Minnesota Timberwolves 2001-02 Capsule
COACH: Flip Saunders (sixth season, 227-213 overall)
LAST SEASON: 47-35, fourth in Midwest Division, lost to San Antonio in first round
ARRIVALS: F Joe Smith (free agent), C Loren Woods (second-round pick), F Gary Trent (free agent)
DEPARTURES: F LaPhonso Ellis
SLAM DUNKS: The Timberwolves are still centered around F Kevin Garnett (22.0 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 5.0 apg), one of the top five players in the game who consistently matches or outplays the top 4s in the West. After a one-year stint in Detroit, Smith (12.3, 7.1) was brought back to pick up the frontcourt scraps left behind by Garnett. G Terrell Brandon (16.0, 7.5 apg) enters his fourth season with the team and will continue to run the offense with patience. Wally Szczerbiak (14.0, 5.5 rpg) shot 51 percent and made great strides last season and this summer at the Goodwill Games. He moves to shooting guard this season. Re-signing G Felipe Lopez (7.9, 2.6) was a good move. He has defensive quickness and is someone who can penetrate in traffic. Gs Anthony Peeler (10.5) and Chauncey Billups (9.3) can score on occasion, as can Trent.
AIRBALLS: There is still a gaping hole in the middle, where Cs Dean Garrett and Rasho Nesterovic have not gotten the job done. Woods, a 7-footer, was available in the second round and the Wolves are starting to find out why. His inconsistency can be infuriating. Brandon announced during training camp that he would rather come off the bench, not the type of thing you want to hear from your floor general, who has four years at $9 million per left on his contract.
IN THE ZONE: Last season, Minnesota struggled against teams with great 1-on-1 wing scorers such as Steve Francis and Michael Finley. The introduction of a zone would allow the Timberwolves to collapse into the paint and dare those players to shoot over them.
OUTLOOK: The problem for the Timberwolves is their conference. There are too many good teams in the West that stand in Minnesota's way as it tries to advance to the conference semifinals for the first time in franchise history. The Wolves are somewhere between the 50-win team from two seasons ago and last season's club. But another first-round playoff exit seems inevitable.