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Timberwolves season preview: A team to respect

Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love will be unavailable because of injury for at least the first month of the season — and for Rubio, it is likely to be two months.

The Minnesota Timberwolves embark on the 2012-13 season under a great deal of uncertainty.

Their two best players, power forward Kevin Love and point guard Ricky Rubio, will be unavailable because of injury for at least the first month of the season — and for Rubio, it is likely to be two months. Two of the their other starters, small forward Andrei Kirilenko and off guard Brandon Roy, didn’t even play in the National Basketball Association last year — Kirilenko toiled in his native Russia after the lockout jeopardized (and eventually shortened) the NBA season, and Roy retired because of the wear and tear of six knee operations.

The fifth starter, center Nikola Pekovic, missed 19 games with assorted injuries last year and has logged just 2,151 minutes, less than a full season for a regular rotation player, in his entire NBA career. Finally, the team’s highest-ever draft choice, forward Derrick Williams, had a disappointing rookie campaign last season because of weaknesses in his game that have not improved enough to earn the confidence of his coaches.

There is no doubt that this array of adverse circumstances will have a negative impact on the team’s performance. The uncertainty is, how much? Plausible scenarios can be drawn that have the Wolves winning anywhere from 30 to 55 of their 82 games.

But to long-suffering Timberwolves fans, this is relatively great news, and a source of heightened enthusiasm. Because if this year’s squad does achieve only to the lowest end of that estimate, 30 wins, it will still have registered the highest victory total of any Wolves team in franchise history that did not have Kevin Garnett on the roster.

Addition by subtraction

One thing is certain: This year’s Wolves won’t have the likes of Wes Johnson, Michael Beasley and Darko Milicic besmirching the court on its behalf, which is cause enough for celebration among the faithful. It is hard to overestimate the toxic impact this trio had on the team’s fortunes last season.

Johnson, an athletic 6-7 swingman who was a lottery pick in the 2010 draft, was often tentative to the point of paralysis, refusing to maximize his physical prowess with either solid defense or drives to the hoop. According to the 82games.com website, a whopping 87 percent of Johnson’s shots were jumpers from outside the painted area, a doomed strategy when you sink only 39.8 percent of your shots overall and 31.4 percent from three-point territory, both well below league average. The Wolves actually outscored their opponents when Johnson was on the bench — when he played, the team margin was minus 153. Remarkably, he finished third on the team in minutes-played, as coach Rick Adelman apparently wanted to set the nail on the fact that President of Basketball Operations David Kahn made a grievous error drafting him, so Adelman could successfully lobby to be rid of him in the future.

We don’t have the space to similarly detail why Beasley and Darko were bid good riddance. Suffice to say that Beasley was routinely selfish on offense — challenging triple-team coverage while open teammates waited for passes that never came — and had a chronic concentration problem on defense, while Darko simply has no stamina for the scrutiny that comes from being paid millions to play ball and inevitably shrinks from the intellectual, physical and psychological duties required to flourish on the court.

By pruning these guys from the roster — along with the athletically gifted but otherwise clueless Anthony Randolph, the inordinately self-important Martell Webster, and the nice-guy but sub-mediocre talent Wayne Ellingson — the Wolves immediately upgraded their cohesion and reliability, benefiting more from “addition by subtraction” than any team in the NBA.

 A pair of elite performers

But enough of this jaundiced optimism. Let’s revel for a minute in the positive reasons why, despite all the uncertainty and adversity, the Wolves stand a good chance of returning to the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

It begins with Adelman, one of the 20 greatest coaches ever to patrol the NBA sidelines. Despite all the chuckleheads littering the roster last season, the Wolves still ran a remarkably intelligent offense. In the modern game, the two most efficient areas to score per shot attempt are right beneath the rim and outside the three-point arc. According to hoopdata.com, the Wolves were above the NBA average in the number of shots taken at the rim and from three-point territory, and below the league average in shots taken from everywhere else last season. By contrast, under Kurt Rambis the year before, the only place the Wolves were not at or above the league average in number of shots taken was at the rim.

Much of this has to do with getting the ball to the right people in the right places. Under Rambis, Beasley jacked up 5.5 shots per game from 16 to 23 feet away from the basket, the least productive area from which to shoot on the court. Under Adelman, Beasley that number was essentially cut in half, to 2.8 times per game. (Much of this came from reducing Beasley’s minutes. Once a clueless gunner, always a clueless gunner.) By contrast, Kevin Love’s shots per game jumped from 14.1 to 19.3 under Adelman, with the majority of that increase occurring on either three-pointers or shots at the rim.

Of course Love is the other primary reason why the Wolves short-term future seems relatively rosy. At age 24, he has already become a “tent pole superstar,” the kind of player who both structurally elevates and undergirds the performance of the team and the business of the franchise.  He is arguably the best power forward in the game, a gold-medal Olympian, a member of the NBA’s elite fraternity. His defense used to be, and may still be, a weakness, but according to Wolves assistant coach Bill Bayno, who is in charge of the defense, Love played very well at that end until Ricky Rubio got hurt, and the subsequent increase in his offensive workload sapped his consistency at the other end of the court.

 Surviving the first month

The general consensus among NBA pundits is that if the Wolves were able to field a healthy roster throughout the season, they would easily earn a playoff berth and be a tough out for a quality contender in the postseason. But the collapse of the ballclub when Rubio went down last season — the Wolves were 21-20 when he played, 5-20 when he didn’t — and now Love’s broken hand, have many doubting they can overtake Dallas, Utah and Golden State to grab the final playoff berth in the Western Conference.

But with the upgrades to the roster during the off-season, the Wolves will likely avoid the kind of disastrous first month that would torpedo the chances of ever being in the playoff hunt. First of all, the defense, which ranked 25th out of 30 teams in points allowed per possession last season, should be improved. (Just don’t take to heart the fool’s gold of their NBA-best defense in the preseason.)

The top priority for Adelman during the offseason was finding an athletic swingman who can defend multiple positions. The Wolves’ high-profile dalliance with restricted free agent Nicolas Batum came to naught when Portland matched their contract offer, so Minnesota adroitly shifted gears and signed Kirilenko, who lacks Batum’s future ceiling overall, but is a better defender, capable of limiting the damage wrought by explosive scorers out on the wing. Precious few defenders can single-handedly stop elite scorers, but having someone like Kirilenko — a great on-ball and help defender, who once led the NBA in blocks — prevents the sort of offensive carnage that compels defenses to scramble and panic, opening up secondary opportunities for opponents.

In fact, Bayno is very happy with his complement of front court defenders. The athletic additions of Kirilenko, power forward Dante Cunningham and power forward and center Lou Amundson have encouraged the team to change their pick-and-roll defense, trusting that the big men can “show” harder and press up on the little man while still being about to recover quickly enough to handle the big man rolling to the basket.

And here’s a revelation: Bayno claims that Nikola Pekovic is “our highest IQ player” and “best pick and roll defender.” If Pekovic can justify that high praise out on the court, then he can become a perennial all star, one of the NBA’s top three or four centers, and will become part of a “big three” alongside Love and Rubio that fulfills the axiom that a troika of stars is needed to become a serious championship contender.

That’s because Pekovic is also primed for a monster year on offense, and is the key player for Minnesota at that end of the court while they struggle to survive without their two best players. The player movement and ball movement under Adelman’s offensive system has always elevated the competence of average players, and in Kirilenko and swingman Chase Budinger, the Wolves acquired two players in the off-season who understand they can flourish under his system. But there is still no getting around how much Minnesota’s offense will miss Rubio’s anticipatory court vision and Love’s ability to spread out opposing defenses because of his ability to score from both in the paint and beyond the arc. So long as he’s healthy, Brandon Roy possesses superb court vision and a knack for creating space to get his own shot. But the more you lean on Roy, the greater the likelihood that his knees buckle and he’s lost for good.

Pekovic, on the other hand, can be a reliable force on offense, a legitimate go-to guy. He was third in the NBA in field goal percentage last season, a performance that gets better the closer you look at the numbers. Yes, Rubio is a marvelous pick-and-roll passer, but Pek was nearly as productive without Rubio. Yes, having Love space the floor should be especially helpful to a big man like Pek, but although the team suffered when they weren’t paired — Minnesota was +3.9 points per 36 minutes when Pek was with Love and -8.7 points per 36 minutes when Pek was without Love — Pek’s point totals and shooting percentage were almost exactly the same with and without Love.

Sure there are caveats — Pek hasn’t faced defenses designed specifically to stop him, and he still has a disturbing habit of encouraging turnovers by bringing the ball below his waist, a weakness that hurts, but is not reflected in, his scoring efficiency. But thanks to rigorous off-season workouts that have made him quicker without sacrificing his enormous strength, Pekovic rolling to the hoop (most often going right, as scouts are sure to notice) can be a money play that helps the Wolves survive.

To finish out the point, “survival” in this context doesn’t even necessarily have to mean that the Wolves play .500 ball without Love in the lineup. If and when both Love and Rubio return and eventually work themselves back into prime-time form, they can spearhead a playoff run so long as Minnesota hasn’t dug itself a hole in the cellar of the standings.

Scouting the player rotations

With that pleasant thought in mind, let’s take a look at the nuts and bolts of this lineup. The biggest danger I see confronting the team in the first month or two is perimeter defense and the point guard position overall. In the past, for Minnesota and other teams, Luke Ridnour has proven to be a quality backup point guard, but whether it is his nagging disc injury, age or the lacking of familiarity with changing personnel, Ridnour looked dreadful during the preseason, to the extent where I actually wonder if the pint-sized ball-hogger J.J. Barea might be the better option. Or maybe Luke is just a cagey vet saving himself for when the games matter.

Either way, the huge drop off in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession) after Rubio went down indicates that neither Ridnour nor Barea are physical enough to deter the creativity of their opponents — a likely reason for the more aggressive posture from the bigs on the pick and roll. One reasonable option would be to move Russian rookie Alexey Shved over to the point. But while Shved has good size at 6-6, he hasn’t demonstrated a command of defensive fundamentals. Adelman, who tends to make quick and fairly inflexible decisions about where players fit in his rotations, has him as the backup to Roy at off guard, even though he has been a very inconsistent shooter both overseas and in the preseason.

As the starting off guard, Roy is crafty enough to remain an offensive force, but running him through picks and screens on defense seems a simple and effective strategy for opponents with a dynamic perimeter scorer. Kirilenko can be shifted over to guard the larger backcourt wings, but obviously not everybody. Can Shved adapt quickly to the NBA game and shoot or guard well enough to become a regular rotation player? I’ve seen evidence to support both yes and no answers.

The one tweak I’d like to see is giving Budinger more minutes at off guard and less at small forward. Since his offensive game is anchored around corner three-pointers, it might hurt the team’s transition defense to have the guard committed that deeply in the half-court offense, but is Roy going to be any faster in getting back? Budinger is an adequate but hardly stellar on-ball defender, but that bias isn’t altered by whatever swing position he plays. More to the point, I’d rather have a relatively savvy and experienced (at least in Adelman’s system) player like Budinger backing up Roy instead of Kirilenko — counting heavily on Roy for an entire season seems perilous for a team with little margin of error in the playoff chase.

In the frontcourt, the chatter about moving Kirilenko to power forward with Love out seems overblown. Kirilenko was brought here to play small forward. He prefers playing small forward. He played power forward for less than 10 percent of his team’s minutes his final two seasons in Utah, and posted better stats, especially on defense, as a small forward, according to 82games.com. Bayno and Adelman both demur over much talk of bumping him to power forward. And he is a gigantic upgrade at small forward over anything the Wolves threw out there last season. Enough said.

Another reason it would be silly to move Kirilenko has been the pleasantly surprising play of Dante Cunningham at power forward. Cunningham, whose two previous coaches were notorious taskmasters Nate McMillan in Portland and Lionel Hollins in Memphis, works hard, does what he’s told, isn’t afraid to bang on defense, and can hit an open midrange jumper. He’s ideal as a glue-guy and back-of-the-rotation player, whose relative lack of pure talent will be exposed with starter’s minutes. But he’s a reliable commodity and the Wolves’ most credible stopgap with Love out.

Which brings us to Derrick Williams. Sometimes bad luck happens, and Williams is unfortunate enough to be drafted by a team that changed its philosophy from building for the future to winning right away with a veteran coach. Williams has contributed to his situation by being slow, and occasionally stubborn, in grasping what Adelman wants. He can be an explosive scorer and remains way too young to dismiss — I half-expect him to blow up for whatever enterprising team eventually filches him from the Wolves — but again, if the playoffs are the goal, developing Williams isn’t a priority. Right now his confidence is shot and I imagine he is both confused and pissed about the way he’s being treated. His best hope is to erupt often and consistently enough to become a tactical scorer off the bench while demonstrating improvement in his defense, court vision and shot selection.

At center, Kahn and Adelman have done a great job finding two backups for Pekovic with complementary skills. Greg Stiemsma is a superb rim protector — he was second in the NBA in blocked shots per minute for Boston last season — a skill no one else on the roster provides. He also is adept at steals, but is very foul prone. Lou Amundson is more of a center and power forward combo, a relentless banger who doesn’t shoot well but makes the game ugly in a good way for his team. Adelman will rotate their time behind Pek according to matchups.

Final thoughts

It helps that Minnesota faces a relatively easy schedule early, because without Love and Rubio, there simply isn’t enough here to compete consistently and effectively with playoff-caliber teams. But if Pekovic is the story around the NBA two or three weeks from now, and Roy contains his ego enough to become a savvy role player and invaluable safety valve in the half-court offense, and the Ridnour-Barea combo at the point doesn’t completely sabotage this team, the Wolves should be in good enough shape to survive Love’s absence.

That said, the single biggest factor in whether or not the Wolves make the playoffs will be how capable Rubio plays upon his return. As the season went on a year ago, opposing defenses began to slough off him, daring him to shoot, and his production declined. Because of the knee injury, he wasn’t able to work on his jumper during the off-season. Rubio also was vital to the Wolves’ defense last season, and needs to demonstrate that he can play with the same tenacity and agility at that end of the court.

But with the various upgrades that occurred in the offseason, Rubio doesn’t have to improve his offensive game this season, just approximate last year’s performance. On offense, Love, Pek, Roy and Kirilenko comprise a fabulous spread for his dishes, and guys like Budinger and Williams and even Cunningham and Barea, can give you points off the bench. And when the defense sloughs, go to the cup, Ricky — Love and Pek are monster offensive rebounders.

Defensively, Rubio again only has to approximate last year’s performance, because it was pretty great. He’s got the wingspan and the wisdom and the competitive zeal to give ball-handlers fits on the perimeter, and that is where his return will do this team the most good.

In summary, this is the most talented Timberwolves team since Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell got the franchise past the first round of the playoffs for the first and only time in its history. There are too many injuries, and too much uncertainty, to expect that kind of outcome this season.

But the playoffs, as the 8th and final seed in the West? As Marv Albert would say, “Yessssssssssssss.”

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Comments (10)

2 Comments, 2 Questions

Comment 1: On this team, I'm not concerned about Alexey Shved's shooting percentage. It needs a playmaker--particularly in Rubio's absence--and Shved has obvious ability to create good results if he's given the freedom to play loose. He'll have hot nights and cold nights, but he's so clearly a smart and unselfish team player that he's going to have a better effect on a team built around motion and passing than the likely alternative, J.J. Barea (likely alternative once Ricky is back).

Comment 2: This really doesn't matter, because he's gone, but I disagree with the [countless] basketball fans and analysts that describe Beasley as a "selfish" player. His problems had much more to do with carelessness--sometimes carelessness just holding the ball--and inattentiveness than selfishness. I hate to see him roped in with the likes of Nick Young and other *true* ballhogs, who don't pass. Beasley shot less frequently than Love did last year and assisted almost as often. Leading to my first question...

Question 1: Do you think that Love has become something of a ball stopper? There has been discussion in preseason interviews that he expects to average more assists, and slightly fewer points per game this year. Last year, to my eyes, he began to make "seeking fouls" a number-one priority. He was quite good at it, but everything stops when a forward gets the ball and holds it. (Just look at Beasley.)

Question 2: Do you think the league's crackdown (however slight that crack is, for now) on flopping will adversely affect the Timberwolves? Along with fines, I suspect the refs will be on the lookout for exaggerated contact and blow the whistle less frequently when in doubt. I saw some evidence in the first half of the Heat-Celtics game with Dwyane Wade, a notorious exaggerator and whiner. I worry some about Barea, Rubio and Love, who all have the tricks down for taking moderate contact and making it look excessive.

Awesome post, looking forward to your Wolves coverage this year.

Great analysis

If you'd just swear more, you'd be acclaimed as one of our greatest living sportswriters.

Comments and Answers

Andy--

For some reason I can't get a good handle on Shved. I only saw one and a half games in the Olympics, and his defense looked shaky, his shot okay but nothing special. More to the point, I don't think Adelman envisions him as a point guard, at least not this season. And as I said in the piece, when it comes to rotation stuff, he usually doesn't change his mind easily.

We have to agree to disagree about Beasley. I think he looks worse to the naked eye than he does on paper--there were literally dozens of times last season when I knew he was going to shoot as soon as he got the ball in his hands, regardless of circumstance. That, to me, is a Nick Young like ball hog. (Although I would say that the gold standard for ball-hogging in the NBA currently belongs to Jordan Crawford of the Wizards.

When you say that Love shoots more frequently than Beasley, please remember that Love grabbed more than four offensive rebounds per game last year, while Bees corralled slightly under one. That's three extra opportunities for easy shots near the hoop. That also means fewer assists per shot.

As to your greater point about Love falling in love a little too much with himself, yes I saw some of that, but mostly after Rubio went down. With the added firepower this season, and his experience at the Olympics, I hope he backs off on it a little when he returns. There is also evidence that he wore out. According to Basketball Reference, he average over 30 points and nearly 14 rebounds in the month of March, keeping the Wolves near .500 with Rubio gone. Then came the 11-game losing streak.

The whining of Love bothers me more than the flopping. I really dislike how much he grouches at the refs while the play continues without him at the other end of the floor. Barea has perfected the art of pretending to be hit in the mouth with an elbow and I think he won't get away with it as much this season. Rubio became more brazen about his flop attempts as the season went on. I hope all of them curtail it--I hate the way it has affected the game, and hope the NBA follows through on its crackdown. But I'm dubious.

By the way, folks, it finally dawned on me that Andy is the former Andy G, a star commenter during my gigs with City Pages and The Rake (I still remember your vociferous and accurate disappointment at the Wolves not drafting DeAndre Jordan late in the first round one year). He currently co-operates his own Wolves-releated website, Punch Drunk Wolves, which I highly recommend. http://punchdrunkwolves.com/ It is a sign of his humble generosity and love of argument that he comes over here to engage.

Not to extend the Beasley

Not to extend the Beasley thing too far (though I guess that's what I'm doing) I view his Wolves stint in three parts: 1) The season with Rambis when we ran some variation of the triangle and Beasley was cast as Kobe Bryant. That team was terrible for many reasons (poor coaching, horrendous defense, Darko and Wes in the starting lineup...) and relying on Beasley to that degree was one of them. 2) The beginning of last season when--I thought--Beasley was playing very hard and mostly unselfishly. The problem was that his shot wasn't falling, which removes his number one skill. 3) Remember last year when the trade rumors heated up with Beasley? It seemed to happen very suddenly--they weren't necessarily happening when the season began. This is just my observation, and it's impossible to prove or disprove, but I thought his attitude on the court was noticeably different the moment he was written about in trade rumors. Different in two ways: He looked like he couldn't give less of a shit on defense, and he jacked up shots almost every time he touched the ball. The funny thing was that his shot was actually going in at a pretty high clip in some of those gunner moments off the bench. But you can't hang around with Adelman--or any great coach--with that type of attitude. Anyway, that's a long response trying to explain my Beasley Apologist stance. I watched him on Wednesday Night against Golden State and he looked pretty bad. I hope he can figure out how to be a positive contributor as he has a pretty rare combination of shooting skill and physical gifts.

I pretty much agree with what you write about Love, there. My favorite games are the ones when he bombs away from three. I think his ability to knock those down, which pulls reluctant big defenders away from the basket, is an amazing weapon that should be exploited. My least favorite are the games where he forces it in the post, leading to flopping and, if no call, whining. He's an awesome player.

Thanks for the kind words and blog link, and kinder omission of my negative reaction to the Mayo-Love Trade on the same night we passed on Jordan. In hindsight, drafting Pekovic at 31 seems brilliant, but passing on Jordan at 34 (to sell the pick to Miami) remains disappointing.

Bayno is an interesting

Bayno is an interesting figure. He's clearly passionate about coaching, appears to love working individually with players, and had success doing so in Portland. So I'm glad he's high on Pekovic's ability in some areas that aren't the first to come to mind when one conjures Pek in their imagination. But I believe it was Bayno who worked extensively with Derrick Williams in the offseason and was the loudest voice among several in the choir singing praise to Williams in training camp. I'm not saying Bayno's takes aren't credible, but after reading a few articles like this (http://www.columbian.com/news/2011/mar/14/bayno-gets-his-head-games-unde...), I wonder if he gets so caught up in the minutiae of the guys he's working with, that the improvements he mentions in interviews often aren't visible to those watching the games. A forest-trees thing, essentially.

Also, I wanted to mention that I'm Andy G's sidekick over at Punch-Drunk Wolves, and a longtime reader of yours, and like Andy, I wanted to say thanks for the shout out.

Excellent Wolves preview, by the way; here's hoping this team will remain as interesting and fun to write about all season as it has been during the run-up.

Agree on Bayno

Patrick--

I agree about Bayno--interesting, passionate, successful, and perhaps prone to hyperbole. His comments about Pek certainly raised my eyebrows, and don't necessarily jibe with what I've seen. But I figure when a coach worthy of respect is kind enough to give you the full range of his thinking--and Bayno spent 20 minutes with me one-on-one about the Wolves' D--then you pass on a bold comment without immediate editorialization.

I fully concur...

...those are the kinds of perspectives you're not going to get anywhere else, so even if the coaching staff's reads on certain guys turn out to be wrong, you still get some insight into what they're thinking and what might be going on behind the curtain. I'll be paying special attention to Pek's positioning and defense as a result.

2 cents from the Cheap Seats

Britt- I agree that until Rubio's return, there is a defensive deficiency at PG. But I would note that in today's NBA, that seems to be the one position where it can be tolerated. There are several successful PGs (Lawson and Nash, to note two) who are either undersized or slow-footed or both, and it doesn't kill their team's ability to compete night-in and night-out. In the short-term, I'm much more concerned about how second-unit rotation players will handle big minutes until Love and Rubio return. This team has more depth than last year's, but an early-season injury to another starter might be enough to kill any hope of a playoff berth.

As the season wears on, I'll be curious to see if the Wolves will be buyers, sellers or non-participants approaching the trade deadline. If Rubio comes back strong, will they look to move Barea or Ridnour? What can they get for Williams, and is it a forgone conclusion that he'll be traded?

Kevin Love has blossomed into a bona fide superstar. But it wasn't that long ago that Kahn said he believed Love is the second-best player on a championship-level team ... and only extended Love's contract four years instead of five. That, and the fact that the team's two biggest off-season moves are aging veterans with big question marks (AK-47 and Roy) has me concerned about this team's long-term future. The philosopical change from slowly rebuilding to putting together a team with playoff potential makes this year (and possibly the next two) much more interesting. But ... (I know, I know, shut up and "enjoy the season!") the crystal ball is as murky as ever. Is the ultimate goal to compete for a championship, or just be competitive? Will Shved be a long-term rotational player? Can (and should) they flip D-Will for another high lottery pick? Is Love's eventual departure inevitable? If so, do the Wolves bottom out yet again? So many questions I can't help asking ...

I've always empathized with the cheap seats

Erick--Yes, many teams are able to get away with poor point point guard defense. But you'll notice that those teams either have killer high-scoring offenses or a great rim protector to deter penetration.

Without Love and Rubio, the Wolves don't have a killer offense. And aside from Stiemsma, who ideally will get only 10-15 minutes a game, they don't have a rim protector. In addtion, they lack a really good defender on the perimeter at either guard position. All these things make Rubio's high-caliber D more important.

During the off-season, Wolves owner Glen Taylor intimated to me that they would probably be in the market to trade a guard once they were assured Rubio was healthy. I think at this stage they would like that player to be Barea--that was never a good contract--but it will most likely be Ridnour, who, because he is cheaper and better able to play the point, would probably fetch more value.

Otherwise, I don't think they will be dealing one way or the other. It is too soon to pull the plug on Williams and I know both Taylor and Kahn are pretty set on keeping him. Salary cap wise, Kahn is committing to keeping the team right at the cap and not over.

Concerns over the team's long-term future are legitimate. But look at it this way: If Love wants out after three years, that means things are going south anyway, and Rubio may likely follow. In that scenario, you'd rather take it down to the studs and rebuild rather than having quasi-valuable third and fourth pieces. Plus, having early expirations on Kirilenko and Roy make it easier to sign Pekovic to a max (or close to it) deal if he excels this season.

Quick answers to quick questions:
Kahn has always stated the goal is a championship and not merely a competitive playoff team. Adelman likewise has guided more than his share of quality contenders, but never a champion--at 66, it is the only thing left on his resume and he's likely to go for broke to further validate his fabulous career.
I have no idea what Shved will do. I saw him on television twice at the Olympics and twice live in the preseason, and the caliber of his play varied so greatly and his skill set and physical dimensions are unique enough that I simply can't draw any intelligent conclusions yet. But Adelman apparently regards him as an off-guard rather than a point, and is relatively pleased about having him on the roster.
If they can still get a high lottery pick--top 5--for Derrick Williams, flip away.
Love's departure is not inevitable. In fact I'd put the odds at less than 50-50 right now, but I don't think mine is a majority opinion.
If Love leaves and Rubio follows, Adelman will follow and the Wolves will plummet. I don't know how far or where the "bottom" would be, but hopefully better than 32 wins in two seasons, as we endured in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Just a couple random thoughts

Before I get into the Wolves, I just want to make sure everyone saw that the lowly Suns did what our Wolves could never do: decline Wes's option and give him a DNP-CD on opening night. And without getting into the Beasley conversation above, I might lean towards one Sebastian Telfair being the best former-Wolf currently in Phoenix.

Anyway, I will agree with another commenter above that I think Shved's value (and also Kirilenko's) on offense is going to be as a disruptor/creator. The dynamism of our offense was lacking last year after Ricky went down - no one else was willing/able to expand their role and create on offense. I will admit to watching every Russian Olympic basketball game, and both those guys were often involved in creating opportunities for teammates by exploiting mismatches and being unpredictable. Shved tended to be a bit more erratic (and prone to sudden disappearance). I think AK can put up numbers that are near his prime when properly used - I think his last few years in Utah his talents were misused by forcing him into a Bruce Bowen-type role.

The one thing I'm a little concerned about is not Roy's health, but his Beasleyesque ballstopping ability. Roy is a more proven scorer than Beasley ever will be, but he's just as prone to hero-ball as anyone, plus has the resume to back it up. When I think of guys on this team who do not seem like Adelman-type players, his name is first (followed closely by Derrick Williams).

One of the most important keys to this team is the recovery of Rubio (and the continued play of Kevin Love). I think Adrian Peterson has spoiled us MN sports fans into thinking that knee injuries can be easy to bounce back from. I really don't expect him to be 100 percent this year, but it's hard not to get swept up in the excitement generated by this offseason - there's no question this is one of the most talented teams we've had since the KG era.