Year-Round News & Updates on the Minnesota Timberwolves
For the next couple months we'll be going division-by-division to preview each team and where I think they'll end up when it's all said and done: are they contenders, lotto-bound, rebuilding or built for championship aspirations. The order they appear below is how I believe the division will shake out...
1.) Brooklyn Nets: The Nets are sparing no expense and there's absolutely no doubt that with these offseason moves--they're going for it all! They swapped Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. They also signed free agent point guard Shaun Livingston to provide depth behind Deron Williams, former Wolf Andrei Kirilenko to backup Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett at both forward positions, re-signed Andray Blatche to a minimum deal (yet again--a big bargain) and drafted big man Mason Plumlee. That gives them a starting unit of: Williams, Joe Johnson, Pierce, Garnett and Brook Lopez and a second unit of Livingston, Terry, Kirilenko, Blatche and Plumlee. It'll be a close battle between cross-town rivals (Nets vs. Knicks) for tops in the Atlantic division. The Nets will be a Top 3 team in the East assuming they can stay healthy as this is an older squad. Deron Williams needs to bounce back to his former self and Jason Kidd needs to show that he was hired because he was he is best person for the job and not a storyline to follow in a big market. I honestly can't believe he was hired--days after hanging up his jersey, he grabbed his polo and whistle and will stay on the sidelines, very close to the game he clearly loves. His first coaching job will be a tough one! Managing the egos of players like Williams, Johnson, Lopez, Garnett, etc. and getting them to play together to work toward the common goal: a RING. They've got big obstacles to overcome in the East: the Chicago Bulls (assuming a healthy D-Rose), New York Knicks and the Miami Heat (who are going for their fourth-straight Finals appearance...and of course a three-peat); but the Nets certainly have the talent and the depth to contend.
2.) New York Knicks: New York continues to add pieces and with them, they continue to balance their roster as a legitimate title contender. They're weakest at point guard as they'll likely start Raymond Felton with Pablo Prigioni as the main reserve. The Knicks traded away aging center Marcus Camby, sharpshooter Steve Novak and sent Quentin Richardson (in a sign-and-trade) along with two second-round picks and one first-round pick to the Toronto Raptors for Andrea Bargnani. The Knicks also re-signed J.R. Smith to a three-year deal and shortly thereafter, J.R. underwent knee surgery shortly thereafter, but he should be able to bounce back quickly and be New York's powerful offensive weapon off the bench. The Knicks added another guard in Tim Hardaway Jr. through the NBA Draft. He'll provide time at both guard positions and could have a decent role in the rotation early in the season. The Knicks added another rookie by grabbing undrafted forward C.J. Leslie. They got a bargain when they brought back Kenyon Martin, as well. Martin accepted a minimum deal to remain New York's reserve center, behind Tyson Chandler. The Knicks also picked up Metta World Peace after he was amnestied by the Lakers and cleared waivers. Artest narrowed down his choices to New York and the L.A. Clippers. He decided to leave L.A. and return 'home'. If the Knicks decide to go with Carmelo Anthony at power forward, World Peace is likely pegged as the starting small forward. The Knicks certainly have a versatile roster. If Stoudemire continues to struggle and doesn't play well with Melo, they can experiment with Bargnani, World Peace or Martin at the other forward position. I'd say it's likely they begin the season with a starting lineup of: Felton, Iman Shumpert, World Peace, Anthony and Chandler with a second unit of: Prigioni, Smith, Bargnani, Stoudemire & Martin. The Knicks will finish the season as a Top 4 squad in the East and I think they have the pieces to compete with the superteams out East: Brooklyn, Chicago, Indiana and Miami. Carmelo can become a free agent next summer by exercising his ETO (early termination option), he'd be leaving over $23.3million 'on the table'. But he may realize he can't win with this roster and playing alongside Stoudemire and seek another team via free agency (maybe the L.A. Lakers?). After 2014-15, the Knicks will have Stoudemire ($23.4M), Chanlder ($14.6M), Bargnani ($11.5M) all 'off the books' and just under $20million in salaries thus far for 2015-16. Basically, the Knicks have told Carmelo that if he stays in New York, he can hand-pick his teammates in the summer of 2015. The 'Melo-Drama' is far from over!
3.) Toronto Raptors: I'm really interested by the Toronto Raptors this season, they have some talented pieces and could really make some noise in the East next season. I'm not a huge Rudy Gay fan, but it's unquestionable that this is the best Toronto team we've seen in years. Toronto's starting lineup will likely feature: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas and a second unit of: D.J. Augustin, Terrence Ross, Landry Fields, Tyler Hansbrough and Aaron Gray. The Raptors brought in the reigning Executive of the Year: Masai Ujiri, after the Nuggets refused to match Toronto's multi-year offer to him. Ujiri went right to work and put together a great package to get Bargnani out of town. The Raptors were likely going to have to amnesty the former #1 overall pick, but instead, Ujiri put together a package that netted them a first-round pick, two second-round picks, Quentin Richardson, sharpshooter Steve Novak and veteran big man Marcus Camby. The first-round pick alone would've made it a win-win. Camby was later bought out and he joined the Rockets on a veteran's minimum deal. Toronto signed two free agents that played in Indiana last season. D.J. Augustin was added to be the backup point guard, though after a VERY rough season in Indy, he'll have to prove he has the 'chops' to make it in this League or he could find himself unemployed in the NBA in 2014-15. The other Pacer was big man Tyler Hansbrough who will begin the season as the reserve power forward, but could eventually challenge Amir Johnson for the starting job, now that Bargnani is no longer a Raptor. This isn't a team built with championship dreams in mind, however Toronto has the same goals as our Minnesota Timberwolves: make the playoffs! The Raptors haven't played postseason basketball for five-straight seasons, that's nothing compared to Minnesota Misery, but if this Raptor team can stay healthy, Valanciunas has a breakout year and Rudy Gay shows he's more than just a high volume shooter, they should nab one of those bottom playoff seeds.
4.) Boston Celtics: Goodbye Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Doc Rivers. Hello Brad Stevens, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, Gerald Wallace, Kelly Olynyk, Phil Pressey and Vitor Faverani. The Celtics sent KG, Pierce and Terry to the Nets and netted Brooks, Bogans, Wallace & Humphries as well as three future first-round picks. Now this truly is Rondo's team. Rajon is coming off an ACL tear and as Timberwolves fans we know how long it can take to return to form. Rubio finally began to look like his 'old self' in the last few months of the 2012-13 season. Derrick Rose tore his and missed an entire season! It's different for every player though...Adrian Peterson is a prime example of 'best-case scenario'. To begin the season, the Celtics will likely rely on a starting lineup of: Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk with a second unit of: Phil Pressey (signed as an undrafted rookie), MarShon Brooks, Gerald Wallace, Brandon Bass and Vitor Faverani. When (or if) Rondo finally returns, Bradley will shift to the starting two-guard and the rest of the rotation would play out the same. I know there are some Celtic fans that believe they could actually make the playoffs as a 7th or 8th seed. I don't see that happening. Rajon Rondo not being available to begin the season, likely having to rely on Jeff Green to be a 20-25ppg scorer and not having a true starting center (Olynyk is a stretch four, Faverani is an overseas unknown and Melo is likely still not ready to be a big part of the rotation). For all of those reasons, I believe it'll be a lottery season for Beantown.
5.) Philadelphia 76ers: Tear it down and build it back up. The Sixers traded away their all-star point guard (Jrue Holiday) and let Andrew Bynum walk. Bynum left Philly a year after he was involved in the Dwight Howard trade to L.A. in which the Sixers sent Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless to Orlando (now to key cogs in the Magic rebuilding plan) and Andre Iguodala to Denver. Bynum leaves without playing a single game for the 76ers. They traded away a lot of talent for him and now he walks and the Sixers get nothing in return. It makes sense why the ultimately decided to 'blow it up'. They began the rebuilding process by drafting Michael Carter-Williams to be their point guard of the future and in the Jrue Holiday trade, the Sixers received the 6th overall selection (Nerlens Noel) and a 2014 first-round pick (Top-5 protected) from the New Orleans Pelicans. The Sixers still have veterans Jason Richardson, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes on the roster (among others), I'd say chances are VERY good that they're very available in trades. Philadelphia's starting lineup will likely include: Carter-Williams, Richardson, Turner, Young and Hawes with a second unit of: Nate Wolters (a second-round selection by Philly), James Anderson (acquired after he was waived by Houston along with Tim Ohlbrecht), Royce White (acquired in a trade with Houston...though will he even play?!), Lavoy Allen and Kwame Brown. Nerlens Noel is recovering from an ACL tear and could be available sometime in December. Chances are good that as the season wears on, they'll likely put the youth movement in full effect, meaning trading for more prospects and giving them a lot of playing time. The Sixers are currently still in search of a coach as well. Doug Collins declined to return for 2013-14 late last season and the Sixers have certainly taken their sweet time in finding a replacement. Spurs assistant Brett Brown appears to be in the lead for the job as it was reported this week that they're negotiating on a contract. Philadelphia will be lottery-bound and they're crossing their fingers they hit it big by landing the top pick and thus the consensus #1 pick: Andrew Wiggins. #TankforWiggins
That's all for now, stay tuned for the other five divisions over the next month-and-a-half. Thanks for reading!
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