Minnesota Timberwolves: A Final Rehearsal


After nine consecutive absences from the postseason the Minnesota Timberwolves chose to refine their infrastructure from the core, changing the team’s culture by appointing a new leader — Flip Saunders. Saunders instilled confidence, something David Kahn failed to do over his four years as president of basketball operations, among the fanbase. Along with Kahn went Pete Philo, Wolves international scouting coordinator for eight seasons, who believes the team is on the up-and-up after suffering consecutive finishes below the .500 mark.

"“It hurts to go through all those years — painful seasons — knowing we had a plan and things have started to shape up,” Philo said after being let go by the Wolves"

Milt Newton is now the Wolves general manager, though the GM title is strictly for formality. He replaces Philo and will be a second opinion for Saunders when making decisions as they pertain to player personnel. Newton has worked closely with the NBADL and was vice president of player personnel for the Washington Wizards, including a stint with Saunders in the nation’s capital. Flip remains the master mechanic in the front offices at Target Center — he’s the one calling the shots.

Thursday the Wolves were defeated in relatively dramatic fashion at the Palace of Auburn Hills by the Detroit Pistons.

The Wolves overcame a halftime deficit and entered the fourth and final quarter of the preseason Thursday clutching a five-point lead. Coach Rick Adelman replaced Kevin Martin with Alexey Shved and put his bench in position to take the team home with a victory, testing players who haven’t met expectations in Minnesota. The Timberwolves lineup of the somewhat inexperienced and certainly player in question in terms of roles for this season played as well as anyone could have expected.

What figures to be the team’s second unit stood against a lineup headed by veterans Josh Smith and Will Bynum, who were accompanied by Andre Drummond, Kyle Singler and would be T-Wolf Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Pope was a pre-draft favorite for the Wolves to select with the ninth selection of this year’s draft but the Pistons selected him with the eighth pick, one selection prior to Minnesota’s. Saunders’ dealt away with the ninth pick to Utah for the rights to the 14th and 21st draft selections and the rest is history, Shabazz Muhammad was taken at No. 14 and Gorgui Dieng, the shot blocker from Louisville, was taken at No. 21.

The quirky backcourt of Shved and Jose Barea took the floor with offseason acquisition Corey Brewer, recently re-signed Derrick Williams and rookie Gorgui Dieng after a timeout with 10 minutes remaining in the game. In the final quarter the Wolves shot 8-of-16 from the field and were led by their Puerto Rican guard, who tallied seven points on 3-of-5 field goal shooting, 1-of-2 on looks from downtown, and also had two assists, orchestrating a majority of the offensive attack throughout the evening.

Shved’s smile made an appearance after hitting a triple that gave his team a one-point lead with two minutes to play. Since his inefficient six-point effort against CSKA Moscow, he’s scored 43 points, averaging seven per game and shooting 50 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Russian native is also averaging two assists during his 17 minutes per game this preseason.

Can Barea be the intimidating sixth man for the Wolves this season? (NBA.com photo)

Dieng had three points and two boards but showed his value defending the paint as we’ve seen him do thus far in his career. He totaled eight blocks during the preseason playing in 18 minutes a game — that’s four blocks per 36 minutes — and that doesn’t even begin to do justice to his presence in terms of shots he alters or prevents players ever from taking.

Williams, though making key plays during the game’s final moments, looked out of place playing power forward and disrupted the flow of the game at times. He went 2-for-5 from the field and was 0-for-2 from downtown. Not a good sign for anyone banking on his improvement this season.

Brewer, who will likely be called upon to start on opening night, was noticeably out of sync on the floor with a lineup he may not play a lot with this season. He missed the two shots he attempted and balanced his presence out with one turnover and one assist.

After a Barea layup the Pistons took over at half court with a chance to run an inbound play with three-seconds remaining; here’s how Wolves radio broadcaster, Alan Horton, described the game’s final play.

"Josh Smith’s 3ptr from the right angle hit the front iron, caromed high into the air & fell through at the buzzer.— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) October 25, 2013"

Despite the head scratching that goes with seeing a below 30 percent lifetime 3-point shooter put the shooter’s touch on a game-winner during the preseason, the Timberwolves, along with Saunders and his new staff, can hold their head high and learn from a losing experience going into next Wednesday’s season opener against the Orlando Magic.

Kurt Rambis is the coach tied closest to an ugly era in Timberwolves history. Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr.com

Othyus Jeffers and Lorenzo Brown were cut yesterday leaving Robbie Hummel and A.J. Price the favorites for the 14th and 15th roster spots. The team must trim from 16 to 15 players by 4:00 p.m. CDT on Monday in accordance with league rules. The two will clear waivers by Monday and teams will have an opportunity to sign either player at the beginning of next week. The Chris Johnson situation is befuddling, as his $916,099 contract was one of Kahn’s final decisions as a member of the team’s front office. Saunders, Newton, Adelman and the rest of the staff are being meticulous with their decision making, looking to do what’s best to win with a combination of the pieces left in Minnesota by the administration prior to them, as well as the parts they’ve picked up along the way.

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