Three games up, two games down. It will probably be a recurring theme for this team that is transitioning into a new era of Heat basketball.
Another franchise that underwent massive changes this past summer was the Minnesota Timberwolves. I spoke to Zachary Bennett of SBNation's Wolves site, Canis Hoopus. You can catch some of ZB's great writing, via Twitter (@ZacharyBD).
1. The biggest storyline (whether fair or not) regarding Minnesota was the drawn-out trade of Kevin Love to Cleveland. Miami fans will have their own view of things (with the whole LeBron James thing) but what's your feeling about how the trade was handled and your view of the super-team that was assembled by the Cavaliers?
After the trade was consummated and Andrew Wiggins, Thaddeus Young and Anthony Bennett were traded, the Wolves held a press conference at the Minnesota State Fair to introduce the latest additions. An impressive turnout of fans showed up and, from what I observed, the player they were most excited to welcome was Andrew Wiggins.
Having lived here for a solid portion of my life I was relieved just to see people excited about the team again. All in all, it's never ideal to lose a top-10 player, but getting the previous two #1 overall draft picks and a functional starting power forward in exchange for Kevin Love worked out for all parties involved...
...minus the Miami Heat, I suppose. (Sorry.)
2. Given the assembly of young talent in Minnesota, it looks like there's a bright future ahead for the Timberwolves. What can we realistically expect out of them this season and moving forward in the next few years? Are they missing anything (other than experience) to be legitimate contenders?
There is an unquestionably interesting, dynamic mix of athletes on the Wolves roster.
- Rookies and 2nd Year Players: Wiggins, Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, Thomas Robinson, Robbie Hummel and Zach LaVine.
- Players w/ 3-5 years NBA experience: Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Chase Budinger.
- Players w/6-9 years NBA experience: Corey Brewer, Thaddeus Young, Ronnie Turiaf.
- Players w/ 10+ years experience: Kevin Martin and Mo Williams.
As much as I may dislike cliches, head coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders is the Wolves' Sheriff, Jury, Judge and Executioner. He determines who plays how many minutes and isn't at the mercy of personnel decisions made by a superior executive - Milt Newton is the Wolves General Manager but wouldn't sign, trade or release players without first consulting with Saunders.
Saunders is responsible for baptizing the youth, seeing to it certain players refine particular skill sets while also keeping everybody healthy. This year isn't about winning games and getting to the postseason as much as it is player development.
The rookies and second-year players needn't be quarantined on the bench, it's imperative they receive ample playing time. Ricky Rubio wants to become more of an outspoken leader and is also focusing on improving as a scorer. Thaddeus Young wants to make it back to the postseason after two pretty abysmal seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers. Through four games, we've seen Nikola Pekovic asked to make passes to cutters and shooters out of the post.
There are few, if any, who expect the Wolves to qualify for the postseason this year. Anywhere between 30-40 wins would be satisfactory, in my opinion. The Wolves will surprise some people. They may not make the playoffs, but they'll compete on a nightly basis and beat some good teams this season.
3. What's your take on Ricky Rubio? His recent contract extension raised eyebrows. Some feel he's worth it, others don't. How do you feel about Rubio and what's his ceiling?
Ricky Rubio is an illustrious passer and - at least - an average defender. It's tough to discredit his ability to find open teammates and create steals when lurking the passing lanes.
Sure, he's not the greatest shooter and, historically, Rubio has struggled finishing around the rim. But the Wolves addressed these woes by hiring shooting coach ("Shot Doctor") Mike Penberthy. Thus far, Rubio seems more aggressive both driving to the rim and while attempting jump shots. But the sample size is not yet large enough to determine whether or not he's improving in these areas.
Rubio is going to have a big impact on the younger players around him. Off the court, he's aiming to be a mentor and a vocal leader among his teammates. On the floor, Rubio's pass-first mentality and willingness to distribute will immensely help his teammates develop and become better players.
As for the money, it is in my estimation the Wolves paid an appropriate amount for Rubio's services. Those critical of his scoring output may not share the same opinion.
4. Miami is no longer the "bully" they were widely perceived as over the last four years. From an outsider's perspective, what's your lasting impression of the "Big 3" era (how they were assembled, succeeded or came apart) and what's your feeling on this year's team?
The Big 3 era was fun while it lasted. It wasn't a failure. Perhaps it could have been more of a success. If I were a fan of the Miami Heat, I guess I'd be happy about winning two championships. Watching Erik Spoelstra's offensive schemes executed by LeBron and Co. was nothing short of spectacular.
I don't harp on LeBron for leaving or going back to Cleveland. If he left my favorite team it would probably render a bitter taste in my mouth. So, if a number of Heat fans are upset, I totally understand that.
Truth be told I will not see the Heat play this year until the Wolves tip-off in Miami. As an outsider, it will be interesting to see how Chris Bosh performs with LeBron gone. Dwyane Wade's health is always something to keep an eye on. Josh McRoberts is fun.
Spoelstra has a new test in front of him now, but I'm sure he's up to the task.
5. Is there a particular matchup that is of interest to you in Saturday's game? I would think Bosh vs. Nikola Pekovic would be one to watch.
How the Wolves match up against Bosh is going to be something to keep an eye on. In the season opener against the Memphis Grizzlies, Marc Gasol gave Pekovic some trouble as he was able to step away from the basket and knockdown mid-range jump shots. Bosh's ability to spread the floor and hit the outside shot make him a tough cover for a lot of players, especially Pekovic. Saunders could give the assignment to Thad Young, but Bosh would then have a slight size advantage. It looks as though the Wolves will have to pick their poison.
Outside of that, it will certainly be fun to see Andrew Wiggins attempt to guard Dwyane Wade. Wiggins held his own against Joe Johnson when the Wolves were in Brooklyn playing the Brooklyn Nets. But Johnson isn't Wade, and Wade isn't Johnson, so it'll be an entirely new test for the rookie.