With the basketball season back in full swing, I couldn’t be more happy. Just something about it always elevates my mood to new heights and cleans my senses, as I rub off a new, clean slate. And my slate ought to be cleaned after last season’s Timber Puppies failed to satisfy, well, basically anything I look forward to in basketball: The competition; the roaring fans and the atmosphere generated from brilliant basketball being played on the court. Aside from a great half-court buzzer beater by Corey Brewer, there nearly nothing else to be happy with, or get excited about, from last season. Tragic.
But this season is different. David Kahn put the roster under the knife for the second summer in a row and it looks as if the wounds are healing a bit cleaner this year. Guys like Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley and Martell Webster should drastically improve one of the league’s worst offensive attacks and resigning Darko Milicic should offer some defensive intimidation in the paint. Kevin Love has asserted himself as a dominant power forward in this league at such a young age and should be capable of a 20/12 season. Sure, Jonny Flynn is out for a few weeks, but Luke Ridnour, the interim starting point guard, hit 68 more three pointers last season than former backup guard Ramon Sessions.
The roster makeover has done its job.
It’s not all about the roster and the players, though. It’s about the system in which everything is formed around; the guidelines of the attack, if you will. It’s about the environment that is created by the players and the front office. It’s the buzz that the fans make around the town about their beloved home team. All of these aspects surrounding the team have been improved tenfold compared to last season, which is why I feel like things are turning around.
Coach Kurt Rambis came to Minnesota last season looking to turn the NBA’s most unfortunate franchise around. Let’s get real: That was going to happen in one year. But that didn’t stop Rambis from taking the job and embarking on his first head coaching position. He came in with the foreign idea of running the triangle offense with one of the most inexperienced — and probably the least talented — team in the NBA. It was an obvious bust due to the incapability of our roster.
This summer, Kahn went out to find a group of players that could play within that system. If anyone knows anything about basketball, you’ll know that the triangle offense requires shooters; Guys that will set up from distance or hit the mid-range floater.
Wes Johnson. Check.
Martell Webster. Check.
The triangle offense also calls for someone who isn’t afraid to move with the ball. Prefearbly a wing player that can play inside and out and create shots for himself in both areas. The Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan of the triangle offense.
Michael Beasley. Check.
(I am in no way shape of form comparing Beasley to Bryant or Jordan. It’s more about the type of player, not the actual ability.)
It’s also important to secure some intellectual big men to play inside. The triangle calls for big men that are comfortable with the ball anywhere on the court, especially in the high post. Oh, and a knack for fabulous passing skills is a plus.
Kevin Love. Check.
Darko Milicic. Check.
But basketball isn’t just executed in half-court sets. First you have to advance the ball to get it into your end. The Wolves are striving to play an uptempo-like gamestyle to get older teams, such as the Spurs and Lakers, to run with our new, youthful squad. It’s important to have guys that will push the floor, put defenders on their heels and finish hard at the basket or have the wherewithal to dish it off to a teammate.
Luke Ridnour. Check.
Sebastian Telfair. Check.
As you can see, the system that was put in place by Rambis and his staff has been rewarded with a roster capable of setting it in motion. The pieces are there, finally. Now all they have to do is work within the system as teammates and create hell for the other team, and I firmly believe that this can happen this year. (I really can’t wait to see Tim Duncan huffin’ and puffin’ for oxygen after having to run up and down the court chasing our team around!)
Also, this team will benefit from their performances during the preseason. Say what you want about the irrelevancy about the preseason, but for a young team of the Wolves’ caliber, experience is vital to future success. And to come out of it with a winning record, no major injuries to the starting lineup — aside from Flynn of course — and a newfound swagger on all the players’ faces, will help the team in the short term as the begin the season.
Kahn was on a mission this season to acquire players with a fun loving, easy going personality. Judging by the smiles on all the new players’ faces, he did that. Guys like Beasley and Johnson are easy to fall for because they play the game to have fun — Beasley’s sort of a psycho at times like when he yells at the rim but you get it. Usually you can tell by their faces and body language that they are just enjoying being out there and playing basketball for a living. Hell, I think most people would enjoy that kind of profession.
With a roster full of these types of guys, the Wolves have created a new environment, enhancing the former unenlightened and unfortunate franchise. It’s as if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — although this tunnel may very well go on for miles. Who knows? No longer will losing get these guys down because rock-bottom has already been hit. They all share a passion for the game of basketball and the NBA and have come here to represent the Timberwolves as best they can. Maybe the cause of all this loving playfulness is our youth, but even on the face of Ridnour, you can tell that these guys are happy to play here in Minnesota.
Last season’s fan base was utterly pathetic. An NBA-low 5,000 season ticket packages were sold and it was nearly impossible for the Wolves to fill the Target Center on any given night. I understand. It’s not fun to watch crappy basketball. But this year is different.
With over 7,000 season ticket packages sold this year, as well as a ton of flex packs and single game tickets, I expect the Target Center to be rockin’ and rollin’ every game. The atmosphere and mannerisms of the crowd is what makes a basketball game enjoyable. I remember having to cover my ears as a little boy some nights because the crowd was howling so loud at KG and his crew. The same kind of atmosphere could be achieved this season with the excitement of this team.
People that I’ve talked to have more energy around the team. They understand that we aren’t going to win a championship this year or anything like that, but could things really get any worse from last year? A roster that goes up and down with big, strong, athletic players that have the ability to get you out of your seat will create a whole new excitement around the game experience. It’ll actually be fun again to go to a Timberwolves game.
You really have to take my word on this. I’ve already been to a couple preseason games and really enjoyed my time there. You can bet your ass that I’ll be at every home game this year because I now have faith in this team and, again, could it really get any worse?
All in all, this will be a fun year. It’s going to be full of ups and downs because by no means is the team ready to make a splash in the Western Conference playoff race, but they will pull off some upsets and generate some excitement around Minnesota basketball. They can’t do it alone though. We need a trustworthy fan base that is going to root this young team on. It’s really a synonymous relationship: A team can’t play with out its fans, and fans can’t root without a team. This year, there seems to be a respectable and exciting team in place, which should only mean that there better be some rowdy, howling fans in the seats as well.