Lottery luck? McHale more excited about core Print
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Friday, 18 April 2008 00:17
NBA Headline News

 MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -After finishing in a tie for the third-worst record in the league, the Minnesota Timberwolves are in position to add an immediate-impact rookie with a little luck in the lottery.
Yes, those draft prospects are exciting, said Kevin McHale, but not as much as this team's 20-something core. He warned of the danger of pinning further development on a bunch of pingpong balls.
``If you're waiting on that, that's like going into the bingo parlor and putting your finger on 'B-12' hoping it hits,'' said Minnesota's vice president of basketball operations.
The marketing department is a bit more enthused.
Fans have been offered a limited-time opportunity to buy $1-per-game season tickets, if the Timberwolves land the top pick when the NBA draws on May 20. Even a lower number in the draft, seven at worst, will yield the corresponding per-game price for the first 500 customers to commit.
McHale and the rest of his front-office cronies must use their own creativity this summer to supplement this intriguing but still-raw group led by 23-year-old big man Al Jefferson.
After pushing the reset button on team progress by trading perennial All-Star Kevin Garnett, the Wolves went 22-60 in a get-to-know-you kind of year that offered some promise - namely two last-second defeats by Boston and a pair of victories over Phoenix - but plenty of blowout losses and fourth-quarter collapses.
While lamenting the frustration of a 4-29 start and the sting of so much losing, McHale spoke optimistically about the potential and the character of Randy Foye and Corey Brewer and Ryan Gomes and the rest of the 25-and-under crew.
At his wrapup news conference on Thursday, McHale insisted that young NBA teams are more able to make significant annual jumps in the standings now - similar to the NFL's hopeful environment.
Asked whether a 20-win improvement in 2008-09 was a realistic expectation, McHale responded, ``I think we should next year,'' offering that on a condition of the avoidance of major injuries.
Later, coach Randy Wittman was more cautious about that lofty goal.
``How many teams over the course of history make 20-game jumps? If it was easy, a lot more teams would have done it,'' Wittman said. ``That's a lot of games. I'm not saying we can't do it, but let's see what our team is, what kind of draft pick we get, who we're able to re-sign, and who we might be able to sign to add to this group.''
Minnesota finished the season with nine of 14 players under 25, but five of them - Gomes, Chris Richard, Craig Smith, Kirk Snyder and Sebastian Telfair - can become restricted free agents in July. So there will probably be a few more roster spots to turn over before training camp.
``The good thing about it is we played well, we know guys strengths and weaknesses, and we know where we fit in as a team,'' Gomes said, expressing a desire to return. ``So coming into next year's training camp, it should be much easier, much more fluid.''
On other subjects:
- Foye, who didn't debut until late January because of a kneecap problem, averaged 20.3 points over the past seven games. ``He in the last two weeks finally to me started hitting some form of stride, where you could see him being more aggressive, getting lower with the ball, attacking,'' McHale said.
- Neither McHale nor Wittman would divulge the order, but the Wolves have prioritized their restricted free agents and plan to match any offers made by other teams to their favorites. Gomes is likely at or near the top of that list. ``He's a guy that we definitely want to bring back,'' McHale said.
- Down the stretch, Jefferson played almost exclusively at the center position and Gomes became the primary power forward. The team would like to limit that next season and ideally add a true center. ``But there's still versatility. They're both two position players, which is really good to have,'' McHale said.
- Wittman's career coaching record, including two seasons in Cleveland, dropped to an embarrassing 96-192. ``I don't see any change coming unless you know something I don't know,'' McHale said, later adding: ``I think Randy's growing as a coach, and that's what you've got to do.''
- Finally, McHale offered no hint that he's anywhere near ready to retire, mentioning several times his appreciation of these new players and their attitude throughout a challenging season. ``I want this team to be in really good shape. I want this team to be competitive, going for the playoffs, and trying to put a championship-caliber team together that can make a run and keep it together,'' McHale said.
 

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