It is a picture of contrasts in London. One basketball team who the entire world is aware of. And the other who, let’s be honest, few in Minnesota even know.

And that’s just the way the Timberwolves wanted it when they sat down and considered how they might re-build after a disastrous 15-win season when achieving the worst record in the NBA was their sole notable accomplishment.

“We had to take chances,” admitted assistant GM Tony Ronzone. Rolling the dice means that just five players return from last term, a combination of trades and free agent signings utilised to undertake the ultimate makeover. And it has come with zero risk. When you come last, there is nothing else to lose.

So here they are in the UK, preparing to face the Lakers in their pre-season opener, a mystery even to themselves. So much so that head coach Kurt Rambis, beginning his second year in charge, does not yet know who is starting five is for the 02 Arena, never mind Game 1 of the regular campaign.

With Jonny Flynn injured, he will turn initially to veteran Luke Ridnour at the point. Kevin Love, fresh off an under-rated stint on the USA’s world championship squad, is tabbed for the front court. Beyond that, with a ragtag collective of acquisitions – plus 2010 first-rounder Wes Johnson – everything is up for grabs.

“We just want to get out and compete,” admitted Rambis. “We’re still putting things in. We have nine new guys. We’re only bringing back 4 ½ guys considering Darko (Milicic) only played 25 games for us last years so everyone’s learning something offensively and defensively to get everyone on the same page.

“They’ve done a great job of competing and that’s what I want to see them do. Hopefully they won’t be so nervous that they forget to do what they’re supposed to be doing.”

There were regular signs of amnesia last season, particularly when it came to running the flow triangle offense which Rambis brought with him from the Lakers. The turnovers and mistakes piled up. There were questions over whether it was just too complex for a team with middle-level talent.

Not so, says Corey Brewer – now the Timberwolves longest-serving player.

“I don’t want to say (the triangle) is hard to learn,” he said. “It’s just having the time to learn it. You have to be really focused and pick up the detail. It’s a detailed offense. You have to run everything at the right time.”

So with more preparation and more focus, can it work? “It’ll run much more smoothly than last year,” Brewer insisted. “We have a lot of wings. We have guys in multiple positions.”

And that is where Minnesota believe their climb back from the depths can begin. Inter-changeability is the phrase most-quoted, with different horses promised for different courses.

Rambis, who had dinner with Jackson on Friday upon arrival in the UK, knows the integration of Michael Beasley will be key. Typifying the new approach, the off-season arrival from the Miami Heat has much to prove, not only that that he is not a bust but that he can learn from the lessons of the past and restore his sullied reputation.

“He’s a great terrific kid,” Rambis insists. “He loves life. He loves his team-mates. He’s an incredibly fun-loving energetic young man. On the court, he’s an unbelievable athlete. On the court, he can do so many things with a basketball and with his body. It’s truly amazing how gifted he is. He’s picking up our system. He’s going to be in spots on the floor where he excels as a basketball player.

“So once he gets comfortable and stops thinking and trying to figure out where he’s supposed to be, he’s going to be a huge asset for us. I envisage him playing at the three and the four spot and taking advantage of whatever match-up that gives us.”

The first test of that theory comes on the banks of the Thames on Monday night. Forget the low expectations, the lesser profile and the management who took out a newspaper ad to declare that a championship is not nigh.

The road back has to start somewhere. So why not here? “We’re all here to play basketball and to win,” declared Beasley.

“No matter who scores every point, no matter who takes every rebound, we are here to do one thing and everyone understands that.”

And in winning, they might one day make a name for themselves abroad – and at home.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • MySpace
  • Print

You must be logged in to post a comment Login