Wolves Face Difficult Decision With Beasley

Last season, Michael Beasley arrived in Minnesota with no expectations. Cast off from the Heat in order to make room for LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Beasley was acquired for just a second round draft pick by Wolves GM David Kahn. Placed in a situation without expectations, and without the pressures of being the number two pick in the 2008 draft, Beasley began to thrive.

In November and December, Beasley averaged well over 20 points per game, shooting nearly 48% from the field. Speculation began to run rampant, as experts and fans wondered if he was finally going to produce at the level that was expected of him. Had a change of scenery turned Michael Beasley into an All-Star? It seemed too good to be true.

As with most cases of small sample sizes and inflated expectations, it was.

Beasley brought several positives to the Wolves. He was one of the best (and only) three point shooters on the team this season, and aside from Barea, Beasley was the only other Timberwolf who could create his own shot off the dribble. But he struggled this year especially, failing to fit into Rick Adelman’s free flowing offensive stylings.

A natural ball-stopper, Beasley settled for mid-range jumpers on 38% of his shots, shooting just 40% from that range. His health was also a problem, as he missed 19 games due to foot and toe injuries. Midway through the season, Beasley lost his role as a starter to an ever changing cast of characters, including the equally disappointing Wes Johnson.

As Beasley’s production waned, so did his minutes. In March, Beasley topped 20 minutes in just two games, and though some of his games were limited by injuries, some were limited by general ineffectiveness.

There is a significant chance that Michael Beasley has played his final game in Minnesota. He is a restricted free agent, but since the Wolves own his option, they may choose to pick up the $8.1 million price tag that Beasley carries, or let him become an unrestricted free agent and try his luck elsewhere.

So Minnesota is left with a difficult decision: should they give Beasley one more year, one more chance to reach his considerable potential? Would a full length season with real practices and real coaching from Rick Adelman, a coach famous for getting the most out of his players, help Beasley become the offensive force that he could be?
Or should the Wolves pass on Beasley, clearing salary space to try and lure more established talent? Minnesota has an attractive package to offer an incoming shooting guard or small forward, boasting a solid core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic. The Wolves visibly enjoyed themselves playing with Rubio, a trait which could attract a talented player.

Conventional wisdom says that the Wolves will let Beasley walk. They have invested two years into resurrecting his career, and while their efforts haven’t been a total loss (Beasley averaged 19 points per game in 2010), the clock is ticking for Minnesota. Kevin Love has two years left before he can decide whether or not to pick up the player option on his contract. He will want to see results from the Wolves if they want to keep him. Minnesota needs a sure thing, a proven star.

Beasley, though dripping with potential and raw talent, is far from proven. And while his career is far from over, his time in Minneapolis has probably drawn to a close.

Minnesota Timberwolves Season Review

It’s hard not to look at Minnesota’s 2011-2012 season and imagine what could have been.

When Ricky Rubio went down for the year, the Wolves were in 8th place in the Western Conference and were surging forward. Behind Rubio’s artistry and basketball IQ, Kevin Love’s arrival as a genuine superstar, and, most improbably, Nikola Pekovic’s emergence as a productive offensive and defensive force, Minnesota was on the fast track to their first playoff appearance since 2004.

Head coach Rick Adelman built an offense around his best players, a revelation for the Timberwolves who spent the past three years shackled by Kurt Rambis’ triangle offense, a disaster for the personnel on the roster. Adelman’s guidance, along with player development, turned the Wolves into a tough, competitive team.

But Rubio crumpled to the floor on March 9, tearing his ACL late in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. His was the beginning of a veritable parade of injuries throughout the end of the season that quickly knocked Minnesota out of playoff contention. Timberwolves players missed over 160 games combined due to injuries, including key contributors like Michael Beasley, Luke Ridnour, JJ Barea, Pekovic, and Love, who missed the last seven games of the season after being concussed by an inadvertent elbow from Denver’s JaVale McGee.

But while Timberwolves nation understandably mourns the loss of yet another snakebitten season, an optimistic observer sees hope in the coming months. Not the usual abstract, conditional hope that Minnesotans are used to, a hope to see players pan out who never cease to disappoint, but real, tangible evidence of a bright future on the horizon.

Rubio’s injury was devastating to be sure, both to the young point guard as a player, and a team that was starting to gel. But the floppy haired Spaniard will return, and his game was never built on his athleticism. Rather, it was built on his incredible ability to see a basketball court as a chess board, thinking three steps ahead of the opposition, and on his long, rangy arms that filled passing lines and disrupted opposing point guards.

Love proved himself to be a go-to scorer, as well as an elite rebounder. In his highest scoring season yet, Love averaged 26 points per game, and kept his name alive in MVP debates until he was sidelined. His post game was noticeably better than last season, and he made 105 three point field goals in 55 games. Love’s defense, though still merely average, also improved under Adelman’s tutelage.

With two young stars like Love and Rubio, and an emerging post presence in Pekovic, it’s easy to imagine that the Wolves could acquire the players necessary to make a legitimate run to the postseason next year. The first priority will be to sign or trade for some reliable wing players. Wolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda recently reported that Minnesota had a chance to trade for Andre Iguodala last year just before the draft, but turned down the deal. A similar marquee wing star could help turn the Wolves around.

And perhaps, this time next year, Minnesota’s season won’t be over.

Hiring Adelman Puts Wolves Back On Track

Maybe it was the Timberwolves intriguing roster.

Maybe it was the opportunity to experience a real winter, after working several seasons in balmy Houston. No? You’re probably right.

Maybe it was the $5 million/year contract that David Kahn waved in front of him, potentially season ending lockout be damned.

It’s hard to tell for sure, but, regardless of the reasons, the arrival of Rick Adelman is more than just a coaching change for the Timberwolves. If Adelman’s previous teams are any indication, it’s going to be a complete change of style and culture.

It’s been well-documented, but I’ll reiterate: Last season, the Wolves were first in the league in pace (as measured by possessions per game) and committed the most turnovers. They were also 27th worst in the NBA on defense (as measured by points allowed per 100 possessions). And over the summer, Minnesota added Ricky Rubio, a point guard notorious for his flashy style of play in the open court. The Timberwolves don’t appear likely to slow their already frantic pace any time soon.

But this pace is exactly what David Kahn replaced previous head coach Kurt Rambis with Rick Adelman for: controlled chaos. Under Rambis, the Wolves ran a clumsy version of Phil Jackson’s Triangle in Los Angeles, a byproduct of Rambis being Jackson’s assistant for several years. Kahn wants the Timberwolves to play entertaining, fast-paced basketball.

More importantly, Kahn wants to see the Wolves win basketball games, because after two consecutive seasons yielded a combined 32 wins, this franchise has seen its fair share of futility.

It certainly looks like he has chosen the correct man for this job. Adelman boasts an impressive record as a head coach. But more importantly, he has dealt with teams similar to the current Minnesota squad. Adelman coached the Sacramento Kings from 1998-2006, a time in which the Kings were a wonderful, fast-paced offensive machine. They had a flashy, entertaining point guard who liked to run (Jason Williams). They had several post players who could both stretch the floor, and run an effective fast break (most notably Chris Webber). And unfortunately for Adelman, they also had the misfortune of playing in the Western Conference during a time when Duncan was in his prime in San Antonio, and Kobe and Shaq were winning dysfunctional championships together in Los Angeles.

The Timberwolves, like those Kings, are built to run. We covered Rubio earlier. Kevin Love, coming off a break-out All-Star season, has mastered the art of rebounding and making a nice outlet pass as well as anyone since Wes Unseld. Rookie Derrick Williams is projected by many as the best player in the 2011 draft, an athletic combo forward who can both dunk with ferocity and shoot with range, averaging 56% from beyond the arc in college.

But Kahn didn’t hire Adelman exclusively for his prowess as an offensive coach. In 2002, the Kings, under Adelman’s tutelage, were top in the NBA in pace, and 6th in defense. A year later? Fastest again, and second in defense. Adelman’s teams know how to run on offense, but also how to get back on defense. For a young team like the Timberwolves, this kind of expertise will prove invaluable.

Let’s be clear: the Timberwolves will have problems, beginning with big men. Kahn has been a proponent of Darko Milicic for two years, signing the big man to a four year contract last summer. But Darko’s style seems unlikely to mesh well with Adelman’s.

There is also a glut of talent at the forward positions. Love, Anthony Tolliver, Anthony Randolph, and arguably Williams and Michael Beasley should all be playing at the 4. Beasley played relatively inefficient basketball (19 ppg on 17 shot attempts) in part because he was asked to play the three, and in part because of his continuing love affair with long, two point jumpers. Wes Johnson underperformed last year, largely because the Wolves played him out of position at the 2 when he spent his college years playing a Shawn Marion-like combo role at the 3 and 4. Distributing minutes at each of these positions will not be an easy task, even for a coach like Adelman.

But for fans of the Timberwolves, a glut of talent at ANY position feels like a nice improvement. The roster is full of youth and athleticism, and it feels both unfamiliar and wonderful to be in competent coaching hands.

For the first time since Kevin Garnett was traded in 2007, this franchise, though far from ready for a real playoff run, seems to be back on the right track.