CBSSports.com's Eye On Basketball is taking a team-by-team look at the 2014 NBA offseason. We finish off the series with the latest rebuild of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Check out the all of the offseason reports here.
How they finished 2014: The same way they had finished the previous nine seasons -- out of the playoffs. The Minnesota Timberwolves put together their best team since Kevin Garnett was prowling the lanes in the Target Center. They had a real scorer in Kevin Martin at the shooting guard position. They had Corey Brewer come in the provide energy in defense. They had Chase Budinger signed to fix the outside shooting woes that had plagued them in the 2012-13 season. They had Ricky Rubio with his first full offseason after coming back from his ACL injury. They had a Hall of Fame coach in Rick Adelman. And they had Kevin Love returning to the roster after missing 64 games the previous season with a broken hand (twice).
This Wolves team had real talent and that talent was on display many nights. They finished tied for the third most wins by 20 points or more with 12 games. They had the ninth most double-digit wins with 26 victories by 10 or more points. They had the 13th highest net rating by the end of the season. They finished with the 10th best offense and the 16th best defense. And yet, they only won 40 games and missed the playoffs by nine games.
They were just 6-13 in games decided by four points or less, and that was after starting out 0-11 in those close games. They 6-2 run in games decided by four points or less came after it was far too late to truly make up the ground they failed to gain during the early months of the season. The team unraveled and once again was playing meaningless games when April rolled around.
Offseason needs: Figure out where they're going. With a 10th straight season that didn't end up in postseason games, the Wolves had all but sealed their fate with Kevin Love's impending 2015 free agency. When they didn't give him the five-year max extension in 2012, they gave themselves a short amount of time to figure out how to put him in a playoff environment. It wasn't until Flip Saunders took over for David Kahn that they were able to finally put a team talented enough to make the playoffs, and yet they still finished nearly 10 games out.
With one year left before his opt-out, Love quietly had his agent ask the Wolves to trade him, and it was on Minnesota to wade through the offers being tossed their way to figure out which one was best for their future. They also needed to find a new coach with Adelman stepping down and heading into retirement.
The draft: The Wolves had the 13th pick in the first round, which they used on Zach LaVine out of UCLA. The über-athletic combo guard was going to be part of a concerted effort to become more athletic on the wings. LaVine showed a good shooting stroke in a limited season at UCLA, while also displaying arguably the best dunking ability out of an impressive class. If you could harness the physical gifts with the glimpses of very good skills, you could have a very valuable scoring option on the wing.
The Wolves had three second round picks. With the 40th pick, they selected Glenn Robinson III out of Michigan to keep adding athleticism to the roster. With the 44th pick, they selected Markel Brown out of Oklahoma State and shipped him to the Brooklyn Nets for cash. With the 53rd pick, they selected Alessandro Gentile and sent him to the Houston Rockets for cash.
Free agency and trades: There were three main components to the Wolves' offseason.
1) The coaching situation. The Wolves were extremely close to grabbing Dave Joerger from the Memphis Grizzlies when Grizz owner Robert Pera went on a house-cleaning rampage. Unfortunately for the Wolves, they ended up losing out to Pera and Joerger working out their differences and a new contract extension. After the Wolves decided against bringing on Sam Mitchell to be the head coach, they added the title of coach to Flip Saunders' president and part owner duties.
Mitchell was added to the assistant staff instead and Saunders moved back to the Wolves' sidelines where he once spent nine-plus seasons.
2) The signings. With the roster in limbo because of the Love trade situation, the Wolves were pretty inactive in free agency. The only moves they made were re-signing Robbie Hummel to a two-year, minimum contract and giving Mo Williams one year and $3.75 million to be the new backup point guard.
3) The Kevin Love trade. The Boston Celtics flirted with trying to bring Love to the Celtics. The Golden State Warriors refused to part with Klay Thompson in a deal that would have netted them Love. The Chicago Bulls reportedly offered a highly competitive package of role players and Doug McDermott. But the Cleveland Cavaliers eventually executed a plan that was set into motion the day LeBron James decided to head back to his home state.
The Wolves swung a three-team deal that netted them Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and Thaddeus Young. Love went to the Cavs. Alexey Shved, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and the Miami Heat's top 10 protected 2015 first round pick was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Wolves received the last two No. 1 picks in the NBA Draft and a highly valuable role player in exchange for their franchise player. The kind of return they received in giving up their top guy was unprecedented, but it was a win for all three teams (mostly because the Sixers want to be the worst).
Overall grade and accomplishments -- B: The Wolves needed a direction this offseason but it was always going to involve starting over. By my count, the Wolves are essentially on their third rebuild since Kevin Garnett was traded in the summer of 2007. That's a tough thing to sell to a fan base that is mostly checked out from believing things will get better. The way you get them to check back in is by trading for a top prospect in the NBA and adding some fun players to the roster. The Wolves surprisingly managed to do that.
You have to knock them down because they were arguably knocking on the door of the playoffs (or maybe shouting they'd like to come in from the distant sidewalk) and have to start over. They moved a player many believe to be a top 10 guy in the league or just outside the top 10. But they managed to acquire the player several teams were intentionally being horrible for, and all they had to do was employ David Kahn back in 2012.
This hasn't changed the Wolves into a playoff team. They're going to be a team that struggles to win 30 games next season, which is the norm for them lately (it's only happened twice since trading Garnett). But they have a direction, they have potential, and they have hope once again. It's on Saunders to figure out how to realize that potential and turn it into a winning ball club. They still have to figure out if veterans like Brewer, Martin, Budinger, JJ Barea, and Nikola Pekovic fit in the short or long-term. They have to figure out the contract extension for Ricky Rubio.
Even though they're looking at another season in 2014-15 that doesn't end in playoff games, it at least feels different than the previous ones... for now.