Column: RICK SOLEM
They’re finally here, the dynamic duo. Kevin Love. Ricky Rubio.
Add Nikola Pekovic and his five-year, $60 million contract and there’s a new Big Three in the Wild West-ern Conference.
How long will it last?
There were tastes of this two seasons ago, but once Rubio tore his ACL, the Timberwolves plummeted. They were 21-20 up to that point. They finished the 2011-12 season 5-20 without Rubio.
Last year was another season to forget. This time because Love broke his hand and managed to play just 18 games – shooting an abysmal 35 percent. Minnesota went 31-51.
So, here we are, all three are healthy. Minnesota added shooting guard Kevin Martin to shore up what David Kahn never could through the draft … Wesley Mathews, Johnny Flynn, trading Ty Lawson’s rights for what ended up being Luke Babbit - not to mention passing on Stephen Curry in the draft or signing Branon Roy and his balky knees last year (six years after Minnesota drafted, then traded his rights to Portland).
KAHN! (Star Trek reference)
Deep breaths, Timberwolves fans. KAHN! is gone. Flip Saunders is the new general manager, and one of his first moves was re-signing Chase Budinger.
Budinger is out indefinitely with a knee injury. He tore his meniscus last season. He did so again in training camp, which came after he signed a three-year, $15 million contract.
He would have helped, too, because that’s the Timberwolves major hole.
Corey Brewer fills that spot, returning to the team that drafted him in 2007 (KAHN! … just kidding, Kevin MCHALE!), but he’s kind of the same player he was in final year in Minnesota (2009-10) when he shot just 43 percent.
Another move Saunders made was trading for Martin – sending Luke Ridnour to the Bucks – and signing him for way too long and too much – four years, $30 million.
Martin, 30, will help now. But probably not much after this season. Or the next. Or the next.
Backing up Martin and Rubio are two guards in Alexey Shved and J.J. Barea, who, last year, shot 37 and 42 percent, respectively. That’s not good, though Barea always seems to make plays.
Backing up Love is Derrick Williams, the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft (KAHN!). He’s a player everyone is waiting for to break out, but two things: 1. He doesn’t have a position - he’s an undersized PF and an overly-slow SF that isn’t a good shooter; 2. As a starter in place of Love last year, he shot 42.1 percent from the field, 32 from beyond the arc, averaging 13.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and doing little else.
Love’s injury was supposed to be the opportunity he needed. Instead, it just hurt his stock on the trade market and now he appears to be another bust (KAHN!).
So, the Timberwolves season, again depends upon the Big Three staying healthy. When they are, they should dominate and be one of the most fun teams to watch. And for Minnesota to make the playoffs, they need those three healthy, because the bench isn't going to get it done for long stretches.
The odds of any of that happening seem slim.
Pekovic, 27, is the most unlikely to last the season. He’s missed an average of 19 games since he came into the league. Love’s injury last year seems fluky and Rubio got through that ‘season-after’ his knee surgery. Players always seem to do better the second season coming back.
So, maybe there’s hope. But the window is closing. If for nothing else, because the rumor always is Love, 25, is unhappy and wants to be traded – despite having three years, $47 million remaining on his not-quite-a-max deal (KAHN!). Then again, he kind of has two years left, because, the brilliant KAHN! decided, instead of giving Love the five-year deal he wanted, he gave him four … with an opt-out clause after next season.
So, Timberwolves and NBA fans, enjoy the show while it lasts, because if they don’t start winning, he’s gone. He’s probably gone anyway. Oh, just trade him now, before he breaks his hand or steps on a player and is suspended.