Minnesota Timberwolves nearing $100 million renovation deal with city of Minneapolis

This 2011 rendering looks freaking awesome, frankly.

Note: If you don’t live in or near Minnesota, this post probably doesn’t pertain to you. But if you read to the bottom (or just scroll there really fast, whatever floats your boat), I included something only a soulless alien wouldn’t enjoy. So read all the way through to test if you are a soulless alien!

The Target Center isn’t a bad place to watch a basketball game, per se. The seats are a little uncomfortable, unless you can afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for the low-level comfy chairs, but seats in every arena are uncomfortable unless you can afford the comfy chairs. The piped-in music and sound effects are absolutely deafening in the upper-levels, but the college kids who predominantly end up sitting in those seats because they are considerably cheaper probably listen to louder things on a consistent basis. The court has been frequently mocked for the lighter shade of finish inside the 3-point arc (which, for my money, is actually kind of cool, although I know a lot of people disagree with me). But compared to other venues and arenas, there is little inherently wrong with the Target Center as a whole. It’s just kind of unremarkable.

According to Burl Gilyard of Twin Cities Business, however, the Target Center is on the verge of getting a big-time facelift.

Via Twin Cities Business:

City leaders have been negotiating behind the scenes with the Minnesota Timberwolves and arena manager AEG for more than a year on the $100 million project. But now city and team officials say that they are hoping to have an agreement hammered out by the end of December. The city of Minneapolis owns Target Center.

“Our goal is to have an agreement by the end of the year,” Jeremy Hanson Willis, executive director of the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development department, told Twin Cities Business. “Everybody is focused on getting it done. I am confident that we will reach an agreement and be able to move forward.”

A team official echoed that timetable.

“We believe along with the city that being able to close out a deal by the end of the year is absolutely doable,” said Ted Johnson, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the Timberwolves. “We feel from the team’s side that we’ve made great progress.”

When two sides are discussing money, it’s never a good idea to believe reports of progress unless both sides are reporting that things are going well. But that’s what we have here, so it’s a good sign for continued development.

Here’s the thing: $100 million is a LOT OF MONEY. THAT’S SO MUCH MONEY. By way of comparison: My alma mater is currently fundraising to construct an entirely new building for the athletic department. It will be a practice facility for baseball, softball, golf, soccer and football — essentially all of the outdoor sports. That facility will cost roughly $3 million. For $100 million, especially with the bare bones of a stadium already in place, this project could be enormous.

What’s more, after seeing the renovations to Target Field, Wolves fans should be excited. Target Field went from a dumpy park to a beautiful state-of-the-art baseball facility. The Timberwolves’ play this season will be the biggest factor in putting people in the seats, but shiny new renovations to the arena certainly won’t hurt the cause.

This may seem like a boring business-y story, but for anyone who attends Timberwolves games in person, this is kind of big. It will affect Minnesota’s fans (hopefully in a positive way), and we will continue to give you updates as we find them.

For those of you who patiently waited until now (and for you scrollers….screw you guys), here’s your reward for making it to the bottom: A baby picture of Ricky Rubio. It is everything you could POSSIBLY want. And more.

Y/N: Did this brighten your day?

  • If you answered yes: Congratulations! You might be human.
  • If you answered no: You are probably a soulless alien. Sorry.

Glad I could clear that up for everyone.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Rick Adelman will officially return to the Minnesota Timberwolves next season

Rick Adelman will return for his third season at the helm for Minnesota.

After last season, in which Minnesota watched key contributor after key contributor go down with serious injury after serious injury, it would be understandable — if unexpected — if Rick Adelman decided to hang up his coaching clipboard.

But according to Star Tribune reporter Sid Hartman, Wolves owner Glen Taylor confirmed that Adelman will once again glower at his team on the sidelines this season.

There never has been much doubt about Rick Adelman returning as Timberwolves coach, but it wasn’t for sure until he brought his coaching staff out to his home in Portland, Ore., last week and laid out the plans for this season.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor confirmed Adelman’s return Sunday. “Yes, he did [say he’s coming back],” Taylor said.

Adelman’s return, while not a surprise, was somewhat in doubt. After two disappointing season (due to injury, to be sure, but disappointing nonetheless) combined with his wife’s health problems last year, retiring — at the very least — had to be on the radar for him.

That said, it’s hard to imagine that he would pass on the opportunity to coach Minnesota’s much-improved roster, with talented 3-point shooting being added in Kevin Martin and returning in Chase Budinger, as well as the newly long-term inked Nikola Pekovic. The offensive potential for this team is extremely high, and Adelman is known as a coach who can bring out the best in his offenses. There is a lot for him here, and he is certainly smart enough to realize that.

Adelman is an extremely talented coach, and it seemed unlikely (and unfitting) that he would leave the NBA after a losing season. How the Wolves perform this year, and how the injured ranks hold up, may determine whether or not he sticks around for a fourth season, but it’s definitely good news hearing that he plans to return for 2013-14. Be sure to visit NBABettingPredictions for all your betting desires.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

#TwolfRank: #1 Kevin Love

Conqueror?

This is the grand finale in Howlin T-Wolf’s series of posts ranking the 2013-14 roster. We hope you have enjoyed the ride. As always, you can follow Howlin T-Wolf’s writers on Twitter, Tom (@Tom_NBA), Jonah (@HowlinTwolf) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBA). Brace yourself: The season is coming.

The Prequel

Fear not, for after me will come a mighty one, bearing the same name, yet different. He will not look like a warrior, and he will encounter the pangs of growth. His surname will imply weakness. The ruling houses of Rambis and Kahn will not trust his great strength. Yet he will overthrow the ruling houses, and on his shoulders, the Nation of Wolves will rest.

-Kevin Garnett, 2007.

Before Ricardo Rubio I Vives and Nikolai Pekerov, the Nation of Wolves — and its center, the Target — knew a king more powerful than any that had come before. His scowl was feared by his foes. His passion was so strong, it brought him to tears. But rather than making him weak, his tears shone with the intensity of a warrior who truly hated to lose. His name was Kevin Garnett.

But although Garnett himself was strong, his army was weak. So, presenting the Nation of Wolves with the message above, he gave up his rule over the Nation of Wolves and joined forces with two other kings in a faraway land, leaving the Nation of Wolves bereft of a leader and in anarchy. The lumbering king who replaced Kevin Garnett, Sir Al of Jefferson, possessed only a portion of Garnett’s ability to attack and none of his ability to defend the kingdom. Leaderless, the Nation of Wolves wandered in darkness, pondering what Kevin Garnett’s cryptic message could have meant. Word spread to the Nation of Kevin Garnett’s ultimate victory less than a year after his departure. His subjects celebrated, but it was a subdued, bittersweet celebration.

All hope seemed lost when a young man found his way to the Nation of Wolves from a land near the sea. He was hefty of build, and he possessed an uncanny ability to pick himself back up, to rebound. The Nation of Wolves remembered Garnett’s words (“Bearing the same name, yet different,” “He will not look like a warrior”) and their hopes were raised. Perhaps this was the one.

Years passed. The ruling parties of Kahn and Rambis were overthrown at the hands of Kevin Love. He fought in the same position as Kevin Garnett, powering forward, but he did so differently, fulfilling the words of the prophecy “He will be the same, yet different.” The Nation of Wolves began to believe: This was the man. He would lead them. When the House of Rambis was replaced by the aging but venerable House of Adelman, Love became the centerpiece of the Nation.

And so it came to pass that Kevin Love was the successor and heir to the throne of Kevin Garnett. He was neither physically imposing nor blessed with a surname of power. Rather, he was known for his versatility on the attack and his resilience, his continual prowess at rebounding in a crowd of enemies. At times, his defensive tactics were questionable, but the Nation of Wolves was willing to forgive these oversights and chalk them up to inexperience, knowing that there would be a Day of Reckoning. The Nation of Wolves knew that one day, Kevin Love would have to prove himself both as an attacking conqueror and a ruler capable of defending his own keep.

This is where we find ourselves now, friends. We have reached the Day of Reckoning, a crossroads as a Nation of Wolves. Either we move forward and, behind Kevin Love, we break through the seemingly impenetrable wall into the Land of the Playoffs, or we fail. The quest has never seemed more tenuous, but neither has it ever seemed this possible. Kevin Love has his strongest army to date. He will attack with Pekerov on his right and Ricardo Rubio on his left, as well as archers Martin and Budinger from Nation of Houston. He will face strong opposition, but he knows the final words of the prophecy: “On his shoulders, the Nation of Wolves will rest.

Indeed, we will go as far as Kevin Love can carry us. On his shoulders, we rest.

Once again, we thank you for putting up with our ridiculous rantings here on Howlin’ T-Wolf and for contributing to #TwolfRank on Twitter. We can’t wait to share this upcoming season with you.

 

#TwolfRank: #4 Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin will improve Minnesota’s spacing and 3-point shooting.

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. Here is the eighth part in this roster-long series and we are officially halfway through. As always, you can follow Jonah (@howlintwolf), Tom (@Tom_NBA) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBA) on Twitter as well to partake in the fun.

Offseasons are tricky beasts for NBA GMs.

On the one hand, a general manager has empirical evidence of certain things from previous seasons. The Mavericks, last year, sucked at rebounding. The Bucks needed a more efficient point guard. The Magic needed…well, the Magic kind of needed everything. These are the most obvious needs and fixes, and they must be dealt with accordingly.

On the other hand, a GM has to balance the empirical evidence — in Minnesota’s case, the fact that the team needed to acquire 3-point shooters badly— with the hypotheticals. You know the grisly numbers: The Wolves were 30th from 3-point range, shooting .305 from behind the arc. The number was hurt by Minnesota’s many, many injuries, but it was abundantly clear the Wolves needed What will this 3-point shooter bring? Can he defend? If so, does he fit our defensive schemes? If not, can we compensate either by hiding him or by simply outscoring the opponent?

Kevin Martin’s addition to the Wolves seems like an attempt at the latter. Martin, who shot a blistering 42.6% from 3-point range last season including 49.4% at home, will go a long way toward solving Minnesota’s 3-point issues. He is an extremely talented scorer who can boost a team in a variety of ways. In the 2012-13 season, Martin’s +/- for Oklahoma City was 5.7; an important stat, in part, because Martin’s defensive deficiencies are easily measurable. But teams can hide a bad defender, and Martin’s offensive skills will be a valuable weapon for the Wolves.

Much has been made of coach Rick Adelman’s connection and familiarity with Martin from their shared years in Sacramento, and their comfort level certainly won’t hurt. But Martin’s role will be more important, and he is a perfect fit for Minnesota. In the starting lineup, Martin will be far from the focal point. I hesitate to start comparing options (as in: Kevin Love will be the “No. 1 option on offense”) because the first option should be the open player, and with Pek and Love, perimeter players should be able to find plenty of space. So whether he is the first, second, third or fourth option in a play, the most important role Martin will provide is spacing. His 3-point shooting will be huge in freeing up the lane for driving players (Rubio), diving players off the pick-and-roll (Pek) and whatever it is Love feels like doing at any given time.

Hand-off 3-point attempts may also be a way to utilize Martin well. In 2012-13, on hand-off attempts, he started the season 10-12 from 3-point range, and although he cooled off a bit as the year progressed, incorporating Oklahoma City’s hand-off set for Martin could be a great weapon for Minnesota.

It’s the simplest play imaginable with devastating results when Martin is hitting from deep. Here’s how it works (worth noting: this play also works well with Martin moving toward the baseline):

Martin gets the ball above the break. He passes to Collison and follows his pass. His defender is forced to go under the screen (at which point Martin steps back and fires an open 3-pointer) or go over the screen, allowing Martin to zip into the lane. Collison is an excellent big man, the type of player who not only sets a solid screen but can also deliver a pass at precisely the right moment. This is harder than it seems; Collison has to concentrate on two things — handing the ball off and setting the screen — while not committing a violation.

Martin, however, finds himself headed to a team with two big men who can run this play extremely effectively. Pekovic — who is enormous, in case you hadn’t heard — sets solid screens and will force players to go a LONG ways around him. If Pek’s man switches onto Martin, he is still fast enough to take a big off the dribble. Love is not only a very solid passer, he can also do everything else to make this play dangerous. Collison, while an admirable player, is not the kind of shooter at any range that Love is, nor nearly as good off the dribble.

There’s another option as well for Martin:

This play amounts to little more than a hand-off pick-and-roll, and it would open up considerably if Martin knocked down a couple of 3-pointers in a game off hand-offs. Defenses would suck into him, which would spring Love or Pekovic for a dive to the basket.

In 2012-13, Martin shot 27% from 3-9 feet and 49% from 10-15. There are, in essence, two places he should be willing to shoot from: The 3-point range (where his eFG% was 64.1, per HoopData.com) or at the rim, where he shot 73%. Martin is the perfect role-scorer for the modern NBA: A 3-point shooter who takes very few twos unless he is right next to the hoop. A team that desperately needed role scorers, the Wolves may find themselves very well off with the return of Chase Budinger (outlined by Derek yesterday) and the arrival of Martin.

It’s possible, of course, that the Wolves have over-adjusted. It’s possible they will score 102 points and give up 103 on too many evenings to break their playoff drought.

But it’s comforting to see a general manager make moves to correct last season’s failings. Projecting for the future is important, but learning from the past is more accurate. And if the past is any indicator, the addition of Martin may go a long way towards helping fix last season’s most blatant issue.

Here are your thoughts:

@JJDacotah: finally a normal sized SG. Good scorer and outside shooter, should play well coming back to Adelman’s system.

‏@BreakTheHuddle: I believe Martin’s shot is difficult to block because he’s right-handed, but shoots the ball from a lefty’s release point. #Wolves

@TP_King: he’d be great in a pickup game

‏@KWAPT: Coming off a career best .426 from beyond the arc, gives Wolves a much needed deep threat & speedy weapon in transition. #TwolfRank

@thedailywolf: Martin could start for the #Twolves tomorrow, blind folded, and fit in seamlessly. Excellent 3-PT shooter and backdoor cut artist.

@ZSchneiderK Mart is the perfect remedy for the Wolves’ past woes…an excellent 3pt shooter and efficient scorer that will help floor spacing

@nickjj42: Great shooter. Gets to the free throw line. Perfect fit for Ricks offense. Will get lots of open shots with Rubio and compan

@the_real_gabby: he’s an actual SG, and thrived under adelman twice. is he going to be a all star? probably not, but i dont care. he can score.

 ‏@Ry4n_SmItHnot consistent enough

@InfraRenI think it’s a bigger deal than it’s been made. He is EXACTLY what we’ve needed. Scorer, shooter and optimal in RA’s system.

Want to take part? Look for one of us to tweet out who the next player will be and tweet us your thoughts on him using the #TwolfRank hashtag and we’ll throw your tweet in the post.

#Twolf Rank: #7 Dante Cunningham

Athletic and extremely hard-working, Cunningham quickly won Minnesota’s fans over.

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. Here is the seventh part in this roster-long series and we are officially halfway through. As always, you can follow Jonah (@howlintwolf), Tom (@Tom_NBA) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBA) on Twitter as well to partake in the fun.

Dante Cunningham finds himself in a unique situation going into the 2013-14 season.

On the one hand, after setting himself apart from his peers with hustle plays, high-flying rebounds and inarguably the greatest mouthguard of all time, Cunningham can clearly play a solid role in Minnesota this season. He’s not a significant scorer (12.4 points per 36, 0.9 points per possession), but he has enough range to play a pick-and-pop game (Cunningham hit 41% of his shots from 16-23 feet in 2012-13, and 96% of those shots were assisted). He doesn’t have a post game (only 1.2% of his attempts last season were in post-up situations), but he’s solid as an offensive rebounder (he was 5th on the team in offensive rebound percentage and averaged 1.32 points per possession on the putbacks).

Cunningham is, in short, a solid player but not a starter on a playoff team. That’s not unique. What’s unique is how he will be measured against #8 on our T-Wolf Rank, Derrick Williams, because as of right now, Cunningham will — and should — be taking minutes away from Williams.

Not all of Williams’ minutes, mind you. Cunningham is an inferior scorer, which gives both players a role on the second unit. But since both are fairly limited to the power forward position, there isn’t a ton of extra playing time available. Figuring out who should be relieving Love off the bench, assuming Williams hasn’t made an unforeseen leap as a small forward, will be one of the biggest decisions Adelman faces in regards to his second unit.

But this post isn’t about Williams. It’s about Cunningham, and there’s obviously a lot to like.

For instance, this:

Also this:

And two-thirds of this:

The last video summarizes Cunningham just about as well as I could hope to manage. He is, at times, flawed (for instance: Dribbling escapes him, and he needs to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible). But those flaws are rarely prominent and often minimized (as evidenced by his chase-down swat), since Cunningham generally plays within his own skillset.

What’s more, his athleticism lends itself well to Minnesota’s guards. 16.7% of Cunningham’s offense came on cuts, according to MySynergySports.com which makes a lot of sense. Cuts are often an indicator that a player is athletic and hard-working. They are also a great way to create an efficient shot, especially when the player watching you cut is an elite passer like Ricky Rubio. It’s that kind of play that gives Dante Cunningham a lot of value.

He is, in short, absolutely the kind of player teams love to have.

For what it’s worth, that’s the second time in two posts I’ve said a player is “the type of player teams love to have.” That might be a good sign for Minnesota’s roster.

Here are your thoughts:

@the_real_gabby@Tom_NBA he’s a fan favorite who will hopefully lose out some time to D-will and small ball lineups.

a lineup with him, turiaf, brewer, budinger and rubio would make a fun, energetic, and hustle lineup. wont score, but would be fun

‏@ZacharyBD@Tom_NBA Really became a fan-favorite with some of his performances last season. Love the consistency he brings in the 2nd unit.

Want to take part? Look for one of us to tweet out who the next player will be and tweet us your thoughts on him using the #TwolfRank hashtag and we’ll throw your tweet in the post.

#TwolfRank: #10 Ronny Turiaf

Minnesota’s most entertaining hair might not see much playing time this season.

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. I bring you the fourth part in this roster-long series.  As always, you can follow Tom (@Tom_NBA), Jonah (@howlintwolf) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBAon Twitter as well to partake in the fun.

For what it’s worth, when I submitted my votes for T-Wolf Rank, Ronny Turiaf was much lower on the list.

Turiaf isn’t a bad player despite being a solid doppelganger for Rafi from The League. In fact, he is a good player to have on a roster. He’s enthusiastic, engaged, interested in every game. He tries very hard. He’s good for a few highlight plays in a season, if by highlight plays you mean funny moments when someone does something well or an official makes a bad call and he goes beserk. But he probably isn’t talented enough to crack Minnesota’s regular rotation.

There will be plenty of highlight plays for Turiaf to lose his mind over this season, especially if #2 on this list (BET YOU CAN’T GUESS WHO) stays healthy. More specifically, there will probably be plenty of opportunities for Turiaf to freak out from the bench, because he won’t get a lot of minutes. Minnesota’s depth at center isn’t great, but Johnson and Dieng both project to be better rim protectors than Turiaf. What’s more, playing Dieng will likely prove to be a priority, since Dieng’s development will be an important factor going forward. Turiaf is a passable rebounder (12.9 TRB%), but frankly, Minnesota won’t need to worry about rebounding very much throughout the game thanks to #3 and #1 on this list (BET YOU STILL CAN’T GUESS WHO).

In most places he plays, despite lackluster statistics, Turiaf ends up getting minutes. He averaged 10.8 minutes per game last year despite a PER of 9.4 and a TS% of .485, which is abysmal for a big. For the most part, Turiaf gets on the floor by working his ass off, hustling constantly and being a solid teammate. One shouldn’t discount the importance of those things by any means, but it’s equally possible to overstate the impact.

Players like Turiaf don’t get a team into the playoffs, but every playoff team wants a player like Turiaf on the roster. That’s significant. He was a solid, if subtle, addition to the team.

@jacobjbg@Tom_NBA his skillset has been replicated by younger players, but he remains a valuable insurance policy, and can still be a spot starter
‏@JJDacotah@Tom_NBA big body, decent defender, willing passer, good teammate.
@the_real_gabby@Tom_NBA i think hes a great fit for a backup center. like mark madsen but with more talent.
most importantly, he can teach EVERY other center on the roster a thing or two. if he can jump a car, can pek crush one?
@_Verts@Tom_NBA He… hustles.
@JonMeerdink@Tom_NBA Tremendous yelling skills. Facial hair game always on point. Has crazy eyes.
@ProBskbllTalk@Tom_NBA heart, towel waving, bulky
@thedailywolf@Tom_NBA Awesome teammate & supreme towel waiver. Speaks 5 languages (French/English/Spanish/Italian/Creole) which may help team chemistry.

Want to take part? Look for one of us to tweet out who the next player will be and tweet us your thoughts on him using the #TwolfRank hashtag and we’ll throw your tweet in the post. 

#TwolfRank: #13 Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson will return to the Timberwolves, but is there enough room for him in the frontcourt?

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. Here is the second installment in the series.  As always, you can follow Tom (@Tom_NBA), Jonah (@howlintwolf) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBAon Twitter as well to partake in the fun.

Whenever a team has a flashy pass-first point guard (ie. Ricky Rubio in Minnesota, Rajon Rondo in Boston or Steve Nash in Los Angeles), adding an athletic big seems like a game-changer.

No matter how good or bad that particular big may have been throughout his career, the assumption is having a talented point guard will make an enormous difference since alley-oops are awesome. This assumption helped DeAndre Jordan earn nearly $11 million a year to finish lobs from Chris Paul and do…something else, presumably. Jordan’s potential is constantly talked up and rarely witnessed.

Chris Johnson — a D-League sensation for much of his career and, at this point, somewhat of an NBA journeyman — could never be accused of being overhyped. But the easy assumption to make is that he will very much benefit from playing with a healthy Ricky Rubio, and unlike DeAndre Jordan, both stats and video would suggest this could be the case. To be fair, anyone would have a fun year in lineups with Ricky Rubio, but you understand my point.

Johnson averaged 1 point per possession as a pick-and-roll roll man, per MySynergySports.com. His sample size was small, just 36 attempts, but large enough to be a sample size. While one point per possession isn’t world-beating, it places Johnson 64th in the NBA. Not bad for a a D-League journeyman.

In a recent piece on Larry Sanders, NBA guru Zach Lowe’s lede discussed a hitch in Sanders’ game as a roll man. Sanders would hesitate just long enough to ensure maximum effectiveness on his screen before diving to the basket. This messed up the timing of the play, allowing Sanders’ defender to cut off the driver and recover onto Sanders before Milwaukee’s big man could fly to the basket for an easy dunk.

Johnson seems to have a similar hitch, but in his case, it almost seems necessary. Pencil-thin and easy to maneuver around, Johnson needs to ensure his ball-handler’s defender is at least inconvenienced before he dives to the basket. The good news is Johnson usually does a nice job of identifying gaps and getting into open space. Near the basket, especially with Rubio on the floor, this particular skills often ends with a dunk.

As is the wont for many pick-and-roll screeners, Chris Johnson has a tendency to pop a little more than is probably healthy. According to HoopData.com, Johnson’s 15-20 foot shooting percentage was 41.7% last year. At the rim, he shot a ridiculous 84.6% on 1.3 attempts per game. That’s not a ton of offense, but it’s extremely efficient.

It’s easy to love a player like Johnson. He works in perpetual motion, seemingly full of boundless energy, continuously running around setting extra screens. Sometimes one has to wonder if he is setting screens that are a part of the play or if he just feels like he isn’t helping enough by clearing out of the way. This can cause spacing problems, but used sparingly, it can also cause productive chaos as players are sprung free unexpectedly.

Johnson faces heavy competition for minutes in the front court. Gorgui Dieng, profiled nicely by Derek yesterday, might be a priority from a development standpoint. Ronny Turiaf has considerably more NBA experience. Smaller lineups may slot Love at center briefly. And, of course, Nikola Pekovic will eat up the lion’s share of minutes at center assuming he stays healthy (and I’m knocking furiously on wood as I write this).

So what can we expect from Johnson this season? Some DNP-CDs, to be sure, but probably a few games in which he is a productive player. A lot of screens. A lot of rolls. A few more pops than we’d like to see, especially since Minnesota already has a certain power forward who pick and pops as well as anyone in the league. Injury insurance if someone (heaven forbid) goes down.

Perhaps most relevant, we can probably around 5-10 minutes per game in which the offense looks a little confused, but occasionally brilliant. We can expect a decent target two or three times per game for Ricky Rubio’s seeing-eye assists.

That’s not going to be a game changer, but it could be a lot of fun.

@Tom_NBA johnson is the perfect 10 minute a game center who gives maximum effort and energy. limited roll, but can excel at it #twolfrank

@Tom_NBA I was encouraged to see Johnson’s passing ability in summer league. tiny sample size, but nice to see. will help him get minutes

-Gabby Dearth, @the_real_gabby

@Tom_NBA @howlintwolf he will never rush for 2000 yards again

-Dan Wolf, @hashtagtroll

Want to take part? Look for one of us to tweet out who the next player will be and tweet us your thoughts on him using the #TwolfRank hashtag and we’ll throw your tweet in the post. 

Nikola Pekovic receives five years, $60 million from Minnesota

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 9.12.50 PM

We are a little late pulling the trigger on this story, so by now you probably know that the Wolves agreed to terms Wednesday with big man Nikola Pekovic on a hefty new contract that will keep him in Minnesota for the foreseeable future.

It will be easier to defend this deal as the season stretches on, especially if Pek can stay healthy. For two consecutive years, Pekovic has averaged over 18 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes (and over 25 minutes per game, importantly). He is big, strong and talented. He moves well out of the pick and roll, diving to the hoop and setting enormous screens. He has great touch around the basket and solid footwork. Perhaps most importantly, he has super badass tattoos. We know all this about Pekovic, and all of these things are reasons to celebrate his signing. Long live the Nikola Pekovic era.

In a league where JaVale McGee makes $11.25 million in 2013-14, agreeing to $12 million for a player like Pekovic is not bad at all. In fact, it’s a really solid contract, especially since Pek’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, also represents Kevin Love. Wolves fans are fretting about keeping Love happy, so re-signing a talented center represented by Love’s agent is probably a really good place to start rebuilding the bridges David Kahn blew sky-high during Love’s last contract negotiations.

So the deal is solid. That leaves us with the biggest question: How good is Minnesota’s core?

How good is Minnesota’s core?

Let’s assume for a second that, for the next five years, the Wolves will go to war with Love, Ricky Rubio and Pekovic. This is far from a certainty, but it’s a decent bet given that A) David Kahn is gone, placating Love to a certain extent B) players in Rubio’s situation almost always take the extension on their rookie deal to get guaranteed money and C) If Pek’s contract DOES turn out to be bad, good luck moving that thing.

Where does that put Minnesota? It’s hard to tell.

That uncertainty is the only reason I’m not elated about this deal. If we compare Minnesota’s model of talent gathering to Oklahoma City’s, there are similarities. A supremely talented superstar is paired with a uniquely talented point guard and joined by a talented-but-somewhat-flawed big man. All of the players are young and the team hits a rough patch at first, but as they grow together, they have the potential to be a dangerous team.

The problem for me is that after several injury-plagued years, we just aren’t certain what we have with Minnesota. When Oklahoma City went about signing their star players to longterm deals, the Thunder had a much better idea of what they could expect over the next five years. Durant had led the Thunder to the playoffs. The team was clearly on the rise. There were very few question marks.

You could argue the Wolves have had awful injury luck and, of course, you’d be correct. Losing Rubio in his rookie year was unkind. Losing Love for much of last year was equally so. But unfair or not, the absence of both players has created a lack of certainty that this particular team has the requisite talent to make a deep playoff run eventually, at least not a level of certainty like the one that surrounded Oklahoma City.

Again, this argument isn’t entirely fair. Kevin Durant isn’t just a superstar, he’s a once-in-a-generation superstar. Whatever team employs him during his prime is automatically a title contender. Pair him with Westbrook, and a team’s fortunes are inevitably good. The Wolves don’t have the luxury of having a once-in-a-generation talent. Instead, they have Kevin Love (clearly a star, but equally clearly not Durant) and a lot of unknowns.

Banking on those unknowns was a good decision. It was time to lock up the next few years and build around a core, and that’s what the Wolves began to do by giving Pek a big pay raise. It was strong action that showed direction and solid decision making. Every franchise needs a direction, and Minnesota has settled on one. After years of David Kahn waffling both in the draft and in the offseason, having a direction is refreshing.

But whether or not Minnesota’s newly locked-up core proves to be the core of a deep playoff team remains to be seen. And with over $32 million tied up between three players over the next two years before Rubio has received his extension, that uncertainty is nerve-wracking.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.