Why the Timberwolves are interesting in 2010-11

At the start of every sports season, there is always a sense of optimism.

For the Minnesota Timberwolves, the start of the 2010-11 season brings not only some optimism, but more importantly than that there is a sense of hope.

The hope is related to wins and losses for sure, but more importantly the hope is related to whether or not this team has finally started to climb from the past two years, when it has been the worst in the NBA. After winning 15 games last year, there is no place to go but up for the Wolves. I would expect them to win 25-30 games this season, which isn’t saying a lot. Vegas oddsmakers put the over/under on Timberwolves victories at 23.5. I expect them to be over that victory total.

More important than the win total is the fact that Minnesota’s NBA squad needs to instill in their fans hope for the future. That means all of the personnel changes from the past two years need to have a positive impact. Certainly, the team will be more athletic. They will shoot the ball better, and they are younger. The personnel better fits Kurt Rambis and the triangle offense. But will it equate to more wins, and more hope? Here are a few keys to watch.

* Health – The Wolves have had a string of years where their key players have been injured, especially during their first two seasons in the league. Those injuries have hampered the team’s development, and they need a little luck staying healthy this year. Jonny Flynn will miss much of the first month with a hip injury, and sharp-shooting rookie guard Wes Johnson is nursing a sore hamstring. One of the key newcomers, Martell Webster, is expected to miss the first 6 weeks of the season with a back injury. The T-Wolves will need to get healthy to exceed expectations.

* The Darko Factor – Much-maligned center Darko Milicic has shown flashes of solid play during his tenure with the Wolves, but he will need to stay engaged in the offense and anchor the defense in the middle. The Wolves have tied their hopes to Milici, and his continued development will be a key to progress.

* Michael Beasley – The Wolves took a low-risk, high-reward opportunity by acquiring Michael Beasley for draft picks. Beasley has a world of potential, but he needs to be more consistent. He has the potential to be a star scorer that can carry a team in the fourth quarter, but has also shown a propensity for making mistakes and stalling an offense. If he can average 17 points and 8 rebounds per game while fitting within the Rambis system, the Wolves can reach the 30-win plateau.

* Ricky Rubio – Even though he’s not even on the team yet, this is a critical season for Rubio and the Wolves. They need to show the Spanish guard that they have a future, and he can help lift them to playoff contention if he signs a contract and comes over next season. Throughout the 2010-11 season, we need to start hearing that Rubio is interested in crossing the pond and coming to Minnesota next season. If the Wolves don’t show progress, and Rubio remains mostly silent on the issue, it will become more likely he’ll be nothing more than trade bait for the Wolves.

Wins and losses will obviously be the biggest factor in whether the Wolves have appeared to turn the corner. They will win considerably more games this year than last year, but that doesn’t say a whole lot. More importantly, they need to instill a sense of confidence that GM David Kahn and Rambis have the team headed in the right direction. Whether that includes a season with 23 wins or 33 wins, they just need to instill hope. That’s been the biggest thing missing at Target Center since Kevin Garnett was traded to the Celtics.