Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 4/27/12
MINNEAPOLIS Just 12 hours after the conclusion of the Timberwolves' final game, a 131-102 loss to Denver, perspectives had already shifted. As bad as that last night was, the fitting cap to a forgettable April, an element of calm had set in as David Kahn and Rick Adelman addressed the media Friday morning. Their game-night suits were gone, players' possessions and equipment wheeled out of the Target Center's bowels. There was an element of finality to it, but in the NBA, nothing really ends. There's evaluation and analysis of what's gone on, but the season was the statement, and now Adelman, Kahn and team owner Glen Taylor must react. As the emotions continue to subside and regulate, the team's plan will become clearer, but one thing is certain: after a season like this one, it's hard not to call for change. Thursday night, Adelman said that he hopes the team will turn itself around in six months, when the 2012-13 season begins. Kahn echoed that sentiment Friday, saying that the Timberwolves had been on the cusp of the playoffs this year and should be able to rediscover that momentum next season. "I think we will be in the playoffs next year if we do the right things for the team and we stay healthy," Kahn said. Health is largely out of Kahn's hands -- players can work to get in peak shape and hope to prevent some injuries, but freak accidents happen -- and he must focus on making informed roster moves if he wants to see the goal he set reached. It's easy to say that behind a microphone, days and even weeks removed from when the real negotiations begin. It's easy to assure that change is coming when the Timberwolves are at the forefront of the discussion, but as the season fades, Kahn needs to hold onto that message as strongly as he did Friday. But even in the less than 40 minutes Kahn and Adelman talked, the former was reluctant to commit to that message. There were moments of certainty, of decisive critique, peppered with claims that it's too early to name names and finalize decisions. Decisive Kahn said two players will remain in Minnesota, no questions asked. "No... proverbial stone will be left unturned," he said. "No trade possibility will be turned down for any reason. You should assume that Ricky (Rubio) and Kevin (Love) of course will be here. They're cornerstones of what we're doing here, and my fervent hope is that each of them retires here." Wavering Kahn refused even to discuss the possibility that Darko Milicic might not return, despite the center not playing a minute of basketball since March 18. Wavering Kahn said it was too early to name names, that players should get a chance to prove themselves over the summer after many failed to do just that in the season's final weeks. There's no reason to doubt any of those statements. Love and Rubio will be back, and they've warranted becoming the faces and core of this team. Kahn will give his other players one last shot to show what they're worth to the team, perhaps out of a hesitance to make a decision too quickly, in part because of the conditions in which the team played all season. After 66 games in 123 days, it's hard to know what players would have done under normal conditions. Add in more injuries than anyone cares to count and the job becomes even more difficult, tough enough that some players might deserve a few more months of demonstrated effort. As a self-claimed patient person, that's Kahn's contention, and taking into account the first two-thirds of the season, that statement doesn't seem as surprising as it might not even a day after the team lost 13 of its last 14 games. So as grueling as the lack of practice time might have been, as painful as the injuries were to suffer and to watch, they may have bought some extra time for the players over whom management might be wavering. There are issues the team can't excuse, Kahn added, most likely referring to everything from the truth of J.J. Barea's "people don't care" comments to the team's lack of energy when adversity hit. There's an element of complicity, but Kahn and Adelman would be wrong to ignore the factors that they and the players couldn't control. "You always forget about a bad start to the season if you finish strong," Adelman said. "So that makes it hard. But I really enjoyed the players. I really enjoyed how they accepted it, how they came together. But it just didn't last. We were just really snake-bitten." But in the evaluations that lie ahead, during workouts and summer league, both men stressed that they need to remember all of the season, not just the last 26 games that have come to define it. After Rubio's season-ending ACL tear on March 9, injuries continued to mount, and players were shifted into roles they were both unaccustomed to playing and in some cases unprepared for. How, then, does a team evaluate those players' performances? Should Martell Webster be judged as a lacking starter or a role player who was stretched beyond his means? Should Wes Johnson be considered as a former lottery pick who's an automatic entry in the starting lineup, or should he rather be evaluated as someone who might need to transition into a lesser role? "It put people in positions that they weren't perhaps accustomed to, in larger roles, and we were allowed to evaluate people good, bad and ugly in terms of what they could or could not do," Kahn said. Although those questions will likely plague the team as it decides who stays and who goes, the circumstances also afforded the Timberwolves the opportunity to evaluate players under the widest range of pressures. Kahn may have a better picture of his players' limits than he did in recent seasons, but with that comes a certain pressure to deliver. The offseason shopping list could be long. The team needs a player who can shoot the ball effectively. It needs better ball handlers, Adelman has said many times in recent weeks, and it also needs veteran players who've proven they can be consistent. With Utah's first-round pick in this year's draft, which the team could use or trade, and a measure of cap flexibility -- "We could free up a lot of room, or we could go in a different direction and just make trades, just move salary for salary," Kahn said -- the Timberwolves seem poised to make moves this summer. Before Kahn introduced Adelman to the team at the beginning of this season, he told players that it was time to start winning. That's what Adelman represented when he came to Minnesota, a chance for a redefinition of this franchise, and with the emergence of Love and Rubio, the team has a chance to make Kahn's claim true. But in order to do that, Kahn, Adelman and Taylor must work together. They must be completely honest about what happened this season, sifting through the positives and negatives to come to some sort of consensus as to what the team is capable of when healthy. They can take more time to evaluate, but as much as Kahn is giving players the summer to impress him, he said that he already knows which players are unlikely to return. It's going to take quite the performance in summer workouts to override what he and Adelman witnessed this season. So maybe Kahn wasn't wavering. Instead, he's offering one last window of opportunity, a measure of fairness in a season that's been anything but fair. Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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