Minnesota has a superstar in Kevin Love, a lot of talent around him and a +3.6 point differential (higher than Dallas, Memphis and Phoenix). What happened? Why aren't they in the playoff chase?
There's no one reason for this, but rather, the confluence of a number of things, some of which could have been handled differently and some of which were just completely out of anyone's control. Their record in games where they're behind by five points or less in the last minute is legendarily terrible (2-17), but if they were just .500 in those games, it would be a very different story. That's not all luck, though: As a team, they rely a lot on both getting to the line (3rd in the NBA in FTA/game) and not fouling (fewest opponent FTA/game in the NBA). When the game gets tight, they don't get to the line as much and are forced to foul more.
All that said, this is the best record they've had since Garnett left by a good margin. In the grand scheme of things, they're getting better, but it's not clear if it's enough, either for Love or the fanbase (they're currently 28th in attendance).
At what point do the Wolves start playing out the string and giving the young guys more minutes? Or is it more important to make a push for 45 wins?
I think they could actually do both. Gorgui Dieng showed some nice flashes the other night in his first NBA start when he notched a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, plus 5 blocks (for a team that averages 3.5 per game - dead last in the league). Coach Rick Adelman has been tasked with guiding a contender, and so his approach to the rotation has been more about forcing consistency than finding talent. With the pressure eased up a bit down the stretch, it would be great to see more from the younger guys, and they might even scrap a couple of wins out along the way.
How is our old buddy JJ Barea viewed in Minnesota? I know Mavs fans had a bit of a love-hate relationship with him until his run in the 2011 playoffs.
I can say that for myself I went from hating him to loving him and now back to kind of hating him - at least on this team. He's best off the ball in the second unit, sowing chaos, but instead he's largely been tasked with running the offense from the point, and the results have been not good. Basically, Barea is going to be Barea; whether he's good or bad on a given night, he does the same stuff.
If you showed me a reel of all his shot attempts without showing me whether they went in or not, I couldn't tell you whether he scored 20 points or 2. That kind of insanity can be an effective changeup when you have consistency, but the Wolves just haven't had enough consistency to effectively go away from it. It's just a bad fit at this point (although much, much better when Rubio can be out there at PG with Barea effectively at the 2) and I can't see it getting much better.
What has to happen for Kevin Love to be in a Wolves uniform in 2016? And how likely is it?
I don't see them moving him in the offseason. My sense is that he buys into the idea that this is actually fundamentally a very good roster that has hit some bumps this season, as he commented to GQ when he said the Wolves were a better team than the Lakers right now. With some bench tweaks this offseason, I think it's not unreasonable that we could see a similar bump to what the Blazers experienced this season, where just a few moves made a big difference in output. If that happens next season in the early going, I can see Love opting out of his contract and resigning in Minnesota.
But there are a lot of "ifs" there that hinge on a still unproven front office led by Flip Saunders. Right now, I think it's more likely than not that he's gone after next year, but that doesn't mean it's hopeless.