Wolves: It had to be asked

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2007 - 9:46 PM

Uncertainties about the rebuilt Wolves start up top, where the point guard is young and confident, stretch to the wings, where an injury sets the backdrop, and extend to the post, where the greatest hope lies.

If this were football, Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman said he would have stripped athletic tape bearing surnames across his players' helmets for Saturday's season-opening practice. Instead, he persevered without a player program to help him guide a completely remade team for the first time. "Today, I went without calling anybody the wrong name," he said. More than half the faces are new and the questions about a franchise steered on a different heading are many after July's massive Kevin Garnett trade and Friday night's deal that sent Trenton Hassell to Dallas for Greg Buckner. Here are 10 of them as the Wolves arrive in Turkey today following an overnight trans-Atlantic flight for 10 days of training camp and games overseas.

1 Q Who's going to lead this team?

A The most obvious candidate is 13-year NBA veteran Juwan Howard, but he's the reluctant Timberwolf who said he will guide this team by committee with veterans Theo Ratliff and Mark Madsen for as long as he is in Minnesota.

The most willing candidate? Randy Foye, the second-year guard who will often have responsibility on his shoulders and the ball in his hands now that the team has traded Mike James and bought out Troy Hudson.

"I would say me," Foye said when asked to name the Wolves' leader. "I just know from my situation growing up, I'm just a natural born leader. I never was a follower in anything. If somebody said, 'Let's go do this,' and if it didn't feel right, I wouldn't do it, even if it was my best friend. And it's my position, too, because I'm the one getting all the information from Coach Witt and delivering it to the players. That's a leader, too."

2Q Is Foye an NBA point guard and, if so, is he a guy who can lead the Wolves and make his teammates better?

A Foye will play point guard, but might not always be the point guard. Capiche? "I envision Randy to be more than just a point guard," said Wolves coach Randy Wittman, whose other options at that position are Sebastian Telfair and Marko Jaric. "I'm not going to label him as a point guard. He has the capability to do that, but I think he's got the ability to be more than that. It'd be remiss for me to just keep him at that. I can see playing him off the ball and bringing somebody in to run the point so Randy can run the floor, come off screens and not have to run the show every minute he's on the floor."

3 Q Fourth-year forward Al Jefferson, the centerpiece of the Kevin Garnett trade from the Wolves' perspective, made a massive leap forward last season, doubling the previous year by averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds. What must he do this season to again bound ahead?

A The guy who loves contact underneath with his back to the basket -- and who vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale said plays the kind of "smash-mouth" basketball he prefers -- spent the summer developing his face-up game away from the hoop.

"That's the next step to his game," Wittman said. "If he's going to emerge and really take off, he's going to have to be able to do that. If he establishes himself down low, a lot of teams are going to put their centers on him. If that happens, he's got to be able to go to the high post, put it down one time and get to the rim. I envision a lot of teams putting their centers on him, and I don't want him to get too banged up down there."

4 Q How much, how soon can the team expect from first-round draft pick Corey Brewer, winner of consecutive NCAA championships at Florida?

A Given his history, probably more than you might think from a rookie. He's long, lean and active. His ability to consistently make a midrange jump shot is a question, but both Wittman and McHale are hopeful he will help the Wolves improve two areas where they were deficient last season: offensive rebounding and reaching the free-throw line.

"He's got the talent to improve the things we need to improve upon," Wittman said. "He can defend. He's going to be able to play a lot of different positions. He runs like a deer. He can score in different ways. He's not a shooter. He can put the ball on the floor and get to the hole, and that's something we need."

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