MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It was a new day in Minnesota basketball, with Ricky Rubio throwing lob passes and Kevin Love stuffing the stat sheet in front of sellout crowd after sellout crowd.
And just when it appeared the Timberwolves had finally turned the corner from one of the league's most woeful franchises to an exciting, up-and-coming group, Rubio's left knee buckled, and so did one of the most exciting seasons in the franchise's mostly nondescript history.
A 21-19 start gave way to a 5-21 finish, and now the Timberwolves plunge headlong into a crucial summer with Love and coach Rick Adelman telling anybody who will listen that big changes have to be made.
Team president David Kahn said Friday he plans to be aggressive this summer in trades and free agency to supplement a promising young core with veterans, and he made it clear that only Rubio and Love are untouchable as he tries to bring an end to a seven-year postseason hiatus.
"They're cornerstones of what we're doing here, and my fervent hope is that each of them retires here," Kahn said of Rubio and Love. "But after those two, and not that anybody else needs to be on watch, and there are a lot of other players on the team that all of us, coaches, management, front office, everybody likes. We just have to be very aggressive this year to make this team all that it can be and satisfy ourselves that we've done everything possible to do that."
That Kahn did not include center Nikola Pekovic or No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams in that group of untouchables speaks to his openness to consider all options. Pekovic had a breakout season, averaging 13.9 points and 7.3 rebounds to emerge as one of the top offensive centers in the league. Williams showed some promise as a scorer, but wore down as the season dragged on and both players are on the books for an affordable $9.6 million combined next season.
"I think we have to be very aggressive in what we're doing," Adelman said earlier this week. "You can't wait. You hope your young people get better. But that's not a given. Other people in free agency and trades are givens. We've got to be aggressive in all those areas."
Rubio had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left knee in March, and the team is hopeful that their precocious rookie point guard will be ready to go by the start of next season. In his first season after coming over from Spain, Rubio was everything the Timberwolves hoped for and more, setting the tone on both ends of the court, becoming a major box office draw and injecting the team with some much-needed charisma and energy.
"I think that's the one thing that I underestimated when he got hurt," Adelman said. "You knew you were going to be missing something, but he had a huge impact on the way our team was and their personality and the way they played. Just the way he was, I did not realize how much we'd miss him and what a gap there was all of a sudden."