Associated Press, Published April 14 2011
Timberwolves look to grow up in the offseasonMINNEAPOLIS — David Kahn's "excavation" of the Minnesota Timberwolves last season produced 15 victories.
His first season of "building" the Wolves toward playoff contention? Just 17 wins.
So Kahn heads into his third summer as Timberwolves president with little momentum generated and the prospect that his first hire as head coach, the man he chose to team with in an effort to turn around this moribund franchise, may not be joining him for year No. 3.
Kurt Rambis is 32-132 in his two seasons and the Timberwolves finished this year with the worst record in the NBA despite significant upgrades in talent. Kahn has not said whether Rambis will be retained next season, and a firing would mean yet another summer of upheaval in Minnesota.
"I don't think there's a day that goes by that I don't wonder what if, (what could I) have done different, done better?" Rambis said. "Anytime you lose the number of games that we've lost, I don't think you can help but do that kind of thing.
"But when you look at our team, where we were in training camp and where we've come as a ballclub, I think there's been a lot of improvement."
Whatever happens with the coach, the Timberwolves have some serious growing up to do this summer.
After a promising start in which the youngest team in the league showed a competitiveness and athleticism that hasn't been seen around here in years, the Wolves wilted. They lost their final 15 games of the season and won only four games over the final 10 weeks to finish 17-65.
"I think it's very obvious we never really played at the level that we played at from the middle of November to the early part of February," Kahn said, "and that's concerning that the team didn't improve as a team."
Kahn and assistant GM Tony Ronzone remade the roster this season. The Timberwolves were better shooters and far more athletic, but much younger and a more mistake-prone group. Turnovers and poor defense plagued them all season, but Kahn said he's finished with the major moves, and needs only to do some "fine-tuning" as they move forward.
"I don't see the team needing a complete overhaul," Kahn said. "Those days are behind us. We set a plan up, and we're abiding by the plan in terms of the types of players we're trying to attract here."
The Timberwolves had only one player over the age of 25 on the roster this season, and Rambis cited their youth and inexperience often in talking about the losses. Every successful team has a grinder who sets the tone in practice and in games, and All-Star Kevin Love pointed to Chicago's Kurt Thomas as a specific example of the kind of player needed here.
"I think definitely we need to add a guy like him," Love said. "He just fits the prototype of a perfect vet. ... He's a perfect type of guy as far as a veteran goes who shows leadership and wants to come and just help the team."
They also need parts of their younger core — Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph and Wes Johnson — to improve, both on the court and with respect to their maturity and professionalism. All three have significant talent, but all three also went through peaks and valleys that set the tone for the rest of the team.
There were far more downs than ups, with five losing streaks of at least five games. The Wolves never won more than two in a row all season.
"It's disappointing," Beasley said. "We all know what it feels like to lose now and we really don't want to feel this way again."
One of the few bright spots this season, other than Love's emergence into the league's leading rebounder and the face of the franchise, is that the Timberwolves will have the best chance at landing the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery. They have a 25 percent chance, though the Wolves have never won the top pick and never improved their draft position through the lottery.
Even though there is not believed to be a franchise-changing talent in this year's draft class, the Wolves need all the help they can get. The priority starts at point guard, where the Wolves hope Spanish prodigy Ricky Rubio, the No. 5 overall draft pick in the 2009 draft, comes stateside.
The team is aching for a veteran presence to teach the pups how to be pros. With salary cap room, the Wolves will have plenty of tools, whether in trade or in free agency, to make that happen.
"We have to be precise about picking a player or two who can play some significant minutes for us and help the process along," Kahn said. "I think that would be very helpful for the team, the coaching staff, everybody included."