Souhan: This time, do Wolves have method to madness?

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 17, 2012 - 10:05 PM

Lunacy has always been a part of the team's MO, but the Batum saga might be different.

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Crazy like a pair of foxes? Wolves GM David Kahn, left, and coach Rick Adelman have doggedly pursued Nicolas Batum in a move that is at once shrewd and hints at desperation and pettiness.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune file

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You've got to give the Timberwolves credit.

Well, really, you usually don't, but let's make an exception.

Even during the most remarkable summer in Wild history, the Wolves have become the most interesting team in town.

Sure, the Wild signed the two best free agents on the market, but they were so logical about it. The owner cut the check, the general manager and his lieutenants grinded through the recruitment process, and the Wild's ability to function like a professional organization lured quality players. Where's the melodrama in that?

Meanwhile the Wolves were providing thrills normally associated with a Tilt-a-Whirl. And not just any Tilt-a-Whirl. A county fair Tilt-a-Whirl run by a creepy, toothless carny named Cletus. You know the ride is going to be either thrilling or tragic, and maybe both.

In the past few weeks, the Wolves have played financial chicken with the Portland Trail Blazers, been mocked by the Blazers' general manager, heard their superstar expressing displeasure with the direction of the team, made offers to a handful of free agents, submitted an offer sheet that was in violation of salary cap rules and put everything on hold because of their strange obsession with a semi-anonymous French small forward named Nic Batum.

Owner Glen Taylor and personnel boss David Kahn either are in the midst of executing a brilliant master plan, or they are the basketball version of a juggler with attention deficit disorder who throws a bunch of tennis balls into the air, then answers his phone.

The Wolves were always capable of enough dysfunction to fill a season of "Breaking Bad," but their operation was often more cartoonish than inscrutable. Now they are downright mysterious, and, strangely, that may not be all bad.

By late Wednesday, the Wolves will discover whether Portland has matched their offer sheet to Batum, a fine small forward who would perfectly fit coach Rick Adelman's system.

Pursuing him is shrewd. Pursuing him the way the Wolves did hints at desperation and pettiness and yet an admirable level of organizational ambition and aggression.

But making a big offer to Batum tract just months after refusing to offer a maximum-length contract to Kevin Love leads us to wonder who's calling the shots.

Is this Taylor, the man who thought Joe Smith was a star, overreaching? Is this Kahn, a former Portland sportswriter who is feuding with the Trail Blazers over the acquisition of a damaged Martell Webster, trying to force the Blazers to overpay one of their own? Or is this simply Adelman, nearing retirement, gambling on a short-term solution regardless of long-term repercussions?

The move prompted Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey to mock Kahn. Of course, Olshey appears to be Kahn West, a basketball executive because of ambition rather than pedigree.

If the Wolves land Batum, backup center Greg Stiemsma and Courtney Lee and/or former Blazer Brandon Roy, their roster could look something like this:

Ricky Rubio at point guard. Roy, if his knees hold up, at shooting guard. Batum at small forward. Love at power forward. Nikola Pekovic at center. Some combination of Derrick Williams, Lee, Chase Budinger, a backup center, J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour off the bench.

That roster also would be good enough to make the playoffs and perhaps even compete for home-court advantage in the West if Rubio held up.

On March 7, the Wolves were 21-19 and chasing a playoff spot. Then Rubio blew out his knee, and the team collapsed.

The Wolves that reached 21-19 featured no worthwhile backup center, no competent shooting guard, no reliable presence or competent defender at small forward, and a collection of bench players who, although talented, had no idea how to play organized basketball.

That team also was forced to learn Adelman's system in a shortened training camp and without the benefit of many in-season practices, because of the lockout and compressed schedule.

Should the Wolves land Batum and see their current blueprint graduate from pencil to pen, they would be able to present their best team since the last time Latrell Sprewell seemed sane.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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