Timberwolves boss David Kahn calls the season's remaining 26 games "a very important time during our maturation process" that he'll measure as much by individual players' development as he will victories and losses.
He said he expects Kevin Love to accept the responsibilities that come with being an All Star, including the need to work harder on defense. He hopes rookie Wes Johnson, Martell Webster and Darko Milicic break through whatever inconsistencies and injuries have held them back and build toward becoming the "players we think they can be."
But perhaps he expects the most from Michael Beasley, the former No. 2 overall pick whose season has been sidetracked by an ankle injury that has kept him hobbling since early January.
Kahn walked by Beasley the other day as he pedaled on an exercise bike and told him he expected a "huge" finish to the season.
"He said, 'I can do that, D.K.,''' Kahn said. "I said, 'Good, I wouldn't ask you to do something you can't do.' He's capable of so many things."
Beasley scored 25 or more points in a game 15 times -- including six in a row games in November -- before he sprained his ankle against Portland on Jan. 7. He has done so only once since then.
In those six weeks, he has reinjured the ankle repeatedly. He sat out two games in mid-January but returned and continued to turn the ankle after that. He missed the last five games leading into last weekend's All-Star Game.
He hopes the two-week break has given the ankle sufficient time to heal and will allow him to satisfy Kahn's request.
"That's what I plan to do," said Beasley, who plans to play Tuesday night at Milwaukee. "I felt like since I twisted my ankle I kind of dropped a gear, but it's time to pick it up. ... I feel like it affected the team, but moreso it affected me. I was kind of timid, kind of scared to put pressure on it during games, games when I really should have been sitting out."
Those two weeks included four days spent last weekend in Miami, where he played his first two NBA seasons.
The sun and the rest for his ankle apparently were just what he needed.
"Just the weather alone was beautiful," he said. "Everybody knows what Miami is like this time of year. I've been in the snow for five months. I got a little sunshine. My ankle feels better. I feel like I'm ready to go."
The Wolves are 4-3 when Beasley scores 30 or more points and 9-40 when he doesn't.
"We all knew it was going to be a learning process, we all knew it was going to be a long year, we all knew the year might not be as good as we wanted it to be," Beasley said. "We're all still into it. We're all still working hard. We're still confident in who we are as a player and who we are as a team. It gets discouraging. I'm not going to say it doesn't faze me."
Kahn calls Beasley's talent level "ridiculous." But he's also a young (just turned 22 last month), immature player with a seemingly short attention span who'd still be a college senior if he hadn't left Kansas State after one season.
"I know maturity is an issue and he'll be the first acknowledge that, but he'll also point out he's maturing," Kahn said. "Most players need to develop and their talent needs to keep coming out. With Michael, it goes the other way. He has ridiculous talent, but it's just too loose sometimes. Defensively, his mind loses focus. Sometimes, he shoots it quickly. He's capable of taking it off the board, dribbling it all the way down and shoot it by himself.
"Very few players his size can do that. Can he tighten it up? Can he distinguish between those moments when we need it and those moments when we don't? He's a very competitive kid. I've never noticed in a tight game when Michael isn't taking it seriously. I think he does. I think he loves to compete. I like having him on the team a lot."