Wolves Owner Sees ‘Building Year’ Ahead
With a new president of basketball operations, revised coaching staff and roster shakeup since last spring, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor expressed optimism about his franchise during an interview Tuesday with Sports Headliners, but he said it will be a challenge to make the playoffs.
“It’s going to be difficult, but that’s our goal (the playoffs),” said Taylor, who also thinks it’s unlikely his club will add an impact player in the coming months through free agency or trade.
The Timberwolves finished 36-46 last season and didn’t qualify for the playoffs after doing so a year earlier. It was a disappointing season for a franchise that has qualified for the postseason just once since 2004. Last summer the team was anticipating the season with Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler being two centerpieces of the franchise but both are long gone.
Gersson Rosas replaced Thibodeau as president of basketball operations and Ryan Saunders took over Thibs’ coaching duties. The team’s perceived leader is no longer the outspoken Butler, with a mellower dude in Karl-Anthony Towns auditioning for the role much of last season and going into this one.
Gone are about half the players who were on the roster when the season opened last October, including personnel who were either starters or regular contributors off the bench. The roster now is shaping up as younger, less experienced and trending toward a more inexpensive payroll.
“I know that this is going to be a building year because we’re going to have young people, but I am optimistic just because I know that we have potentially a lot of young players who could play really a lot better,” Taylor said. “Now if we can just do that, (and) get confidence and not be injured, I think we could really have a fun year. I think they’re going to be a fun team to watch because (coach) Ryan (Saunders) is going to move that ball up and down the court really fast.”
Rosas and Saunders favor a fast pace offensively with the Timberwolves expected to emphasize more three-point shooting. Minnesota attempted 2,357 three-pointers last season, the fifth fewest in the NBA, per Basketballreference.com. Taylor said he expects the Timberwolves’ strategy will be to have players penetrate toward the basket and “kick” the ball out to open teammates for three-point attempts.
Towns, who some authorities consider one of the NBA’s top 10 talents, is 7-feet tall, and he is both a low-post scorer and three-point shooter. He is also a friend of D’Angelo Russell who the Wolves recently flirted with signing as a free agent. Russell averaged 21.1 points last season with the Brooklyn Nets before signing a new max contract for a reported $117 million four-year deal with the Golden State Warriors.
Both a point guard and shooting guard, the 23-year-old Russell would have given the Wolves a potential star player to join with Towns, also 23. With Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones moving on via free agency, the Wolves need backcourt help in both scoring and playmaking. And rumors persist the front office wants to trade veteran Jeff Teague, the team’s expected starting point guard who is overpaid at a reported $19 million salary this year.
Taylor said he came close to signing Russell, but when the Warriors offered the max money to the former Ohio State star, he didn’t get back to him or Rosas. Would Taylor have offered a max deal, too? “We never really got there, so I don’t know,” he said.
Asked about whether fans should anticipate one significant player acquisition before the season begins this fall, Taylor responded: “No, I don’t think so. We don’t have that person in mind. I mean we tried for Russell. That didn’t work out.
“…We don’t have anybody particular (targeting for acquisition) but we’re keeping our eyes open just in case that we find a team that wants to make some change. So I don’t know that it would be called significant. They’re looking (the Wolves front office) at some deals. but significant means probably somebody who can really break into the starting lineup and make a difference.”
Taylor said the organization is proceeding as if the present roster will be the team in the fall. The focus is to make the players on the roster better and bring them closer to reaching their potentials. “A lot of our goal is to improve within,” Taylor said.
When Timberwolves fans think about players changing for the better Andrew Wiggins leads most everyone’s list. The first overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, he has superb athleticism but too often appears and performs lackadaisically. Wiggins was the one individual Taylor mentioned when talking generally about the goal of players becoming better during the offseason: “…We gotta hope Andrew comes back with the improvements that we expect.”
What improvements does Taylor want to see from the 24-year-old forward-guard who he signed to a reported $147 million contract in 2017? Taylor specified getting better on defense, penetrating to the basket “like he did when he was a rookie,” and “concentrate on threes.”
Taylor said the players can’t do all the improving needed without help in multiple areas such as nutrition, conditioning and basketball skills. He believes the Timberwolves, including with new assistant coaches David Vanterpool and Pablo Prigioni, have talented instructors who can challenge the players and improve them.
Vanterpool was named associate head coach in June after seven previous seasons as an assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers. He is known for his defensive expertise.
Prigioni, an assistant last season with the Brooklyn Nets, has a resume of over 20 years of basketball experience in America and internationally as a player and coach. He is expected to make a significant impact in multiple areas including offensive play.
The Wolves find themselves in a challenging spot next season with not only a number of good teams in the Western Conference, but potentially four great clubs in the Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers. The affable Taylor, who has owned the Wolves for 25 years and saved the franchise from relocating, remains an NBA fan and said he looks forward to competing against the better teams on the schedule “to see if we can knock them off.”