For tonight's game, I got a chance to talk to Zach Harper of TalkHoops.net and The Weekly Fix podcast. Unfortunately, Zach is also a long-time Timberwolves fan, but his insight should prove useful to Spurs fans entering tonight's game.
1. Obviously being a Timberwolves fan is hard enough, but how has the loss of Al Jefferson affected the team?
The sad thing with being a Wolves fan is that it wasn't a huge blow to the fan psyche to see Jefferson go down with that injury. The season was a complete loss anyway and this gives Kevin Love more of an opportunity to grow on the court to gain confidence. Jefferson should be 100% healthy by the start of next season so in that respect, the injury wasn't that bad. Surprisingly, the Wolves have been worse on the defensive side of things since Al went down even though he's an atrocious defender and a lot of that probably has to do with Kevin Love being on the court more. The team has shown a certain level of scrappiness all season long and didn't lose that when Al went down with the bad knee. Only six of their thirteen losses without Jefferson have been blowouts and the rest of the games have been pretty close. For a team with such little talent, that's actually an encouraging sign going into next season.
2. There's been some talk since Kevin McHale took over coaching duties that perhaps he is a better coach than GM. What's your take on that?
My take on Kevin McHale as a coach instead of a GM is pretty simple. Kevin McHale may be the worst GM of the past 15 years. Elgin Baylor always had a disfunctional franchise to run with very little money to run it with so that poor job he did is understandable. Isiah Thomas for all of his faults is still a very good GM when it comes to the draft and finding great talent for the draft pool. But Kevin McHale completely wets the bed with every decision he makes. So putting him at coach can't be all that bad because at least he's no longer building the team. With that said, he's actually been a really good coach for this young team. He lets them play through mistakes and doesn't micromanage his players like Randy Wittman did (and a lot of that has to do with McHale admittedly not being a very good X's and O's guy). So the players appreciate the extra length on the leash and in turn play more inspired basketball. He should definitely stay on the hardwood and out of the front office.
3. Speaking of McHale, he made an eight-player trade on draft day that didn't seem to make much sense. The principals of the trade were O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love. Seeing what Mayo has done in Memphis, are you confident that McHale made the right move?
I think it's still too early to judge that trade based on what those two players have done so far. The next two off-seasons will help determine who got the better of that trade. The Wolves will probably never become a serious contender in any light by trying to play Jefferson and Love 40 minutes side by side. They're simply too big of a liability on the defensive end. So they're going to need to bring in a defensive-minded big man and put Love in the David Lee role. Mayo and Randy Foye would have not played well together because they're essentially the same type of combo guard. So if they can put a talented, bigger point guard next to Foye and not overpay Randy when he's due a contract extension then that will be a solid core to have. If they get rid of Foye because he wants more than Jameer Nelson type of money and don't get a significant player in return, then it will be hard to look back at this trade and not wish we had O.J. Mayo.
4. There have been a few players that have had to play bigger roles with All Jefferson out. I've always liked Ryan Gomes so I've especially taken notice of his contributions lately, but which player's efforts have you been most pleased with.
I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Craig Smith because I love his touch around the basket and his flair for being self-congratulatory after making the basket after a foul. He's had a nice week recently and it's fun for me to see him do well. But the biggest thing to come out of this Jefferson injury with role players has been Mike Miller finally deciding to shoot the ball. Before Jefferson's injury, Miller only took double-digit shots in a game eight times. Since the injury, he's take 10 or more shots in a game seven times in just 16 contests. His unwillingness to shoot (he's averaging the fewest shot attempts per game of his career and it's not all that close) and his affinity for passing up open shots has really been confusing. We did not expect this so to see him shooting when he's supposed to now is great.
5. This may be a bit early, but Minnesota is going to be in the draft lottery this summer. With Jefferson and Love already on the roster, I'm guessing Griffin and Thabeet aren't on your short list. If you're Kevin McHale, who are you targeting in this summer's draft?
I'm not a big fan of Blake Griffin because I don't see much more than a slightly more athletic version of Kris Humphries in him. I wouldn't mind Thabeet because they Wolves will need a defensive presence like I mentioned earlier to pair with Jefferson and Love. But I wouldn't want to have to take him with a top three pick either. The Wolves need a big talented, play-making point guard so I wouldn't mind them taking a chance on Brandon Jennings, assuming that he declares for the draft. But again, he's such a huge risk that it probably wouldn't work out like the Wolves need it to. If Ricky Rubio comes out and the Wolves end up with him, that would be the best case scenario for this franchise on so many levels. I also like Jeff Teague from Wake Forest but if he's going top ten to the Wolves, that's not really a good thing. Honestly, the best thing that could happen to the Wolves is to end up with the 11th pick in the draft and have the Clippers take the first round pick that's owed to them from Minny (via the Marko Jaric trade that to this day still makes my eyes bleed). They're pick for this draft is top ten protected and with this being such a weak draft class, it wouldn't be a bad thing to lose the pick in a more respectable way than the way we lost picks due to Joe Smith. Seriously, how is Kevin McHale still employed?
6. Looking at tonight's game with the Spurs, is this something you chalk up to a loss, especially without Jefferson there to harass Tim Duncan? Or do you see that the Spurs dropped a game against the Thunder last night and are on the second night of a back-to-back? What is your prediction and what is the most important matchup?
The optimist in me would try to peg that Thunder loss by the Spurs as motivation that the Wolves can steal this game. But unfortunately, McHale suffocated the optimist in me years ago with a pillow of failure. The Wolves just simply aren't talented enough to contend with the Spurs when Jefferson is out and they're so bad defensively that I don't think they can stop Tony Parker from going for 35 points again. Their best chance is to constantly double Tim Duncan in the post, pray that the swing passes are slow or off-line and try to rotate as quickly as possible to harrass jump shooters. The key will be Randy Foye trying to match what Parker does. If he can neutralize the points that the French man puts up then the Wolves have a decent shot at making it interesting. But I'd expect a 103-86 type of drubbing.