Adreian Payne

Ricky Rubio on Timberwolves: ‘I have to go pull this team in the playoffs’

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Kevin Garnett is the Timberwolves’ most-accomplished player.

Andre Miller is their oldest player.

Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are their most-important players.

But on any team, leadership naturally falls to the starting point guard and highest-paid player. Ricky Rubio, who fills both titles in Minnesota, is embracing that role.

Rubio, via Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

“We know we’re young and we’re building,” Rubio told SI.com in a phone interview. “At the same time, I think we’re ready to win games. Last season we only won 16 games but it didn’t feel like we were a losing team at all. We were just lacking some things. Me personally, I have to go pull this team in the playoffs. I know it’s a big challenge, but I think we have the right assets, the right weapons to get it. I know we’re in the West side, it’s really tough, but I think we can make it happen. I have big expectations for next season.”

I don’t think it’s completely outlandish to suggest the Timberwolves could make the playoffs. They’re loaded with talent at every position:

  • Point guard: Rubio, Miller, Tyus Jones
  • Shooting guard: Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine
  • Small forward: Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Nemanja Bjelica
  • Power forward: Kevin Garnett, Gorgui Dieng, Adreian Payne, Anthony Bennett
  • Center: Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Pekovic

That is one heck of the depth chart.

But there are three major reasons Minnesota won’t make the playoffs:

1. Youth. As talented as those players are, many of them are still very young. They’ll probably need more time to develop and learn how to do the little things necessary to win.

2. Fit. Too many Timberwolves prefer to operate in the same areas of the court. They just don’t have enough floor spacers.

3.  Western Conference. It’s darn good.

Rubio could help, though. He’s reaching the age where he should take the next step. And a nifty passer, he could mitigate Minnesota’s spacing issues. He’ll have no shortage of talented players to throw passes. He’s the crux.

The Timberwolves probably won’t reach the postseason, but if they do, it very well could be because Rubio pulled them there.

Flip Saunders: Kevin Garnett will start for Timberwolves

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The Timberwolves didn’t sign Kevin Garnett just for his leadership.

They want him to play.

Minnesota coach Flip Saunders, in a Q&A with Zach Lowe of Grantland:

Is KG going to start?

He’s gonna start. That’s who he is. KG is a starter. He’s the best power forward on our team, actually. No one rebounds better. He’s the best help defender. No one communicates better. He knows the offense, and he can pass it.

That leaves Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng battling to start at the other big-man spot.

Towns was just the No. 1 pick, a productive two-way player who seems relatively NBA-ready for a rookie. Saunders said Pekovic is still hurt, but the center has been a steady starter the last four years when healthy. Dieng broke out late in his rookie season, and he maintained that level while starting a majority of Minnesota’s games last season.

Towns has the brightest future among that group, and maybe he should start for that reason. It will be pretty tough for the Timberwolves to make the playoffs next season, so maybe they should think long-term.

It’s also possible Towns is already better than Pekovic and Dieng, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the veterans are ahead when the season begins.

Simply based on productivity, Garnett belongs in the mix in a four-man race. But he’s clearly getting the nod based on stature. The 39-year-old also might be better off physically starting rather than sitting on the bench and getting cold to begin games.

I don’t expect Garnett to play typical minutes for a starter, which should leave playing time for those younger players. Enough to maximize their development? That’s a different question – especially with Anthony Bennett, Adreian Payne and Nemanja Bjelica also on the roster.

Perhaps, though, that issues takes care of itself. Garnett played just five games after Minnesota acquired him before the trade deadline, missing the final 21 games of the season. Injury is always an increased concern for players his age.

I’d hardly be surprised if, for one reason or another, Garnett is no longer starting by the end of the season.

Report: Timberwolves sign Euroleague star Nemanja Bjelica to three-year, $11.7 million contract

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Nemanja Bjelica has been a sleeper for five years.

Now, after a little negotiating, the Timberwolves will see just what the No. 35 pick in the 2010 draft can do. They are bringing him over to the USA.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Euroleague star forward Nemanja Bjelica has agreed to a three-year, $11.7 million deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Timberwolves are paying an additional $625,000 – the most allowable contribution – for his buyout clause in Europe, sources said.

Bjelica fits in with the NBA trend of big men who are versatile — he can play inside or out, at the three or the four, plus take on some ball handling responsibilities. He shot 37 percent from three last season, and he pulled down more than eight rebounds a game as well for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce Ulker.

Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Adreian Payne, Anthony Bennett – and now Bjelica. The Timberwolves are stockpiling a lot of talent.

It’s unclear how ready the youngest of that group is to compete, and though Bjelica is already 27, he also must adjust to the NBA. The fit of those players is unclear, too. And he Western Conference is not the least bit forgiving.

But talent is the place to start, and Minnesota is doing just fine there.

Report: Timberwolves in talks with Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica

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On draft night in 2010, Minnesota agreed to a trade with Washington for the No. 35 pick, the rights to Serbian Nemanja Bjelica. Then they stashed him overseas, where he has continued to develop and look like a guy they could use — last season he was the Euroleague MVP.

Now the Timberwolves are looking to bring the 6’10” point forward over for the next few seasons, reports Shams Charania at Real GM.

Euroleague star Nemanja Bjelica is in serious discussions with the Minnesota Timberwolves on an approximate three-year, $12 million-plus deal, but the two sides have been exploring all options, league sources told RealGM…. Around the league, there’s active trade interest in the Serbian forward, sources said.

In an NBA trending toward spacing the floor and versatile lineup, Bjelica is a good fit because he can play the three or the four, plus take on some ball handling responsibilities. He shot 37 percent from three last season, and he pulled down more than eight rebounds a game as well for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce Ulker.

Minnesota is strong at the three with Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad. At the four there is Gorgui Dieng and behind him Anthony Bennett (who is being shopped) as well as Adreian Payne. You could see Bjelica being able to step in and get good minutes off the bench at the four, sort of in a Nikola Mirotic kind of way (with a different style game, but in terms of usage they could be similar).

Minnesota is assembling a very nice roster, one that could do a lot of damage in a few years if they can keep the core together and develop them.

Report: Timberwolves shopping Anthony Bennett for trade

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When the Timberwolves draft Karl-Anthony Towns, they’ll have three young big men who – at least theoretically – are good shooters for their positions:

  • Towns
  • Adreian Payne
  • Anthony Bennett

Flip Saunders hand-picked Payne, and the Minnesota president/coach has clearly come around on Towns.

With only so many minutes to develop the trio, Bennett appears to be the odd man out.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

I don’t know what the Timberwolves expect to get for Bennett, but it won’t be much.

Though he was the No. 1 pick just two years ago, his stock has sunk quickly. Besides, it seems only the Cavaliers thought he warranted the top selection. Treat him like a mid-lottery pick who has struggled, and that’s a better approximation of his value.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, Bennett’s salary is that of a No. 1 pick. He has a $7,318,289 team option for 2016-17 that must be exercised by the end of this October. It’s essentially impossible for him to prove he deserves that before next season gets underway.

So, who wants to trade for Bennett as a possible rental? Though his team would have his Bird Rights, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent if his his option is declined.

If the Timberwolves want to dump him, they probably can. If they want an asset in return, that’s a tossup.