Photo - Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - It's not every year that a team coming off of a 24-40 record and a last place finish in their division draws as much attention and excitement as the Timberwolves are currently drawing in Minneapolis. Yet despite the home town crowd's interest, on the national level the Timberwolves are not being taken seriously yet and continue to be overlooked. Current national rankings have the Wolves slotted in at 14th while fan rankings bump them down to 16th. Still, as the Wolves kicked off their preseason workouts in Mankato, MN on Tuesday, optimism is running high stemming off of brief glimpse of what could come and an overhauled roster ready to take the game a little more serious.
Monday afternoon saw the Timberwolves hold their annual media day and for the first time the public (via the media) was offered a look at this new-look Timberwolves squad.
Head coach Rick Adelman bluntly assessed the state of the team saying that last year the Wolves "were very inconsistent."
"If we're going to have a chance to win we have to be consistent defensively," Adelman said. "We needed [to get] some energy, needed a more versatile team with more ball handling than we had before."
Adelman referred to the abbreviated 2011-2012 season as a year of two very different halves. The first half (more accurately two-thirds) of the year with Ricky Rubio running the show and then the second half after Rubio's season ending knee injury.
"We were actually pretty good the first 40-plus games," Adelman said. "The last 20 plus, we were awful. It just brought us right back to where we were the year before."
After starting the season 21-19, the Wolves dropped off the face of the earth after Rubio's injury and finished the season on a 5-21 drought that saw the team lose 11-straight games in April and 13 of their last 14 to close the year.
"I'm still shocked that when [Ricky] went down, to see how much he meant to our team," Adelman said. "When we lost him, it was almost like the balloon just deflated."
With Ricky poised to return to the court late in 2012, the Timberwolves are doing their best to put last season behind them. One of the first steps taken was a dramatic roster overhaul. Of the twenty players invited to training camp in Mankato, only seven were on last year's roster. Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved highlight the list of new faces, but with Rubio down to start the season, it might be wise to invest in a photo roster this year to help you follow along the rapid rotation of newcomers that will have an impact on the court this season.
Here are a few highlight's from yesterday's media day with updates from Rubio, Love, Roy and a handful of the other 2012-2013 Minnesota Timberwolves...
Adelman expects "deficiencies" until Rubio returns to the court.
Rick Adelman didn't mince words when discussing the positive impact that Ricky Rubio had on last year's team and will have on this year's squad. "We're going to have some deficiencies [until Ricky comes back]" Adelman said. "When a guy's out, you can't wait for him to come back. You've got to deal with what you have right now."
With Rubio scheduled to begin light workouts and shooting down in Mankato this week, he is likely on pace to return to the court late in December. While he is sidelined, the Wolves will have to turn to veterans Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea and second year point guard Malcom Lee to fill in.
"When you lose a player, somebody else has to step up," Adelman said. "We're still going to do things offensively and defensively keeping [Ricky] in mind, but we're still going to run the same things. When he comes back, it will be pretty effortless to get him back in the swing of things."
All-Star appearance, check! New contract, check! Gold medal, check! So what's next for Kevin Love?
Fresh off of a gold medal at the London Olympic games this summer, Kevin Love returns to a team where he does not simply blend into the crowd. His success last season officially elevated Love to superstar status in the NBA and his new contract rightfully pays him for his production. So what's next in the progression of Kevin Love? According to coach Adelman, the next step for Love, is actually doing less.
"Last year we relied on [Kevin] so much," Adelman said. "[For us to win], he had to get 26 points. He had to get 12 rebounds. He had to be a focal point, especially when Ricky went out. We're really hoping that doesn't have to be the case this year...We have to have other pieces around him, where he's comfortable knowing he doesn't have to do that all the time."
With players like Kirilenko, Roy, Budinger and the newly slimmed down Nikola Pekovic surrounding him, the Wolves are hoping that Kevin will be able to become more of a facilitator this season. Having Kevin as the center of the offense but not necessarily the focal point, should open up opportunities for everybody.
Can dropping LBs lead to dropping jumpers?
Off-season conditioning comes in many different shapes for players across the league. For two Timberwolves big men, the focus of their offseason workouts came in the form of getting in better shape and dropping their level of body fat.
Last season, Nikola Pekovic's playing weight was pushing three-bills. When photos of a slimmed down version of "Big Pek" began surfacing on Twitter late in the summer questions arose surrounding the remaining strength of the Wolves new skinny-big man. When we saw him with our own eyes yesterday he was noticeably slimmer, but assured us that there was nothing lost outside of a little blubber.
"[I only] lost a few pounds," Pek said Monday. "I was not concerned on losing a lot, but losing body fat. That's more important for us."
Nikola said that in fact he feels even stronger and the biggest change is that he has better endurance and can run the court more consistantly. Time will tell on the endurance part, but his coach and teammates were not afraid to praise the big man on his strength. Adelman said that his teammates "don't want to go against him" in the team's scrimmages and point guard J.J. Barea added "Pek's the strongest guy in the NBA, you could ask Dwight [Howard] every day!"
Joining Pek on the quest to lower the body fat was power forward Derrick Williams. An under sized power forward in the NBA last season, Williams relied on his freakish leaping and athleticism to get him by. This year, he opted to drop some pounds and try his hand at the small forward position. Listed as 241lbs on last year's roster, Williams is now in the 230s and noticeably more toned.
"I think the biggest thing for me is that my body fat was 12% last season," Williams said. "I dropped that all that way down to 7%...I don't get winded as easily, I just feel a lot better."
Williams said that he is prepared to help out his team wherever and whenever coach Adelman decides to use him.
"I just get out there and play," Williams said. "I really don't want to have a set position...I'm just trying to get out there and [not give them an excuse] not to play me."
Fresh out of retirement, Brandon Roy could very well be the X-Factor for Wolves.
After being amnestied by the Blazers and told that he would never play again, Brandon Roy is back and says he feels better than ever.
Having been dumped to the curb by Portland, Roy began looking into his options and decided that he was not ready to hang it up. Roy did the research and landed on a decision to try a new procedure called "Regenicon" that would help lubricate his knees and give him better mobility.
"I thought I could play before the procedure," Roy said. "At the end of the day it has to be my decision to stop playing and I just never felt like I was ready to stop."
Coach Adelman does plan to use Roy on a limited basis during the preseason and will not be active in games on back-to-back nights. Roy agreed with the coach's preseason plan but made it clear that when it comes to the regular season he expects to be able to play in back-to-backs.
Roy's Regenicon procedure should last him about a year and a half before he will be required to go in for another round of injections into his knees.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Timberwolves' updates and breaking Timberwolves' news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjMansourKFAN