Last week I talked about learning to love a new team after my favorite player was traded to them. This week I follow up on the other side of the coin, how to keep the love for my old team after losing their franchise player. This was especially difficult for me in this case, as Kevin Garnett was the entire reason that the Timberwolves were my favorites in the first place. I've never been to Minnesota, I have no natural tie to the squad so why should I stay around? Especially through a dreaded "Rebuild".
For one thing, there's loyalty. I've put a significant amount of blood/sweat/tears into the Wolves over the past decade. With wonderful inventions like the NBA League Pass and the internet I've been able to get to know the team like they were my local squad. For another thing, there's the Wolves community. Guys from the Wolves message boards play in my fantasy leagues, and the Wolves followers I've encountered are some of the more knowledgeable and passionate basketball fans around. I don't want to leave that behind.
Finally, and somewhat surprisingly based upon the almost universally bad press that the Timberwolves front office gets…there's hope. Even before Garnett was traded, the Wolves front office was pushing their young players as the Blueprint of the Future. Now, whether you feel that the return package for Garnett was good value or not, it could be argued that only Portland has a decidedly better young core, and with Greg Oden out it's possible that the Wolves eclipse them as well. They sport nine players under the age of 25, four of which were lottery selections, and it is conceivable that all nine could be regulars in the rotation this season.
This is also where the smart rotisserie player starts to get interested in the Wolves. Unlike a contending team like the Celtics, there is no set hierarchy of minutes and production in place. Instead, Minnesota is now a hotbed of activity in which any from a group of 8 or 10 players could potentially break out this season. This team absolutely needs to be on your fantasy radar in the middle to later rounds, and immediately after the draft is over you should put several others on your "watch" list to pick up in case they get hot during the season. Excluding known quantities Ricky Davis and Mark Blount, who are veteran starters whose current roles are undefined in the youth movement, let's take a look at this year's Wolves of interest on my personal draft card.
Al Jefferson: Late 2nd/early 3rd round. The centerpiece of the Celtics deal, Jefferson could officially make the leap to fantasy stardom this year. Jefferson caught fire once he entered the Celts starting line-up last season, and finished the year by averaging 19.8 ppg on 55% FG, 11.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg and 1.1 steals after the All Star Break. If he can approximate those numbers for the season, he'd be worthy of a first round pick. But beware, he's had injury issues in each of his three NBA seasons and with the additional pressure of being The Man he could have trouble again this year.
Randy Foye: 6th round. I sincerely believe that the Foye/Brandon Roy dynamic this year will be like Deron Williams/Chris Paul last season. Foye had very similar per-minute numbers to Roy as a rookie, but Roy was playing 35 minutes per on a rebuilding team while Foye was playing 20 mpg on a team with playoff hopes. This year Foye is on a rebuilding squad and should be the main perimeter option. He already had the physical ability and big-shot mentality, and this summer he showed a dramatically improved 3-point stroke. Look for big things.
Corey Brewer: 11 - 13th round. The Wolves used their lottery pick this year on Brewer and have since traded Trenton Hassell, whose role he should replicate/improve upon. Brewer is a Garbageman in training that should contribute across many categories in the not-too-distant future, if he can earn the PT.
Gerald Green: 11th - 13th round. Green is competing with Davis, Brewer, and Rashad McCants for minutes at the swingmen slots. He averaged 16 points and 1.8 treys per game in 26 starts with the Celtics last season and also won the dunk contest, which combined to make his name large enough to get him roto attention.
Craig Smith: late rounds. The only reason that I list Smith below Brewer and Green is that he is more unknown. The former second round pick was an NBA All Rookie selection last season and flat out dominated in the Vegas Summer League this year. If he gets near starter minutes this season he could easily average well into double-figure scoring with solid rebounds.
Rashad McCants: late rounds/undrafted. My own personal deep sleeper. McCants came out of college as a scorer with a sweet 3-point stroke, but microfracture surgery killed his sophomore campaign last year. The word out of Minnesota is that his knee is dramatically improved this year, and if he gets his shooting stroke back he could very well grab one of those starting swingmen spots.
Ryan Gomes: very late rounds/undrafted. Gomes is a SF/PF tweener, and at times has been fantasy relevant with the Celtics over the past couple years. I don't think he'll beat out Smith at PF or any of the four swingmen for SF minutes, but if Ricky Davis and/or Mark Blount are traded before the season he has some fantasy upside.
Sebastian Telfair: undrafted but watch. Randy Foye is likely to start the season at PG for the Wolves, but he's still learning the position. Telfair is the only true PG on the roster, and he's still young enough that he could "get it" and become the lottery player he was drafted to be after disappointing in Portland and Boston.
Chris Richard: undrafted. Richard may not even make the playing rotation, but watching him in Vegas this summer he clearly has game. He's a great glue big man, willing to bang around, grab boards and play solid defense. He's also got surprisingly long arms and a nice mid-range jumper, and if he does ever earn bigger minutes he could produce in a Udonis Haslem kind of way.