For a third straight season, the Minnesota Timberwolves feel they have what it takes to finally make it into the postseason, which will be a first fo rthe franchise without Kevin Garnett on the team. After two seasons in which the injuries of both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio got in the way, there’s a feeling of it’s now or never for the team.
This is especially true when it comes to Love, who has averaged 17.3 points and 12.2 rebounds for the team since entering the league in 2008, making two All-Star games, one All-NBA team (second) and playing for the 2012 Olympic Team, winning a gold medal.
He has two more seasons on his contract for a total of $30.3 million and a player option for a third year worth $16.7 million. There’s no doubt that Love isn’t going to stick around without making the playoffs at least once until then, and might push for a trade even earlier if this season ends in the same way the others have.
In 2011-2012, it was Rubio going down in February that killed the Timberwolves’ playoff hopes, who were a borderline 8th place seed in the West. Last season? Both Rubio and Love weren’t there from the beginning, but Minnesota entered managed to do well without them, and with Love and Rubio slowly coming back, they were a .500 team entering 2013.
But then everything fell apart, and Love was injured again, eventually playing a total of only 18 games last season. Rubio needed time to get his bearings back together, finishing with a strong March and April. It was enough for a 31-51 season, their ninth in a row without making the playoffs.
Adding Corey Brewer, Roony Turiaf, Kevin Martin and Shabazz Muhammad doesn’t make them an automatic playoff team, but ti does put them in that direction in a Western conference with around 11-12 teams thinking they can finish in the top 8, and obviously, some of them looking like locks to make the playoffs next year. With no one willing to think that the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets can miss it, this leaves only two spots, very different from the picture in the East.
Are the Timberwolves good enough? If Rubio remains healthy, we can expect something close to a double double season average from him. With a scorer like Kevin Martin on the floor, and with Nikola Pekovic very close to completing his re-signing, Kevin Love will get less attention, and the Timberwolves should have a pretty stocked, offensively at least, team, both with the first and second unit.
It’ll probably come down to how much Martin has changed during his season with the Thunder. If the ball stays in his hands for too long, it isn’t going to end well. As an off-the-ball shooter and scorer, he’s going to be worth the contract he gets. But as a ball-hog scorer, just like he was during his Houston seasons, the Timberwolves lose Rubio’s passing skills, which just might be the best thing on the team.