make it a first class Wolves blog. It was kind of a goal of mine when I started it back in May but I never imagined I’d get the opportunity this soon. And it really is an opportunity more than anything else so I hope I can live up to it and work my way into the same league as some of the other really good bloggers in the network. Really I feel like I just snuck into a meeting of the “Skull and Bones Society” of NBA bloggers and they just decided I could stay cause I had a Wolves jersey on. But honestly they liked my stuff and hopefully everyone looking for some good Wolves content and commentary will too.

Remember to check out Howlin' T-Wolf!