The NBA playoffs are in full force and I can’t help but toss back whiskey and feel depressed watching them. The 2013-2014 Timberwolves were supposed to be playoff contenders. Maybe not a championship-worthy team but at the very least a solid playoff-bound squad, looking to make some noise and upset some real contenders. That clearly didn’t happen. Instead, the Wolves are facing yet another draft lottery selection and pretty much just one season to straighten things up, and in a big way. Looming roster changes and a new coaching search spell a new future for the Wolves. Where will it go? How did last season influence what happens next? Find out what the writers of HTW think below the fold.
1a. What were your expectations for the Wolves at the beginning of the season?
Jonah: The obvious answer was for them to make the playoffs. They’re the ultimate losers, the team with the longest playoff draught in the entire league, a league that includes the Milwaukee Bucks. But, honestly, I didn’t expect the Wolves to make the playoffs. At the very best, I saw them them competing for the final spot or two for the playoffs. For a while, they were at least in the running, and they finished with their best record in years. So, along those lines, I’d almost call this season a minor success.
Derek: I expected that they would at least contend for a playoff spot, which they did. Given the roster’s construct — a top-heavy unit comprised of few scorers and poor team defenders — the seventh or eighth seed would have been a dream scenario.
Tom: I was expecting playoffs, but dreading that my expectation was too optimistic. I knew Dallas/Memphis would be be vying for the seventh and eighth slots, but I had no idea Phoenix would be in the mix as well (obviously). I thought that Minnesota could score 110 points per game and make their way into the first round, getting bounced in a four or five game series against Oklahoma City.
Zach: If I’m held to an answer; i was hoping to see them in the postseason. There were those who expected playoffs, and those who were cautiously optimistic, content with a team that may compete for the chance to qualify. My expectations were not met.
Nick: My expectations for the Wolves were the highest they had been since K.G. left town. I thought this would be the year Minnesota could slip in as the seven- or eight-seed where they would battle OKC or San Antonio and likely be bounced pretty quickly. But at least it would be a start for the team to get any playoff experience. I was indeed being a Hopeful Harry.
1b. How did those expectations change as the season progressed?
Jonah: Again, at some point in the season, the playoffs were possible but not all that plausible. That’s why, as the season wore on, that window slowly closed shut. And then by the end, I was already searching NBA mock drafts on the internet. It’s a sad, sad cycle we fans live through.
Derek: You know that feeling when you’re supposed to be excited about something, but you have this nagging fear in the back of your mind that things are going to go wrong? That’s what this season was like and also realized in December that this wasn’t going to be the year. (Sidenote: I avoided voicing this opinion for months, but it was in the subtext of everything I wrote and I think this rubbed some Timberwolves fans the wrong way who still believed until February. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Tom: I’m not sure how to type a farting noise?
Zach: The Wolves fate was uncertain until about mid-june, but after a loss to the Clippers in late December, that’s when doubt began slipping into my head that this wasn’t going to be the season I had hoped for.
Nick: It was kind of like watching a Michael Ba-Blam-Blam-Bay film: some explosions early on to draw one in, only to find oneself expecting a shitty end to the film because Bay doesn’t like putting as much work into things unrelated to explosions. It was pretty lame when this realization came to be…again. Wolves fans have been conditioned to expect this churning of the stomach feeling, but it doesn’t make it any less of a bummer. In fact, Steve McPherson of A Wolf Among Wolves even wrote an article titled: “Are the Wolves the Most Disappointing Team in NBA History?” Ugh.
2. Bigger need for Wolves: becoming mentally or defensively stronger?
Jonah: It’s a copout to say both but as I watch the NBA playoffs going on now, all these teams are geared up and ready to play the game both physically and mentally. And it seems that their mental makeup is making them play even harder and more physical. But the fact of the matter remains that the Wolves need to get better defensively as a team unit. We saw the Wolves at their best when the perimeter defenders were causing havoc, forcing turnovers, which led to easy buckets in transition. That’s the Wolves’ game, and the only way to do it better and more consistently is to improve on defense, so it can happen more often.
Derek: I think these things are related. You need focus to hone in on your opponent for 48 minutes defensively, and that’s something this team struggled with.
Tom: Can I copout and say “both,” since they feed into each other, just like Jonah? Honestly, there are a lot of problems with this team as it currently stands, but I think there’s a holistic issue here: Defense really does lead to offense, and vice versa, so success on either end breeds success on the other while simultaneously building mental confidence and strength. Once you see that you can do something, it becomes much easier to execute.
Zach: Mentally, and it’s not close. I never felt defense was necessarily, entirely the reason for the ultimate let-down that was this season. I look to scoring outside the the starting lineup and untimely injuries as things that hurt the bigger picture. During the regular season I think it’s important to be able to defend in situations, rather than consistently throughout a game, if you can score at the same rate as an opponent.
Nick: I was going to say becoming mentally tougher until I saw some of the final defensive stats on the season for the Wolves. They were 29th in opponent field goal percentage (47.12%), 26th in points against (104.26), 20th in opponent 3-point percentage (36.43) and last in the league in blocks (3.6). Conversely, in December and January alone the Wolves were 1-9 in games to get over the .500-mark. Granted, most of those games were pretty tough matchups (@OKC, @SA, @BOS, @LAL, vs. DAL, vs. OKC, vs. PHO, @SA, @POR, @CHI – WIN), but those are some of the games you just have to have if you’re going to make it to the playoffs. I agree with Zach stating you need to be able to defend certain situations, but they’ll really need to improve on some of those defensive numbers as well.
3. In a perfect world, the Wolves will _________ in the offseason
Jonah: Get Kevin Love to swear under his own life that he’ll re-up next season and stay for eternity. Or else.
Derek: Add a bench.
Tom: Win the lottery and draft Andrew Wiggins. YOU SAID A PERFECT WORLD.
Zach: Make a sensible decision when it comes to electing a new head coach. I don’t think the roster needs huge changes, but it needs some. I think this group of players may come out more inspired next season knowing how it feels to underwhelm as they’ve done. Who is going to do that? We’ll see.
Nick: For the sake of having a different answer than Zach and Derek, I’d like to see the Wolves acquire someone who can be trusted defensively in late-game situations, while also being able to keep the other team honest on the offensive end. Wouldn’t that be neat? And of course: KEEP PEK ON THE TEAM.
4. Far-too-early prediction: The Wolves will ________ in 2014-15
Jonah: Everyone is going to come up with a win-total goal or “make the playoffs” prediction. I’ll play devil’s advocate by saying the Wolves, if they start off slow, will trade Kevin Love by the trade deadline to maximize the return. It’s all dependent on how the season begins. If by December they’re hovering around .500 again, trade Love and get the most you can out of him. Maybe even trade Rubio while you’re at it. Just don’t waste time dwelling in mediocrity when the assets you possess now could return some profitable pieces down the road.
Derek: Be an NBA team. Okay, seriously, I expect them to continue getting better like they did this season.
Tom: Have a very different roster. #HOT #SPORTS #TAKE
Zach: Compete for the postseason and win 45 games. Not saying anymore than that.
Nick: Finish over .500 for the first time in 10 years as they battle for the last playoff spot down to the final games of the season, ultimately falling short as Wolves fans are only left to hope the NBA playoffs are as entertaining as they have been this year. *sigh* #NegativeNormanAlert
5. I will shit myself if the Wolves _________
Jonah: Don’t hire a big name coach. Rick Adelman was the best thing to happen to the Wolves since, well, Kevin Love. But still, hiring a big name coach with the roster set up as it is, will entice the fans to stay on board and, perhaps, even Kevin Love too for just that much longer. If they go with an assistant or a lesser known name, it’s almost certain that Flip Saunders has thrown in the towel for the next 2-3 years, and Love is as good as gone. That’s why I think they go with the best of both worlds by going with a well-known college name, who can build an environment and win now or grow the culture of a win-later type of team.
Derek: Trade Nikola Pekovic to start Gorgui Dieng.
Tom: I don’t know if there’s a scenario that would really surprise me THAT much. Like Zach said, a solid coaching hire would be unfortunately surprising, but there has been enough of a groundswell for the Hoibergs of the college basketball world that I could see Flip going that route. I wouldn’t really be surprised if the Wolves deal any of their players, up to and including Kevin Love. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they hang on to any or all of them (yay hedging my bets!). I guess the only thing that would REALLY surprise me would be if they found a good trade partner for Nikola Pekovic, but my pants will likely remain free of any excrement.
Zach: Hire Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, or Fred Hoiberg as head coach. I think the decision Flip Saunders makes will disappoint more people than it will impress, and there’s worry it will be another ‘Country Club’ type guy. So yea, I’d shit myself if what the people want to happen, actually happens, but i’m still expecting there to be an uproar when we find out who ultimately gets the job.
Nick: I’ve been doing a pretty good job of controlling my bowels for a while now. Well…ever since “the incident”. The Wolves trading Pek would enrage me so much that I probably would shit myself because Pek has become my favorite player in the NBA over the last two seasons. Most of this, admittedly, has to do with Pek giving the best answers to questions and just being one big goofy dude in general. And for some reason, due to what I just said, nothing brings me more joy in an NBA game than when the mighty Nikola Pekovic succeeds. Where in the world is Nikola Pekovic? Seeing him in that safari hat gets me EVERY TIME. And the answer to that question better be Minnesota come next season. I mean, I also think he helps the team out and stuff too.