Tuesday, November 2, 2004
NFL "EXPERT" PICKS
Minnesota Timberwolves Preview
I am so happy today! Why? Because we are finally done seeing all those stupid political ads on TV. I do have to ask this though; Does anyone actually watch the Presidential commercials on TV and change their mind about who they will be voting for, just because of the ad? I mean serious, we know what these candidates stand for. We saw the debates. We have access to their websites which show their platforms. Did anyone watch the commercials and say, "Hey! John Kerry really bashed Bush on that one. He makes a better, mean commercial. I'm voting for him!" Or, "George Bush really got me with those Wolves! I better vote for him!" I just don't get it! It's all about who can attack who better.
So anyway, if you can, be sure to get out there and vote today. Tonight is not only Election Night in American though. It is also the NBA's Opening Night. Now, the Wolves opener is not until tomorrow night, but I thought it would be a good time to preview the Wolves team today. If you have any questions or comments, send me an e-mail.
Oh, and one more thing, you've gotta love when athletes tell their team's secrets! Kevin Millar is great for such quotes! Now we know how the Red Sox kept so loose during the ALCS and World Series!
The NBA season is upon us. Tomorrow night the Target Center will play host to the Timberwolves first game of the season, a game against the New York Knicks.
As you’ve noticed, this site has primarily been a baseball related site, and baseball is definitely my favorite sport. But, with the World Series now complete, the NBA season begins at the perfect time! Basketball is a very close 2nd in the favorite sports rankings.
So, of course, I am very excited about the upcoming Wolves season. A year ago, Kevin McHale transformed the Wolves roster, keeping just four players from the previous season. We knew that team would have better talent than previous versions, but would that team be able to gel, how long would it take, and because the other team’s in the Western Conference also added players, would the Wolves still be unable to get out of the first round of the playoffs?
2003-04 Season Recap
In order to look forward, it is probably a good idea to look back. The 2003-04 Timberwolves season was, by far, the organization’s best. Sure, the team struggled in the early part of the season. It took them awhile to come together as a team. Injuries forced some key players from the lineup, but once they found it, they were as good as any team in the NBA. In previous seasons, Kevin Garnett was the sole reason for any of the team’s success. Last year, he was assisted by veterans and proven winners Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, but also by good team-concept players like Fred Hoiberg, Mark Madsen, Trenton Hassell and Ervin Johnson. They were all incredibly important as key contributors Troy Hudson and Wally Szczerbiak each spent a lot of time sidelined by injuries.
Well, Kevin Garnett responded with his best all around season to date. And despite not having to carry as much of a load and finally having enough help, he finally earned his first MVP Award. He led the impressive group of players to the Midwest Division title. The Wolves went into the playoffs ranked first in the tough Western Conference.
The Wolves played the 8-seed Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. It was a trash-talking, contentious series, but the Wolves won in five games. It was the organization’s first series victory. They advanced to play the 4th seed, the Sacramento Kings in the second round. To this day, this may have been the most exciting sporting series I have ever viewed. It went seven games. Each game was close. There was trash-talking. There were fights. There is tough-nosed defense. And there were a lot of points scored. Game 7, at Target Center, may have been the greatest individual sports game that I have ever watched. And yes, that includes Game 7 of the 1987 and 1991 World Series (and Game 7 of the ’91 World Series was the greatest game in World Series history!).
The Wolves won that game and that series to move into the Western Conference Finals where they met Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Unfortunately, Sam Cassell was injured much of the series and the Wolves lost in five games. I, and many real Wolves fans, believe that had Cassell been healthy, the Wolves would have won that series and advanced to the NBA Finals.
So, 2003-04 was an incredible ride for the Timberwolves and their fans. That group of players played better than anyone could have even projected. But there are still two steps forward that I’m sure this Wolves team would like to surpass this year. I am sure that this group has an NBA Championship as the top goal on any of their goal lists. Can they do it? I guess we’ll see!
As I mentioned above, Kevin McHale was a busy man a year ago, bringing in a lot of new players. This year was almost the complete opposite. This offseason it was all about retaining the guys on the team. Kevin Garnett, following his MVP season, will actually take a pay cut of more than $10 million this year. He saw that the organization was willing to do the right things, the things necessary to win. And because of that, he was willing to (and no, I really can’t say this with a straight face, but the point is still the same…) 'sacrifice' over $80 million because he knew it was better for the team. With all that money now available, the onus was on McHale to retain the current roster, or to make moves to better the team.
So when Trenton Hassell, a key contributor and one of the best defensive players in basketball, signed an offer sheet with the Portland Trailblazers for 6 years and $27 million, you better believe that McHale and the Timberwolves had to match it. Similarly, Fred Hoiberg received plenty of offers from other teams, but he was kept on the Wolves roster.
Really, there are only a couple of new players. The first is Anthony Carter. Carter has been in the NBA the past five seasons. He greatly improves the Wolves backup point guard position. First, Sam Cassell and Troy Hudson will be the primary point guards. Carter will essentially be the third point guard and insurance in case of injury. He is a big step up from Darrick Martin!
But the key acquisition for the Wolves was their most recent. Signing forward Eddie Griffin could be a huge boost for the Wolves this season. This should be Griffin’s fourth NBA season, but last year, he did not play and was cut by a couple of teams for various attitude and legal issues. His problems mean that he will start this season with a three game league-induced suspension. So, there are certainly issues and concerns with a player like Eddie Griffin on the roster. However, if he can’t play with Flip Saunders and on the same roster as Kevin Garnett, then he has no chance. And, this is his last chance.
Griffin was drafted with the 7th overall pick in the 2001 draft out of Seton Hall, where he had a strong, but short and tumultuous season. He played well for the Houston Rockets his first two seasons. And still now, he will be just 22 years old this season. He has so much talent. If he can come to Minnesota, stay out of trouble, and accept his role of coming off the bench, Griffin could be a huge contributor to this team, and could be a steal at the price they’re paying him.
We’ll see what happens! If he plays hard and keeps his nose clean, he’ll be great. If he gets in trouble or does anything wrong, the Wolves will not hesitate to get rid of him and give another NBA shot to former Gopher John Thomas!
As always, the biggest strength of this team will again be MVP Kevin Garnett. But the other players also will play a huge role for this team. I think a big strength is just how balanced this team is around the NBA’s best, most complete player. But, they have excellent point guards in Sam Cassell, Troy Hudson and Anthony Carter. They’ve got strong shooters in Cassell, Hudson, Wally Szczerbiak, Fred Hoiberg, Latrell Sprewell and Garnett. They’ve got good rebounders in Garnett, Michael Olowokandi, Eddie Griffin. They’ve got a couple of shot blockers in the Kandi Man and Garnett. They’ve got great defensive players in Garnett and Trenton Hassell.
I also think that Flip Saunders is the most underrated, and arguably the best, tactician in the NBA. It is unfortunate that it took his team winning their first playoff series last season for people to notice.
A year ago, I said that the Wolves ha two major concerns this season, team chemistry and injuries. I think it is fair to say that the same two issues are a factor this year as well, just for different reasons.
Team Chemistry – Last year, the concern came from having so many new faces. That won’t be an issue this year at all with almost the same team. However, there are some issues popping up that could certainly negatively affect the team. The big one right now is certainly the Latrell Sprewell situation. He is claiming that if he doesn’t get a contract extension before the season starts, he will ask for a trade and will not play all-out for the Wolves. He has made such ridiculous statements like, “I need to feed my family.” I have and will continue to back Sprewell and say that he has more than paid his penalty for his PJ Carlisimo situation from all those years ago. I think he is an All-Star caliber player. However, making these threats and statements, it is impossible to find any reason to take his side. Sure, he says that based on what he did, the team owes it to him to extend his contract. No, the team agreed to pay him about $14 million last year and will pay him a little more than $14 million this year. That’s all they owe him. Sam Cassell also has talked about his contract, and how he is paid too low and he wants an extension too. There is no doubt that Cassell is underpaid. However, he agreed to his current contract with another team. The Wolves should not be the team to make up for his past low pay. In both of these cases, hopefully something can be worked out. The two players need look only to their MVP teammate, Kevin Garnett to see what the term unselfish means. Spree should realize that the Wolves (or any other team) will not pay him more than his current deal. In the open market, he will take a pay cut.
Also, there is a battle between Trenton Hassell and Wally Szczerbiak for a starting position. Wally understandably wants to start. He makes a lot of money and obviously has been an All-Star. Hassell made himself one of the top defenders in the league and earned a contract and more playing time. It should be interesting to see how these situations play out. My guess is that there will be a trade involving at least one, if not two of these players in coming weeks.
Injuries – Sprewell and Cassell have missed some time this preseason with minor injuries. Troy Hudson has finally started getting some playing time and is on the active roster, but his ankle is certainly a concern. Wally Szczerbiak has been healthy all camp, but you always worry about his foot. Michael Olowokandi has been great in camp, and most importantly healthy. I think that we saw glimpses of what he can be when he is healthy. So, keeping him in the lineup is very important. A big concern is always the unknown injury. Someone who will unexpectedly miss more time than anyone would hope. The biggest concern, of course, would be Kevin Garnett missing significant time!
2004-05 Season Preview
It is an important season for the Wolves. Last year was their organization’s best in their history. It was not expected. This year, the Wolves, along with the San Antonio Spurs, are the favorites to advance out of the Western Conference. How will the team respond to the added pressure?
So, what are my predictions:
Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell will be All-Stars.
Kevin Garnett will have 70 double-doubles and six triple-doubles.
Sam Cassell will average over 9 assists a game.
Wally Szczerbiak will come back in a big way. After a slow start, his minutes will increase and he will average 18 points per game.
The Wolves will get Jason Kidd. It’s just a matter of when and for whom. My guess is that it will be in mid-December. It will be a three-team deal. It will cost the Wolves Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell, and the Wolves will also get a big man from someone.
Eddie Griffin will stay out of trouble and prove to be a steal!
Timberwolves Record - 59-23. (2nd place in the Western Conference, behind the Spurs)
So there you have it. My 2004-05 Minnesota Timberwolves Preview. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you’ll be watching the Wolves on TV (or in person if that is an option for you). The Wolves will be on ESPN nine times. They will be on TNT six times. And they will be on ABC at least once. So, there will be opportunity for basketball fans around the country to watch the Wolves. Those in the Minnesota market will be able to catch games on Fox Sports North. Those in the Minnesota Metro area (not me) will be able to see games on UPN29. Those who listen to the radio will notice that JB Bickerstaff is gone. He is helping his dad with the new Charlotte Bobcats organization. JB will be replaced by Billy McKinney, which will make for a great team, with Chad Hartman.
So there you have it. Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on the upcoming Timberwolves season? What are the big question marks in your mind? Can the team be as successful, and is an NBA title a possibility? Send me an e-mail.
NBA "EXPERT" PICKS
Things are getting bunched at the top as we approach the halfway point of the season. We also have a new leader atop this list, and Aaron Gleeman is coming on now in defense of his title!
Thru Week Total Week 8 Over All Name Site
L Win% W L Win % Ryan Maus Twins Chatter 7 7 50.0% 77 39 66.4% Mike Brasel Fantasy FB Guru 6 8 42.9% 76 40 65.5% Aaron Gleeman Aaron's BB Blog 9 5 64.3% 76 40 65.5% David Bergner Baseball Savant 9 5 64.3% 75 41 64.7% Melissa Olson SethSpeaks.net 8 6 57.1% 73 43 62.9% Michael Labuda ChiSox Daily 8 6 57.1% 73 43 62.9% Jeremy Kovash Wolf Lake Mgr 8 6 57.1% 70 46 60.3% Vic Quick KDUH-TV Sports 9 5 64.3% 69 47 59.5% Seth Stohs SethSpeaks.net 8 6 57.1% 67 49 57.8% Ben Jacobs Hardball Times 7 7 50.0% 65 51 56.0% David Bloom Ya Gotta Believe 9 5 64.3% 63 53 54.3% John Bonnes The Twins Geek 9 5 64.3% 63 53 54.3%
And that's it for today! Quick entry. Tomorrow, I will be back with more basketball predictions and thoughts for the 2005 season, along with some baseball topics.
If you have any questions, comments or ideas for future topics, please e-mail me.
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