In 1989, the Magic and the Timberwolves entered the NBA together. In 23 years since, both franchises have seen their ups and downs. Orlando and Minnesota have dealt with the successes and trials of a small-market franchise. Both have seen superstars leave and championship windows close.
After a long period of languishing at the bottom of the Western Conference, the team is turning things around. Kevin Love is now a two-time all star and Ricky Rubio has injected the franchise with some more energy. Minnesota is no longer a laughing stock and the team is on the rise with a bright future ahead of them.
The Magic are coming down off that high. Monday's matchup has Minnesota and Orlando meeting somewhere in the middle of the NBA elevator. Since the Magic and Timberwolves are historically linked as sister franchises, and this is their only meeting this season, Orlando Magic Daily caught up with Mike Reynolds at TWolves Blog to take a look at where our sister franchise is in the rebuilding process and what the future holds for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Mike Reynolds: Rubio has invigorated a destitute sports market, home to a population consistently squatting with their tails between their legs when it comes to the four major sports. The young Spanish phenom has given this community something to be proud of. A galvanizing point guard.
Taking a step back, I think one of things that makes him so exciting from a lay-man basketball perspective is simple: that he is point guard who handles the ball for the majority of the possession. Aside from an iso wing scorer or a dominant post scorer, it is much easier for a casual fan to get involved with a player who has the ball in his hands for the majority of the possession. It is easier to visualize the impact.
From a more advanced perspective, it's the same stuff you have probably already read before: his passing and ability to find open guys is something this fan base is just not used to. It's funny, he can throw a basic behind the back pass and the crowd is absolutely beside themselves with excitement. And his defense is superb. However, his shooting woes are true and obvious. Early on in the year, he made a nice living driving and finishing, but oddly he has not been doing that of late. It has been much harder for Rubio to get involved offensively these days.
But, he has a very bright future. Rajon Rondo is perhaps his closest comparison.
OMD: Kevin Love and Dwight Howard are the two best rebounders in the league, but they do it in completely different ways. Dwight Howard is super athletic and just outleaps people. What Kevin Love does is much more subtle. How is Love, from a raw numbers perspective, such an effective rebounder?
Mike: Love is excellent at anticipating what direction the ball is going to bounce off of the rim. He watches exactly where the shot is going to go and knows which players have a tendency to go long or fall up short. He basically 'customizes' his position for each shot. A rebounding micromanager, as it were. And from there it's easy for him because he has a wide body and the strength to get position against most NBA bigs.
Love is generally going to be outmatching his opponent from a strength/physicality standpoint. He definitely has his issues against bigger bodies in this league who basically are on the floor to wreak havoc physically. Amir Johnson comes to mind here. But even then, Love gets such good position that he makes the Wolves rebounding game a below-the-rim venture.
That, and his vacuum hands help, along with pace of play and a lack of effective rebounders playing along side him (although Pekovic is proving his worth here of late).
OMD: David Kahn takes a lot of heat (Otis Smith might have replaced him at the bottom of the GM rankings now), but he has put together a decent team. Where are the Timberwolves in the rebuilding process? What will it take for them to break through and get back into the Western Conference playoff race?
Mike: David Kahn deserves all of the heat he gets. Kahn has made a few good moves, but has generally only been able to acquire castoffs and never-were's. He seems to build this team like someone doing a quick NBA 2k12 Association mode. No real semblance of roles or fit, just acquiring guys who were once top-five picks and didn't pan out, or signing low-impact role players.
He has had a king's ransom worth of NBA assets (tens of millions in cap space, multiple lottery picks, expiring contracts, etc.) that he has turned into Luke Ridnour, Darko Milicic, Martell Webster, JJ Barea, Brad Miller and Wes Johnson et.al. He basically enabled the Knicks' acquisition of Carmelo Anthony (a disaster thus far, but maybe not long term) and only acquired Anthony Randolph for his troubles. He traded Al Jefferson for nothing. And so on and so forth, with no end in sight.
Other than acquiring the Rubio pick, he has never shown that he has the ability to identify a need on this team and make the move to address the need. Simple as that.
For the Wolves to ever dream of the playoffs, Kahn needs to sell his underperforming youth (Beasley, Randolph, Wes Johnson, Derrick Williams, some picks) for an established NBA 2-guard who can hit an open jump shot, create some offense off the dribble and defend against bigger wing players. Nicolas Batum seems to be an excellent candidate. Overpay if you have to. Some Wolves fans have even taken a liking to J.J. Redick as more of a role-player type.
Overall, enough rebuilding. Make the final move and decide who stays. The Wolves have been rebuilding since 2005, so that should give you an idea as to where we are in the rebuilding process from a fan's perspective: watching a front office make it up as they go along, and failing about 85 percent of the time.
OMD: I hope this is not too painful, but Minnesota fans went through some of the same emotional trauma Magic fans are going through now with Kevin Garnett -- OK, maybe not anywhere near since he did the right thing and kept quiet and played hard, leaving business to the offseason. What advice do you have for Magic fans in dealing with a superstar that seemingly has one foot out the door? What is your perspective on the Dwight Howard situation?
Mike: Well, the Garnett situation was completely different. There was no media-driven drama and the trade happened very shortly before the Twitter-era started and changed everything. Regardless, it was a very tough week for Wolves fans and the Twin Cities area itself. That same week, a major bridge in downtown Minneapolis actually collapsed and made international news (Google '35W Bridge Collapse'). I think I was dumped by my college girlfriend during the same week. It was a tough time.
Overall, many in Minny are still attached to the man. He was a huge figure for this city and we miss him dearly. But you live and move on. I really hope Orlando fans get a solid package for Dwight. Something like Derrick Williams, Michael Beasley, Wes Johnson, 3 first round picks, and 12 2nd rounders.
As for Dwight, from an outsider's perspective, I think he is a complete villain. Perhaps worse than LeBron or Melo. I honestly, and this is going to sound ridiculous but hear me out for a second, think Dwight is not casted as a plot antagonist because he smiles a lot and seems to have a warm personality. The media frames him as a devout Christian and a friendly, personable dude. But he is about to destroy a community that lives and breathes Magic basketball.
A total villain.
How are his teammates not mutinying? Wouldn't you? All I hope is the Magic end up in a Nuggets-like situation where they get an excellent package of both youth and vets so the team can keep staying competitive in the lukewarm Eastern Conference.
But either way, just remember the Magic have had a very odd amount of success in their 22-23 years as a franchise. Don't take that success for granted as a fan. Sometimes you need to have some rotten years, and that's okay.
I watched every Wolves game from 2009-2011 (164 games) and was only able to see that cluster of a roster win 32 times. Don't be a bandwagoner.
OMD: OK, ultimate question... who wins tonight? What matchups should we be watching? What will it take for Minnesota to score the win in Orlando?
Mike: Orlando takes it tonight, although the Wolves play surprisingly well on the road. The Wolves offense has fallen apart completely these past few games. The Wolves had a league season-high 28 turnovers on Friday night. Teams are starting to figure out Rubio's kickout patterns.
If the Wolves can limit their turnovers to a very reasonable 12-15 and get some actual shooting from the perimeter, this could be a close one. But, the Wolves have no interior defense to speak of, so Dwight should have his way at the line tonight. And if Ridnour, Barea and company keep missing open jump shots (as I would probably expect), this is going to be an easy one for the Magic.
My thanks to Mike for lending his thoughts on the game tonight and the Timberwolves. Be sure to follow him and the crew at Twolves Blog.