Wolves' rebuilding is unfinished

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 25, 2012 - 6:26 AM

The Wolves have three starters that are the core of the team. Finding the right mix to surround them is next.

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Timberwolves forward Kevin Love

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune file

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These final, failing weeks have brought more than echoes of Timberwolves seasons past, when they went more than three years without winning an April game until doing so last week in Detroit.

They have clearly revealed -- particularly to coach Rick Adelman -- just how much more work needs to be done with a youthful roster that already is five years into a rebuilding process since superstar Kevin Garnett was traded.

"It really gives you an idea of the depth you have," Adelman said of a season-ending spiral in which his team has lost 12 of its past 13 games and 20 of its past 25.

Six weeks ago, the Timberwolves were 21-19 and aimed toward the playoffs for the first time since 2004, chugging toward May with Kevin Love's nightly double-doubles, Ricky Rubio's precocious playmaking and Nikola Pekovic's brawn and menacing tattoos leading the way.

Then Rubio tore up his knee and Pekovic limped toward season's end with bone spurs on his right ankle bothering him nearly every step of the way while Love's season ended eight games from the finish because of a concussion.

On Thursday, the Wolves will conclude their eighth consecutive losing season aware just how crucial the coming summer will be. The team still lacks mental toughness, not to mention a dependable shot blocker, bench depth and most noticeably players who can handle the ball, create plays and make shots from both wing positions.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor is bringing back President of Basketball Operations David Kahn for a fourth season because Taylor says he likes the job Kahn has done since he signed a three-year contract to run the team in May 2009.

Kahn drafted Rubio fifth overall a month later, then patiently waited two years until he signed him and brought him to the NBA last summer. He also patiently pursued Adelman for months last summer before signing him to replace fired Kurt Rambis, whom Kahn hired in his third month on the job.

Both moves are slam dunks on a managerial résumé that otherwise includes more than a few whiffs.

The Wolves have owned eight first-round draft picks in Kahn's three drafts, and the only one who looks like a bona-fide NBA star is Rubio. First-round picks Jonny Flynn and Lazar Hayward already are gone; considerable questions remain about top-four picks Wes Johnson and Derrick Williams; relatively low-cost gambles on Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Martell Webster and Darko Milicic haven't paid off; and Kahn traded Al Jefferson, now leading the Jazz into the playoffs, for nothing tangible so far.

All of it leads into a crucial summer, when the Wolves are without their own first-round pick -- traded away long ago by Kevin McHale -- but do have Utah's mid first-round pick in what is considered the deepest draft in years.

Somehow, someway, the Wolves must come away from this summer considerably improved, whether it's by developing Williams and Johnson, dealing a young player(s) and draft picks for a veteran player or signing a veteran free agent. Any of the three ways can change the complexion of a team that veteran J.J. Barea the other night said has too few players who care enough about winning.

"We have to be aggressive in all those areas," Adelman said. "We still have a really nice core group. We've got to get them healthy and we've got to add to those people."

That core group consists of Love, Rubio and Pekovic -- two of the three acquired by McHale when he was the team's top basketball executive -- and are complemented by guards Luke Ridnour and Barea, both of whom Kahn signed to free-agent contracts.

After that?

"I don't know," Adelman said. "But I've seen situations where you add two, three guys and suddenly you've really got something."

Summer of moves?

The Wolves could add Love's new $13 million salary and still clear more than $12 million for free agency if they let go Beasley, Randolph, Milicic, Webster and retiring Brad Miller. But they still would have to fill out those roster spots, and as many as six NBA teams could have $20 million or more to spend this summer when the Wolves' best options are difficult-to-sign restricted free agents -- O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon, Nicolas Batum -- or perhaps overpaying unrestricted free agents Ray Allen or Landry Fields.

More likely is a trade for a player such as Kevin Martin, who played for Adelman twice and whose $13 million salary Houston wants to shed.

Love said he will lobby management to be "aggressive" in adding veterans. "I think we just need to make some moves," he said.

Adelman said he believes the team's young, vibrant nucleus will attract free agents.

"When you look at Kevin and you look at Ricky and the style that we're going to play, it's going to be good," Adelman said. "I think people will look at it. We have some pieces people would like to play with. I mean, this team was pretty good not long ago and let's face it, guys like to get paid. So if you can pay 'em and you have some people around? There are some positives here."

There'd be more positives if the Wolves could get more of this young talent to approach fulfilling their proverbial potential. Assistant coaches Bill Bayno and Shawn Respert will spend the summer in Los Angeles working with Williams and Johnson, among others.

"If you can't do it in free agency, if you can't do it with trades, then you you need to do it with the people you have on your team right now," Adelman said about improving the team. "Do we do that? That's what we have to evaluate and figure out. We've got some really good pieces to work with, but clearly we need to get a lot better."

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