There have been some complaints from Timberwolves fans about the departures of Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn this offseason. But this week, CBSSports.com ranked the Wolves as having had the second-best offseason in the NBA, trailing only Houston, which made a big splash in trading for Chris Paul, one of the best point guards in the league.
The website broke down the Wolves' moves and focused on some playoff projections to illustrate why the offseason was so respectable.
"After signing [Jimmy] Butler, [Jeff] Teague and [Taj] Gibson, SportsLine projections shot the Wolves from No. 12 in the West to just outside the top four teams — Golden State, Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. They went from a 20 percent chance of making the playoffs to better than 80. And now they've added Jamal Crawford," wrote Brad Botkin.
"That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call a huge summer."
Yes, it can be tough when you have watched a player like Rubio be such an amazing teammate and ambassador for basketball in the Twin Cities for six seasons, but it seems that the national media believes the Wolves made a large improvement in their roster and in how players view the team around the league.
In the past decade, the only All-Star the Wolves had on the roster was Kevin Love; now they have two in Butler and Teague.
"Making the situation even better is that Butler is under contract for two more years, so they have time to get this right," the article continued. "What a core that is developing in Minnesota, with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Butler. Teague gives the Wolves more shooting and scoring than Rubio, and that's big because Butler and Wiggins aren't great three-point shooters. Butler was almost certainly going to be moved from Chicago, and a lot of teams were interested — notably Boston and Cleveland. Coming out with him is a big-time win for this franchise."
While the Wolves will remain a young team, consider that last season they trotted out a starting lineup of Rubio, LaVine, Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Towns, with an average age of 23.2 years old.
This season, if Gibson gets the starting nod over Dieng, with Dieng playing a more important role coming off the bench, the Wolves' average age in the starting lineup will be 26.6, and instead of having zero seasons of playoff experience on that starting roster, they will have 19.
Crawford can score
It's hard to remember a time in recent memory when the Wolves had an automatic scorer off the bench like they will with Crawford.
And while Crawford, a three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year, is clearly in his waning years at age 37, and even if other parts of his game such as his defense might be lacking, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau acknowledged that having a streaky shooter can be a huge plus over the course of an NBA season.
Crawford has 15 consecutive seasons averaging at least 10 points per game — that streak is tied for 20th-best in NBA history. The kind of players with that kind of offensive consistency are extremely hard to come by, especially off the bench.
So now a bench unit that last season really struggled for points could all of a sudden feature Crawford, Dieng, Tyus Jones, Nemanja Bjelica and some combination of three more players, potentially including Cole Aldrich.
The other big component of Crawford's game is that he rarely gets injured, which appears to be a huge component of Thibodeau's plans with his free agents.
Crawford played in all 82 games last season, despite his age, and he has averaged 70 games per season over his 17-year NBA career.
Commits add up
Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said that while he and his staff have put together a number of early commitments for next year's recruiting class, he knows it's about getting quality, not quantity.
"Right now we have 19 commitments. I think that puts us second in the country in terms of number of commitments," Fleck said. "It's not a race, but I think one thing it does show is how many people want to be Minnesota Golden Gophers now, they cannot wait to be Golden Gophers. We'll probably get some more commitments in the next two weeks, and we're very proud of that."
Fleck said the Gophers are looking for quality individuals: "We're not looking at just the stars, we're looking at the five-star people, and that's what we want. To win a [Big Ten] championship that hasn't been done in 50 years, you have to get the right people that can handle the failing, can handle some of the growing pains, that can handle some of the doubters and the criticism of different things when you're really different. Those are the type of players we're recruiting."
• While the Vikings had the NFL's third-best defense last season, there were two key areas where the team is looking to improve: run defense and goal-line defense. The Vikings defense ranked 20th in the NFL in rushing yards per game at 106.9. More important, the Vikings were dead last in the NFL when their opponents had first-and-goal, giving up a touchdown in 90.9 percent of those situations.
• Thibodeau said that while filling the Wolves roster has been a slow process, it should pick up. "I think the one thing about this year in comparison to last year, the free agency is moving a lot slower," he said. "There is still a lot of players up on the board, and we feel we're going to have a good shot at some guys that can really play. So we want to continue to look at the shooting component and of course guys that can play defense. That's what we'll be locked into as we move forward."
• Gil Brandt, who has been around the NFL since the 1950s and knows the game of football as well as anyone, recently ranked his top defensive ends of all time and had former Vikings greats Carl Eller, Chris Doleman and Jared Allen on the list, with Eller ranked the highest at No. 8. Doleman landed right behind Eller at No. 9 and Allen came in at No. 30. The late Reggie White, the Eagles and Packers great, was No. 1 overall.
• Some familiar names are playing basketball at the Summer League at DeLaSalle. On Tuesday night, the Gophers' Jordan Murphy had 17 points, eight rebounds and two steals. Aldrich had 12 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. And former Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe had seven points, six rebounds and one block.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org