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But what about the best possible realistic NBA team? Well, ESPN.com (Insider) took a swing at it, taking into consideration salary cap constraints and the way pieces fit together. And it was concluded that Kevin Love would be the second-best player on the that team. No. 1? LeBron James. No. 3? Joakim Noah.
Said the author of Love: Love deserves to be recognized for the expansion of his game this season. He's as lethal as ever from deep, but also has been very good on the block, in passing the ball and as an elite rebounder. As a running mate for James, it's a perfect skill set. Love's 19.8 WARP ranks behind only Durant and James. And, not for nothing, Love's price tag of $14.7 million for this season is appropriate for a second star on a championship roster.
That's not to suggest that those players are going to assemble, of course ... but it is interesting to wonder whether a roster with those three at the top could win a championship.
Two weeks ago, we did a post on how the NHL standings do not accurately reflect how a team has played. Teams get credit for shootout wins and overtime wins, while shootout losses and overtime losses simply get dumped into the "overtime" pile in the standings and look like ties. But just because you got two points for a shootout win doesn't mean you really "won." And just because you got a point for losing in overtime doesn't mean you tied.
So we came up with a new format that more honestly depicts a team's record and strength. Shootout wins become ties. Shootout losses become ties. Overtime wins stay wins. Overtime losses become losses. As such, the Wild is not really 37-25-11, which looks pretty good. The Wild really has 30 wins (regulation or OT), 29 losses (regulation or OT) and 14 ties (any game that went into a shootout). We can quibble about how all the points add up, and we can quibble over whether teams would play differently if the scoring system was different, but that is at least a more accurate reality than the one presented in the daily standings.
Basically, Minnesota is one game above .500. It is still in prime position to make it into the playoffs, likely as the first wild card in the West, largely on the strength of stealing extra points where it could. The Wild has gone to a shootout 14 times, second-most in the West, and it has earned 21 points in those games (seven shootout wins, seven shootout losses). It also has four points from four overtime losses.
We bring this up in the context of the Timberwolves right now and risk the ire of those commenters because both teams had home games against inferior but not terrible opponents last night. The Wolves drilled the Hawks, putting them back at .500 on the season at 35-35. The Wild tumbled against Vancouver, bringing Minnesota to that record you see above.
The Wolves have virtually no chance of making the playoffs. They have made their own bed to a large extent by blowing leads and falling in close games, but they have also been undone by the brutal Western Conference. In some years, a .500 record would be good enough to at least challenge for a playoff spot. This year it won't even be very close. We still think this roster needs a moderate overhaul rather than modest tweaks for next season, but that doesn't change this year's record.
The Wild is a near-certainty to make the playoffs. The team has navigated some tough luck while adding new pieces and developing young players. But the same could be said about the Wolves. At the end of the day, these are two teams having two very similar seasons but with fairly different perceptions.
In what falls somewhere between a hot rumor and wishful thinking, some Wolves fans have set their sights on Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg -- a former Wolves player and executive -- as a potential replacement if head coach Rick Adelman decides to call it quits after this season.
Hoiberg, who has the Cyclones in the Sweet 16, was asked about that very subject today, and here's what he had to say:
Hoiberg got asked about the (not yet vacant) T-Wolves job today: "I got one focus right now and that’s to go out and prepare this team..."— Travis Hines (@TravisHines21) March 25, 2014
Hoiberg cont.: "...to the best of its abilities.Hopefully we’ve got a long road ahead of us here with a couple weeks to go in the season..."— Travis Hines (@TravisHines21) March 25, 2014
He didn't say much, which is to be expected. But he also didn't say something to the effect of, "I have no interest in that job." So this at least bears revisiting, we would imagine, once both teams' seasons end.
Hoiberg has a lucrative 10-year, $20-million contract to coach a program he has helped build at his alma mater, in a town where he is referred to as The Mayor. Why would he want to leave?
Well, for starters, he could double his salary and not have to chase around 17-year-old recruits anymore. Also: his buyout for an NBA job is only $500K, as opposed to the $2 million if he takes a different college job.
It's been a long time since the Timberwolves had what could be defined as a successful season. In particular, it's been a long time since they finished a year on a positive note.
Last year? They started 16-15, then went 15-36 over the final 51 games.
Two years ago? They were 21-19 before Ricky Rubio got hurt and then 5-21 thereafter.
Three years ago? They ended the year on a 15-game losing streak.
Four years ago? A wretched 2-29 to close things.
You get the picture.
This year? It remains to be seen. One thing the Wolves had generally avoided over the first 60-plus games of the year was a truly wretched stretch. They had stayed around .500 for almost all of it, never getting too high or too low. But a deflating loss to Phoenix on Sunday, followed by a beatdown by Memphis on Monday, has Minnesota on the wrong side of .500 again at 34-35. And we fear based on body language, mounting injuries and general disappointment that another season-ending slide is in the offing.
As such, we'll find out a lot about the character and possibly the future of the team, as assembled, in these final 13 games.
Whenever a young player suddenly emerges when given playing time, we have to wonder: should he have been given more playing time all along, or did the seasoning he received while waiting his turn prepare him for his shining moment?
With Wolves center Gorgui Dieng, we are guessing it's the latter. He looked useful but raw in limited action early in this season. Starting these last three games for injured Nikola Pekovic, he has looked like much more than that. It comes with some caveats -- his first career double-double in his first start against Sacramento came with DeMarcus Cousins out, while his 22-point, 21-rebound effort last night came against a Dwight Howard-less Houston squad.
That said, he is a reason to watch the final 15 games of an improved but ultimately disappointing Wolves season. He will struggle in some games, we would imagine. But if he can prove over this small but longer stretch to be NBA-ready, it presents some interesting options going into an interesting offseason.
The Wolves first have to decide what is to be done about Kevin Love's future. If they are convinced he is leaving after next year, they need to trade him. If they think they can sway him by making the playoffs and showing promise for the future, they need to get better. The current roster is good enough for 40-45 wins, but we're not sure it's much more than that.
What they absolutely need -- still! -- is a wing who can consistently score and defend. Corey Brewer is best suited, ultimately, to provide energy off the bench.
What they might have an abundance of, if Dieng continues his trajectory, are big men. Dieng is under team control for several years. Ronny Turiaf signed a two-year contract, so he has another year. And Pekovic signed a long-term deal last offseason.
If they could find a team that thought Pek was the answer to its problems at center, and the Wolves could find a way to parlay that into the wing they so badly need, we would be on board 100 percent. Again, this is contingent on what we see from Dieng down the stretch and what we think we might continue to see going forward.
But we're intrigued by both Dieng and the flexibility he might give Minnesota.
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