My big thanks to Eric in Madison, Canis Hoopus site manager, for swapping emails with me during this very crowded holiday weekend. Check out his site to see how I responded to his Clippers-centric questions.
Thomas Wood: The standings have few kind words for the Timberwolves, but the team doesn't lack for pure talent. Has any player established himself as an alpha dog, or is the team playing with more of an "all hands" approach? Has this team found its identity?
Eric in Madison: Well, this will be a part of several answers, but injuries have really kept them from establishing an identity. Prior to Ricky Rubio's injury, he was having a huge positive effect on the team and was establishing himself as their best player. Since, and especially with Nikola Pekovic also out, the Wolves have been force feeding Andrew Wiggins, with mixed results. There is no real alpha dog at this point. They clearly hope Wiggins becomes that guy at some point.
Thomas Wood: Speaking of Wiggins, the team is seemingly collecting first- and second-year players just to see who can stick. Wiggins and Anthony Bennett were the most recent newsworthy additions, but Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad, and Glenn Robinson III all intrigue league-wide watchers as well. Which of these players look like keepers, and which look like trade bait or even waiver wire fodder?
Eric in Madison: Like almost all young players, they all look like keepers sometimes and they all look awful at other times. It's clear that Wiggins is the guy they are counting on as a future star. He's shown some things--good defense for a rookie, a smooth jump shot, an ability to get to the line. LaVine was forced into the lineup with the injury to Rubio, and looked completely unready for the NBA...until he went for 28 on Friday night against the Lakers. Dieng is a nice backup center on a rookie contract who has gotten better offensively. Muhammad and Bennett have both had their moments, but also have clear weaknesses. I suspect most of this season is going to be sorting through all these guys.
Thomas Wood: After being hired as President of Basketball Operations last year, Flip Saunders installed himself as coach of the team this past summer, accepting dual roles like Clips Nation's beloved Doc Rivers. It's early, but can you grade his performance in each role? Do you think he's likely to continue doing both jobs for some time?
Eric in Madison: A real answer to this would require more words than I have time to write or you guys have time to read. Suffice it to say I didn't like the process that led to Flip's hiring for either job. He's a mixed bag personnel wise--I don't love how he drafts, but he handled the Love trade well. I don't love many of his tactics as a coach, but I do think, even with the injuries, he's struck a decent balance between developing the young players while not going full Sixers.
Thomas Wood: Kevin Love was famously traded in the offseason, removing the team's best and best-known star. How has Ricky Rubio, who is amazingly just 24 still, adapted his game to the newish roster around him?
Eric in Madison: It was going well...until he hurt his ankle. Rubio makes a huge difference for the Wolves on both sides of the ball. They were 2-2 and looking for their third win of the season in Orlando when he went down. They are 2-8 since, with some truly horrific performances in there. The bigger effect might be defensively, where they can't stop anyone without him on the floor. You guys might go for 150.
Thomas Wood: Do you have a sense for the fans' expectations for the franchise in the near-term? Do they view the team as needing a full rebuild or just a slight retooling with some time to grow?
Eric in Madison: I think the fans understand that this is going to be another year without playoffs. If they can add another good young player next summer, fine, but the team needs time to grow and sort through what they have. Either Wiggins becomes a star and the team can build around him and Rubio, or he doesn't, and the team is nowhere. Either way...patience is limited. Crowds are not big. A decade of crap will do that. The Myth of Sisyphus is the proper analogy.
Thomas Wood: A brutally talented Western Conference has again raised realignment discussions. Minneapolis is one of the eastern-most Western cities. How would the city, the fans, and the organization react to possible reassignment to the Eastern Conference?
Eric in Madison: A mixed bag, I think. It would, at least in the short term, make things easier to compete. On the other hand, it would mean a less glamorous set of opponents visiting Target Center. Still, the Wolves yearly travel the most miles in the league because of their location and conference alignment, so it would make things somewhat easier in that way as well. I honestly don't know how Glen Taylor would feel about it.