- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
This is how it happens. There's a bad trade or two, free agents don't come calling, and key injuries spring up. This is how a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves goes from bad to truly awful, and why the name Fred Carter gets mentioned.
The Timberwolves aren't good at all, which is not breaking news, but did you think people would be discussing this team in the same breath with the worst teams of all-time, including those memorable 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, the team that has defined ineptitude, winning 11 percent of its games, going 9-73?
There are, of course, a number of reasons why the Timberwolves stink, bad enough to have a total of five wins in mid-January and a current 14-game road losing streak heading into Tuesday's game against the Golden State Warriors. The Kevin Garnett trade to Boston wasn't going to help the team short-term, that's for sure. The goal is to lose, in a way.
But there is good news to report, believe it or not. Here are three good things going on for fantasy owners in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
• Al Jefferson might be the best fantasy player to star on a really horrible team in a while, maybe ever. Those nasty 1972-73 76ers didn't have a 20-10 guy, that's for sure. Our old pal Fred Carter, who used to write for ESPN.com when I was NBA editor, was the best player on that team, scoring 20 points per game. He used to tell me stories about that season and how laughable things had become. If there was fantasy hoops back then, Carter would have been owned, as well as Leroy Ellis, who was Wilt Chamberlain's backup with the 69-13 Lakers in 1971-72, as he averaged a double-double. But there wasn't much else. How about on those horrible 11-71 Denver Nuggets of 1997-98? Former Celtics forward Eric Williams averaged 19.8 points, LaPhonso Ellis was serviceable at 14 and 7, but man, that was a bad team. Jefferson, meanwhile, is the No. 33 name on the ESPN Player Rater. He'd be a top-20 player if he made more of his free throws and blocked about half a shot more per game, but how can a fantasy owner quibble with 20.2 points and 11.8 rebounds? And he's gonna get better and make Timberwolves fans happy, eventually.
• Breaking news: Randy Foye might actually return this month! Well, it's about time. Knowing what the Timberwolves figured to look like back around Halloween, Foye was a popular draft pick, someone who could have been a dynamic fantasy player. Sure, his preseason was a struggle, as he dealt with knee tendinitis, but who knew he'd miss months? He has. Foye suffered a stress reaction in his left kneecap, and was supposed to miss a few weeks. Then he missed a month. Then another month. It might end up being three months. Whoa! So what do we really expect from Foye, assuming he does return soon? Well, a year ago Foye averaged 10.1 points and 2.8 assists in 22.9 minutes, but knowing he'd have the ball in his hands a lot more, and the minutes would go up, it seemed reasonable to expect numbers not unlike what Brandon Roy puts up in Portland. They were dealt for each other on their draft night, after all. Roy averages 18.7 points, 5.7 assists and 4.6 rebounds. I saw projections on Foye for about 16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, certainly possible considering the lack of talent he'd have around him. Foye is one of the most-added players in ESPN leagues, and it's not a bad time to secure him now in case he plays as well as most of us expected. Nobody in fantasy will be sad to drop Sebastian Telfair, after all.
• Rashad McCants is about the only other player on this team worth owning in fantasy, but he is playing well. He's also one of the most-added players of the week, now up to 78.9 percent owned in ESPN leagues overall. Other than that, look elsewhere. Corey Brewer is no longer interesting, and he's owned in 3.1 percent of leagues. Ryan Gomes is at 10.4 percent, though he's about to be added after scoring 41 points in two weekend games. Pseudo-point guard Marko Jaric, who has hit one field goal in his past two games total, is owned in 10.6 percent. Craig Smith had his moments, but is down to 4.7 percent owned. Basically, McCants is the No. 2 scoring option to Jefferson, though that should change when Foye returns. McCants, a shooting guard, has kind of a hollow fantasy game, hitting 3s and scoring and that's about it. Even while averaging 19 points per game this month, he's getting only 4.3 rebounds and half a steal, but he is nailing 3-pointers and shooting 52 percent from the field, so that's the good. He averaged 2.7 3-pointers in December, and that is definitely helpful in fantasy.
Yep, this is a bad team, though I'm pretty sure it will win more than 10 games. I mean, it's not that bad. Mid-January was around the time back in 1973 when those 76ers were losing 34 of 35 games, and their coach was about to get canned. There was nothing positive going on. But these Timberwolves, sure, there are some decent stories, even in fantasy.