An indication of how this season went for the Timberwolves: Their most important game this month didn't actually involve them.
That game was Utah's victory over Phoenix on Tuesday night. Former Wolves player Al Jefferson helped take over in the fourth quarter as the Jazz secured the Western Conference's final playoff spot with a 100-88 victory. Utah making the playoffs means the Jazz will send its first-round draft pick this year to the Wolves as a part of the trade that sent Jefferson to Salt Lake City.
So the Wolves, who finish their season Thursday night against playoff-bound Denver at Target Center, will have a first-round pick after all. Among those cheering that news Wednesday was Kevin Love.
"I was happy for him," Love said of Jefferson. "I was happy he's had that success, and I'm happy we have a pick now in a deep draft."
Love, who stayed long after practice ended to shoot jumpers with assistant coach Bill Bayno, joked about sending Jefferson a token of his gratitude, saying he might send Jefferson a treat for his dog.
"It gives us another asset," Love said of the draft pick.
It is something for fans to look forward to in the short term as the Wolves end another season out of the playoffs. Thursday's finale means more for the Nuggets, who still are jockeying for playoff position.
For the Wolves, the game could mark the final one in a Minnesota jersey for a few players.
Among those with an uncertain future is forward Michael Beasley.
"I'd be lying to you if I said it didn't cross my mind," said Beasley, who will become an unrestricted free agent if the Wolves don't offer him a tender of nearly $8.2 million. "But, at the same time, I'm hopeful. I'm not putting too much thought or energy into it, because it's one of those things I can't control. I'm going to approach my summer as if I'm coming back next season."
The Wolves are getting a jump on summer, too. With one game left, President of Basketball Operations David Kahn and coach Rick Adelman already have begun exit interviews with players. On Friday, Kahn and Adelman will meet with the media to discuss the just-completed season and look ahead to 2012-13.
Adelman, in his 21st season as an NBA coach, is about to miss the playoffs for only the fifth time. He missed the playoffs twice while coaching Golden State. More recently, Adelman's Houston team failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons.
"In Houston, you lose two superstars [Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady] over 18 months; I don't really mind it that much," Adelman said. "Because the guys played their tails off right up until the end. This year has been a lot different because of the way we lost, and how we've lost. It wasn't that long ago we were right in the race. So that doesn't sit well with me at all. We have to do better."
The Wolves were right in the playoff mix when Ricky Rubio injured a knee March 9. A rash of injuries to the likes of Love, Luke Ridnour and Nikola Pekovic exposed a Wolves bench that wasn't as deep as Adelman at first thought. The Wolves enter Thursday's game having won only once in April and just five times in the 24 games since Rubio's injury.
"I don't think you can look at the late part of the season as far as the team we are," Love said. "Once we get healthy, get Ricky back, get everybody back to 100 percent, I feel -- even with the team we have now -- I think we'd be pretty damned good. We had guys hurt. That's not an excuse, but it's unfortunate for us. I think we'll win a lot of games next season."