Minnesota Timberwolves Getting Inside 2008-04-27

It seems implausible to call successful a Timberwolves' season in which only two other teams won fewer games.

It might seem so if an 82-game season that ended Wednesday night with a comeback victory over Milwaukee had not revealed this simple but significant fact:

Al Jefferson is a lot better than anybody thought.

And as Wolves' basketball boss Kevin McHale likes to say, he thought Jefferson was pretty good when he made last summer's seismic trade that sent future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett to Boston.

Now all the Wolves need is two more equally sturdy blocks to the foundation. Or, if it's absolutely the right player, perhaps only one, to supplement a collection of young complementary players that include Randy Foye, Rashad McCants, Corey Brewer and upcoming restricted free agents Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Craig Smith and Kirk Snyder.

Given the franchise's decision-making record, however, that's asking something.

Wolves coach Randy Wittman the other day was asked what his team needs most.

More talent, he said.

And somebody who can get to the basket. Somebody else who can defend on the perimeter. Some guys who can shoot. More size would be nice, too.

Is that all?

Jefferson -- an anachronistic low-post scorer and lunch-bucket guy signed last fall to a bargain five-year, $65 million contract extension -- has proven in one season he is a legitimate pillar on a suddenly youthful team otherwise composed of complementary pieces. He averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds this season, one of only four players to surpass 20 and 10.

A trade that nine months ago looked so lopsided one way might someday appear reversed if Jefferson improves his 15-foot jumper, his shot blocking and his passing vision.

"Kevin McHale wanted to get the best young player he could get if he was going to trade Kevin Garnett," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who coached Jefferson his first three pro seasons, "and I think he got him."

Now, if only the Wolves can add two more equally talented players -- Memphis freshman guard Derrick Rose or Kansas State freshman forward Michael Beasley would be a fine start -- around him. Wittman suggests Jefferson's hefty 21-point and 11-rebound averages might only rise with better players around him, because defenses can't be as attentive to him as they were this season.

The Wolves played the 6-9 Jefferson most of the season at center out of necessity. Asked if the team needs to find a center so Jefferson can be moved back to his natural power forward spot, Wittman said not necessarily.

"You have to find a center who the other team's center has to defend, otherwise they're just going to put their center on Al," Wittman said. "When (Orlando's) Dwight Howard came into this league, everybody said he was a power forward and they need to get a center in there so he can play power forward. Well, what is he now, you know? He's a pretty good 'five'. Al's not a traditional center, but he's pretty good, too."

SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Two home victories over Phoenix P.S. (Pre-Shaq O'Neal), including one in January that was the second victory in a stretch when the Wolves won five of seven games after they started the season 5-34. Those transforming games included a victory at Golden State and home victories over the Suns, New Jersey, Chicago and the Los Angeles Clippers.

TURNING POINT: July 31, 2007. The date of the Kevin Garnett trade, when the Wolves traded their last three seasons of mediocrity for a big step backward that evoked the team's early expansion days. The Wolves lost 60 games (22-60) for the first time since Garnett was drafted in 1995. Until then, the Wolves had lost 60 or more games in five of their first six seasons.



Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 27, 2008