Know thy enemy: Minnesota Timberwolves
In 1997, I was quite stoked for the release of the film "A Life Less Ordinary." So much so that I attended the first matinee showing of it's opening weekend. The cast was chock full of actors I like. Ewan McGregor. Cameron Diaz. Delroy Lindo. Holly Hunter. Stanley Tucci. Tony Shaloub. Ian Holm. The trailer promised enough offbeat sensibility to cancel out the "romantic comedy" aspect (not my favorite genre). But mostly, I was excited by the film's director, Danny Boyle. I loved his feature debut "Shallow Grave" and he was fresh off "Trainspotting," which ranks among my all-time faves. Of all the elements seemingly going for "A.L.L.O.," it was Boyle, seemingly the perfect visionary to craft what appeared to be a very unusual (and thus by definition, risky) project.
As it turned out, the movie was a total mess, a critical and box office flop. The script's all over the place enough to cause whiplash, quirky and whimsical for the sake of being so (as opposed to serving the story). It actively mocks rom-com convention but still wants McGregor and Diaz to develop palpable chemistry, which is basically impossible and simply resulted in lousy performances (ditto the majority of their co-stars). On just about every level, it doesn't work at all.
But here's the striking part. The screen may have been littered by utter failure, but I couldn't take my eyes off it.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the film's chaotic shifts from bad to annoying to "I have no clue what the ^%#* is happening," I was never bored. And the movie did have one saving grace: An exceptional visual flair, which made some painful scenes watchable (although a mute button would have been nice). As disappointed as I was by the film, I walked away from it even more convinced that Boyle was a major director in the making. Dude was so geeked to swing for the fences that he forgot to actually pick up a bat first, but his vision and creativity was undeniable. Boyle's grasp exceeded his reach and he fell quite short of crafting a masterpiece, but his willingness to take strong chances made me confident about his future. That faith was later confirmed- after another hiccup, his adaptation of "The Beach"- with terrific work like "28 Days Later" and 2008's best picture, "Slumdog Millionaire."
Which brings us to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who've spent the offseason crafting what may be the roundball equivalent of "A Life less Ordinary." New Prez David Kahn wasted no time making his presence known, embarking on a delirious series of hirings, firings, draft madness, trades and buyouts. He drafted Ricky Rubio (despite Pistola Pedro's obvious reticence to join up) and Jonny Flynn (despite concerns the Syracuse point is a shrimp). He emerged a surprise winner in the Ramon Sessions "semi-sweepstakes" and a surprise benefactor for Ryan Hollins. He traded guys who mattered (Randy Foye Mike Miller, Craig Smith), sort of mattered (Bassy Telfair), and mattered mostly to Laker fans (Mad Dog). He traded dudes he traded for (Darius Songaila, Etan Thomas), waived dudes he traded for (Chucky Atkins), and left the door open to waive/trade other dudes he traded for (Mark Blount and Antonio Daniels, respectively). He even participated in Quentin Richardson's groundbreaking world tour. Throw in brand new coach Kurt Rambis and the moves were enough to make George Constanza go batty. Lotta action to keep up with.
Dust now settled, where does this tornado of activity leave the Wolves? Well, like their movie doppelganger, probably often tough to watch. Complete seasons from a healthy Al Jefferson and Corey Brewer should bump last season's win total (24), but the core is collectively soaking wet behind the ears. Hard play should be expected and elite teams treating Minny as a cakewalk run the risk of five fingers to the face... SLAP! But all things being equal, there's a decided ceiling for victories in Minneapolis. But today's loss could be tomorrow's triumph. Kahn managed to shed every long term Timberwolf contract beyond his "keepers," and rolled the dice on a crew that could gel nicely in the reasonably near future.
Flynn absolutely carved up the SPL, his play and charisma making him quite the talk of Vegas. If Wayne Ellington's UNC scoring/shooting process translates at the next level, he'll end up grand larceny at the 28th pick. Brewer could morph into a poor man's Trevor Ariza. Ryan Gomes is a very underrated role player. I'm not as geeked on Sessions as others, in part because guys that rack stats on lousy teams always raise my internal red flag and- to be perfectly honest- I haven't seen him play a ton. (Believe it or not, I didn't order League Pass primarily to keep up with the Bucks). But I'm also in the minority and Sessions' age, reasonable price tag and potential made Kahn's flier well worth taking. Besides, what do I know? I wrote off Kevin Love as a slow, non-athlete tweener whose chest passing wizardry wouldn't be enough to cut it as a pro. Love can definitely ball, and he's teamed up with Big Al Jefferson, an all-star caliber monster down low and on the glass. Save Gomes, not a one of these cats is even 25. With or without Rubio, it's a crew that could give the league fits in 2012. Particularly under Rambis, way more seasoned than your average first time* head coach and armed with the rare luxury of time to marinate.
Of course, those glory years remain on the horizon. For now, lumps will be endured and 2012 or so before these guys really need to be feared. But in the meantime, consider this period the "ALLO-Beach" stage. Beat 'em now before they start getting all "Slumdog" on your ass.
Prediction: 33-49. 5th in the Northwest Division. 13th in the Western Conference.
* - First time as a head coach not just keeping a seat warm
Photo: Ricky Rubio and David Stern shake hands at the draft
Photo: Al Jefferson shooting. Credit: Elsa/Getty Images North America