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Updated: September 2nd, 2011 11:11am
Zulgad: Lockout costing Wolves a golden opportunity to build momentum

Zulgad: Lockout costing Wolves a golden opportunity to build momentum

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

This should have been an offseason in which the Minnesota Timberwolves were able to begin selling at least a sliver of hope to a public that, for the most part, has forgotten they exist.

The woebegone franchise hasn't made the postseason for the past seven seasons and has been downright putrid for the last four, never finishing with a winning percentage better than .293. The thousands of empty seats for many games at Target Center have reflected the apathy surrounding the product.

David Kahn remains president of basketball operations -- and in the minds of many a major part of the problem -- but the Wolves finally appeared to gain some momentum when Spanish guard Ricky Rubio signed in June.

Rubio remained overseas, and thus a man of mystery, for two seasons after the Wolves took him with the fifth pick of the 2009 draft. He averaged only 6.5 points per game and shot 39 percent last season with Barcelona as he battled a foot injury and lost his starting spot.

However, the 20-year-old's introductory press conference in which he did his best to answer questions in English and flashed a charisma rarely seen around Target Center likely had the Wolves marketing folks salivating. There was little doubt the kid was headed for billboards all over the metro.

It didn't hurt the Wolves then took power forward Derrick Williams of Arizona with the second pick in the draft, adding him to a roster that appears to have a few quality pieces.

So what has the team been able to do to fuel excitement about the 2011-12 season and the possibility that it will at least get out of the cellar in the Northwest Division?

Absolutely nothing.

The NBA lockout -- a work stoppage that could last into the season and one some fear will wipe out the entire schedule -- began on July 1 and shut down all business.

There was a bit of hope this week as the lead negotiators for the owners and players reportedly met for several hours in only their second bargaining session since the lockout got underway.

But that was just a start in a long process.

Go to the Timberwolves' Web site, or the site for any NBA club, and you will find items on the history behind the team's nickname, a look back at when the league returned to Minnesota in 1989 and a story on the Timberwolves dancers.

Nowhere is there a mention of Rubio or any of his teammates. The same goes for the Wolves booth at the State Fair.

The NBA isn't allowing its teams to display the name or image of locked out players at all. Any contact with players is off limits with the threat of a $1 million fine as punishment. Teams also aren't allowed to discuss the lockout.

So much for the marketing department getting a jump on things.

It's unfortunate for the Wolves that, if there is a lasting memory from this offseason it might be how Kahn botched the firing of Kurt Rambis. Rambis deserved to be fired after going 32-132 in two seasons, but the way he was left twisting in the wind by Kahn and the Wolves seemed unprofessional at best.

The Wolves brought in veteran coach Rick Adelman for the second time in as many weeks this week so he could talk to owner Glen Taylor. Adelman reportedly left town without receiving an offer but even finding Rambis' replacement isn't all that pressing at this point.

The Wolves job is the last one out there, so there is no threat another team is going to swoop in and steal one of their top candidates.

Once the Wolves do hire a new coach, they will have a news conference, but there will be some serious tap dancing done by Kahn and whoever has gotten the job.

The coach and Kahn will be able to talk about the coach's philosophy and that will be about it. Any mention of Rubio, Williams or Wes Johnson could trigger the $1 million fine that NBA Commissioner David Stern has threatened.

It would be great theater to watch Kahn walk this verbal tightrope, but odds are even he would err on the side of caution and obey the gag order.

That will be a good business decision as far as the NBA is concerned. But for the Timberwolves it leaves them firmly on the back burner of the Minnesota sports scene.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Kurt Rambis
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