The scope of the Minnesota Timberwolves is vastly different from the final seconds of last season to now. Still without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio due to injuries, the Wolves are veering head-on into the regular season with a new identity and a sense of purpose. This is a direct result of the NBA being such a wonderful league. No, really! Mainstay powers like Miami, Boston and Los Angeles will always retain the attention and recognition they deserve — there’s no changing that — but the annual turnover of the small-to-mid market teams gives homes like Minnesota a chance. It only happens every few years before they fall again to higher powers because it’s next-to impossible to sustain such success in a frozen tundra with little-to-no basketball history against the beautiful beaches of L.A. and the glamorous lights glittering off rooftops of the City That Never Sleeps. But, hey, at least we’ve reached our shot, right?
This year dawns the first shot in Minnesota’s history since the 2004 season to actually make something of themselves, rather than come in perceived as a laughingstock or a doormat to easy victories. Equipped with an all new supporting cast and a potentially deadly “Big 3″ of our own, the Wolves are being sized up with all sorts of new expectations. Can they make the playoffs? Can they make the top-half of the West’s playoff picture? Can they evolve their own Big 3 to rival the Miami’s, OKC’s and L.A.’s of the league?
But how will they hold up? Young teams typically tend to crumble under the forceable pressures and trying battles of a long season due to inexperience. But this team isn’t as young as you think.
Thanks to the new makeup of the roster, the Wolves sport a fluid mix of new and old, experienced and untested players. From the former superstar in Brandon Roy, who’s used to carrying a team on his own and being a go-to guy, to Alexey Shved, who has the potential to average 20 ppg but can’t even formulate a proper English sentence let alone command an offense at the point guard position. That’s exactly what the Wolves have up and down the roster, and that mix of players combines the good from last season with the things that needed to be fixed.
More importantly than the roster tweaks, though, is the overall culture of the team. There’s a special buzz around the area. Maybe it’s a result of the NHL lockout or perhaps the surrounding Twin Cities is actually excited to see what the Young Pups can do this year, now that they’re playing with the big boys. You can damn-near guarantee a sellout crowd on Saturday night against the Sacramento Kings. You can also probably guarantee other sellouts throughout the season against formidable foes. That’s exciting; it gets the blood rushing to be a part of something special, something people believe in and want to support. Whether the buzz can withstand the entire season will be determined later on but at least the preseason buzz carrying into the season is enough to gain the attention this franchise deserves.
It’s been a long-time coming and without everyone on the same page, things will likely go array for this potential Cinderella story. The key for the Wolves this season is to get off to a fast start and ignore the media expectations. The opening schedule is weak and heavy on important home games. If the Wolves are able to capitalize on the momentum and buzz from the preseason for the first month of the season — or when Love and Rubio return — then it only builds upon the base of excitement already in place. That hot start is going to rely on the veterans like Andrei Kirilenko, Luke Ridnour and Chase Budinger to lead the team forward and for the younger hot shots like Nikola Pekovic, Derrick Williams and Shved to develop and go about their game. And don’t forgot about the media. A couple losses here could equal pages and pages of stories on the Wolves’ demise and potential downfall. Being a once frequent loser, they’re prone to be criticized on every game and every move. Then again, without the expectations, they wouldn’t have the hype that they do to start the season. The key will still be to ignore it all and move on with winning games. It’s easier to perform better within a winning culture and team, winning cures everything and satisfies the fan’s and media’s wants.
The hot start the Wolves are looking for begins Friday night. It’s going to be an exciting season to watch and will only grow more enjoyable upon the returns of Love and Rubio. The Wolves are primed and ready for a playoff run, are you?