The approaching playoffs add a compelling backdrop to Thursday’s game. Minnesota is 1.5 games behind Phoenix in the Western Conference standings. Chicago, winners of three straight, has crawled back in the Eastern Conference race as well.
Kevin Love has said that he’s willing to sign a long-term deal with the Cleveland Cavaaliers, according to reports, and that means a trade involving No. 1 draft choice Andrew Wiggins is in place but can’t be officially announced until August 23.
Let’s assume that all of the reporting and hunches leading up to Thursday were correct and that Adrian Wojnarowski’s report that the Cavs and Wolves have agreed to a Kevin Love/Andrew Wiggins trade is correct. The pending question beyond that is this: What does the Wolves’ roster and rotation look like in 2014-15 if no other moves are made?
Assumptions: The Wolves get Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a No. 1 pick, but they are not immediately able to move J.J. Barea or anyone else, per Woj.
Roster before the trade becomes official:
Dante Cunningham (FA)
Othyus Jeffers (FA)
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Glenn Robinson III
Remove Love. Add Wiggins and Bennett. Jeffers and Cunningham won’t be back. Shved, Barea and Mbah a Moute could very well be gone, too, but for now let’s assume they are at the end of the bench.
Here is your core:
PG: Ricky Rubio, Mo Williams
Wings: Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Robbie Hummel, Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Glenn Robinson III.
Bigs: Anthony Bennett, Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic, Ronny Turiaf
Option for starting lineup (1): Rubio, Martin, Wiggins, Bennett, Pekovic. … Bennett would be by default, to a degree, since he’ll be the only listed power forward on the roster. Rubio and Wiggins would guard the two best offensive players out of the three guard/wing spots, leaving Martin to the weakest guy. Pekovic and Martin would be leaned on for scoring initially.
Option for starting lineup (2): Rubio, Martin, Wiggins, Dieng, Pekovic. This would assume Dieng and Pek can play together. We’re not sure that’s possible.
Option for starting lineup (3) Rubio, Brewer, Wiggins, Dieng or Bennett, Pekovic. This loads up on defense and saves Martin for a sixth man/scorer off the bench role.
Second unit: Williams, Brewer or Martin, LaVine/Muhammad/Budinger, Dieng or Bennett, Turiaf.
Fighting for minutes: Probably Hummel, LaVine, Robinson, and Muhammad early in the season (which doesn’t even factor in Barea, Mbah a Moute and Shved).
Overall: We like the looks of a second unit better with Martin in there, but we also worry about how the first unit is going to score. IN general, though, the roster is showing an imbalance toward wings. Yes, LaVine is technically listed as a point guard on the Wolves’ roster, but we can’t imagine he plays there much with Rubio and Williams in the fold. There is a real hole at power forward with Love gone unless 1) Dieng and Pekovic can play together or 2) the Wolves aren’t done making moves and can add Thaddeus Young from the 76ers, as has been rumored, for some of their spare parts.
If Flip Saunders can finish off the Cavs trade and make another move or two to alleviate the roster imbalance, there will be a chance to have an intriguing — albeit raw — first and second unit. We have to imagine he has more moves lined up or he wouldn’t have signed Williams. As it stands, the Wolves have too many wings — and too many players, period — on their roster.
Most of us call ‘em meaningless games. Of course, most of us don’t have to stand there and throw a football while 280-pound men charge at us with the goal being to break us in half.
So let’s just say a quarterback’s protection calls are pretty darn meaningful whether the NFL counts the games or not.
“Protection calls are always the most important thing for a quarterback to know,” Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel said Wednesday. “There’s no doubt about that. But I think the offensive line has done a tremendous job this entire camp picking up the calls and knowing where to go. I don’t expect that to change.”
Cassel, the tentative No. 1 quarterback, will continue his competition with rookie first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater in Friday night’s preseason opener against the Raiders at TCF Bank Stadium.
Cassel will start and play until coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner are comfortable with what they see relative to this being the preseason opener. Bridgewater will see reps with the first-team and could play a couple of quarters. Christian Ponder, the distant No. 3, probably will play the fourth quarter.
Naturally, most of the attention will be focused on Bridgewater, the No. 32 pick.
When asked if he had butterflies, he said, “Not at all.” When asked if he’ll be nervous, he said, “Not at all.” He wasn’t asked to repeat the questions while hooked up to a lie detector.
“This is a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve been playing football since I was 5 years old and just been waiting for this morning. I’m pretty excited. I can’t wait.
“I was actually talking to Xavier Rhodes at dinner two nights ago and he was more nervous for me than I was for myself.”
As a backup for most of his career, Cassel has seen a lot of preseason action over the years. He said he still doesn’t know what to expect as far as how aggressive defenses will be when it comes to showing their blitz packages.
“Some [keep it simple], some don’t,” Cassel said. “A lot of teams will try out a lot of blitzes in these games. You have to be prepared for anything. You go back and watch previous preseason games and also what they did in the previous year and try to get a feel for their personnel and what they do. But the first preseason game, you never know what you’re going to get.”
The protection calls and adjustments at the line of scrimmage are made by the center and the quarterback. Bridgewater, coaches say, has stayed up to speed in that regard in training camp.
“It’s very important,” Bridgewater said. “I haven’t taken a hit yet in the National Football League. It feels like 100 years since I actually have taken a hit, since my college bowl game.
“So I’m just looking forward Friday night and making sure I’m sharp within the protections. There’s going to be a lot asked of the quarterbacks, but in training camp, we’ve been doing good and playing exceptional football. I’m pretty sure Friday night will be a good night.”