In honor All-Star Weekend, HTW wanted to compile a team that truly represents the Wolves’ 25-year history in the NBA. Now, unfortunately, the Wolves haven’t had much of a decorated past. In fact, since we don’t consider the Minneapolis Lakers as part of the Wolves family, the teams of years past and all their players have, well, — how do I put this lightly? — have been pretty damn awful.
From botched lottery picks to “prized” free agents/trade targets and a plethora of attempted “Comeback Kid” projects, the Wolves have failed to put together a lengthy string of good, albeit competent basketball players. Outside of bringing in the cornerstone of the franchise in Kevin Garnett back in 1995 and finding the right formula for just a handful of years, the team’s past has been littered with misery and false hope.
In order to properly celebrate this truly depressing feat, HTW is unveiling it’s Timberwolves Anti-All-Star Team. Filled with your favorites from teams both old and new, we want to show you what it takes to be filled with misfortune and regret. Tom, Derek and myself each compiled a list ourselves of players containing five starters, seven bench players and three worthy of honorable mention to create a 15-man squad. I then weighted the lists to find out who are finalists were and also plugged them in as a starter, bench or honorable mention based on those weighted projections. As a side note, I just want to be extremely clear that this was not even close to easy and for all the wrong reasons. Not only have a lot of poor basketball players played for the Wolves before but many have played for them way too long. Honestly, we should feel lucky enough to have only seen a large percentage of these players play in Minnesota for less than a couple years at best.
So without further adieu, here is HTW’s Timberwolves Anti-All-Star Team: Continue reading →
I’m not telling you how to feel, though everyone seems to think I am when I say this, but everyone is getting a little high-strung. You can feel how you want to feel and is ultimately your choice and I have no influence on that either way. Personally, I like to maintain my composure and remember that not every little thing in the world is the end, but — hey! — you do you, and I’ll do me.
First off, there is too much calling for people’s heads. Who are you trading for who that is going to make this team better? Kyle Lowry is available, but Kyle Lowry is always available because nobody wants him in their locker room. Evan Turner? Seriously…even if they could get him, it’s difficult to see how he improves this team. Plain and simple, the Timberwolves don’t have the assets to make an impactful trade.
Secondly, whether or not Rick Adelman is in fact the right coach for this team in the long term is debatable. Once they signed Adelman, we knew that the Timberwolves would enter win now mode and many have us have been frustrated because we’ve expected more than .500. However, the time to replace him was either this offseason or this coming summer; not now. Who do you get? Promote Terry Porter? Yeah, we saw how that worked out last season for the Timberwolves when Adelman had to take a leave of absence. If you’re going to let go of a Rick Adelman you better do it when you have a wider range of candidates available because you are not going to get a better coach for this team right now. Adelman may not be perfect, but he’s far from Vinny Del Negro.
You may disagree with his rotations, but they’re far from completely illogical, even playing JJ Barea over Ricky Rubio in the fourth quarters of games. When Barea is having a good game, especially Friday night when the team was without Nikola Pekovic, it’s hard to remove that spark from the game. Yes, Rubio is the better player and should not be on the bench for the entire quarter, but we’ve seen how the team has fared in fourth quarters with Rubio and it’s not a guarantee of victory to have him in instead of Barea. It’s unfortunate, but that’s what has been true this season.
This most recent stretch of games has been frustrating, but short of overnighting Pekovic to ISIS headquarters for bionic ankle replacement with Doctor Krieger, there is nothing anyone can do about this situation. Pekovic went down, and the Timberwolves still managed to take down the Pelicans, which was great to see. Then the Grizzlies came to town and brought their frontcourt of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph with them, which is a formidable tandem even when healthy.
The Timberwolves lost without that extra firepower Pekovic brings to the team and then had to head to Atlanta the next day for a back-to-back in what ultimately wound up becoming a schedule/injury loss. It happens, and again, there is nothing anyone can do about it. Every team has unfortunate injuries and has tough stretches in the schedule. It’s a part of the game and there are usually opportunities to make them back later on. Oh, what do you know: there are just under 40 games remaining in the season. Sure, it sucks dropping to 3 1/2 games behind the Grizzlies for the ninth seed, but the Timberwolves are still right in it.
This is a flawed-yet-talented team. They have some great players, and having Kevin Love always gives you a chance, but as a team, they are not strong defensively and do not have consistent bench scorers unfortunately. Maybe that will change once Chase Budinger gets healthy, but they are making due with the pieces that they do have. The waiting for everything to fall into place does grow tiresome, but it is what it as and could certainly be worse. Despite their flaws the Timberwolves can still grab a playoff spot. There’s just way too much time to be this…sensitive so soon. Again, feel how you want to feel. It’s up to you.
Sports in America, more specifically basketball, place less and less emphasis on the team anymore. Instead they honor individual merits with awards and praise, which seems to grab the attention of the media more often than any team performance ever would unless it were the championship. For example, winding down the day with a little SportsCenter on the tube that evening, all your bound to see are highlights of individuals making plays and then the final score of the game only at the very end. “Kevin Durant drops a bomb from deep … K.D. flies down the lane for the slam … Durantulla scored 46 points and the game-winner. Oh, and the Thunder won by 2.”
It’s not all their fault. It’s been that way nearly forever. Until you strip names off the back of uniforms and force fandom into broadening their scope to take away our “praise be to thee” system, the single player will get praise first, then team second.
With that emphasis individual achievement, it’s easy to let it get to your head. You know, think you’re better than the rest, perhaps forget that a lot of the credit is due to teammates and coaches and trainers. Early in his career, Kevin Love could’ve easily fallen into that trap, having gotten into tussles with teammates and badmouthing a front office (Even if they did deserve it). Some of his actions throughout his career suggest he might think he’s bigger than the Wolves or even the city of Minneapolis entirely. But the way we as fans push athletes to a national-level pedestal, we could just as easily be the ones to blame.
It’s not all about big heads and oversized egos, though. American sports can also be one of the most humbling employment opportunities in the entire world. I watch and play a lot of golf, and I think it’s the best sport to prove my point. Golfers train their whole lives to get their game where it needs to be to win tournaments, money and livelihood. Once they finally make it, there is no team. It really is just them, so their accounted for to make all the right swings and putts with just a tiny margin of error. But it sure isn’t easy with all that pressure on your shoulders and no teammates to divide it up to. Sinking a 4-foot putt is like trying roll the ball over a moving ant; that easy-going 7-iron you hit in practice on the 17th tee feels like you’re swinging wet noodle while trying to hit a skittle off a tee. It can be brutally honest feedback whispering in your ear, “You’re just not that good.”
When times get tough, the tough get going. The saying has never been truer. But not everyone is that tough all the time and so, inevitably, mistakes will be made. That’s why you have to respect the game for what it is, learn your lesson and move on with a new, meek attitude.
Humility. It’s a word that I always thought best describes what the majority of good basketball players DON’T have, and that includes our very own Kevin Love. He went from a pudgy white kid with great skill to one of the NBA’s most respected players in just a few years. It’s not easy to make a jump like that without just a little bit getting to your head. The work you put in, the hours of sweat, aches and pain, might help you stay grounded, but when all is going well, it’s hard not to get ahead of yourself and get swept up by the moment. “Yeah, I am this good!”
I love basketball but it’s absolutely the worst sport when it comes to honoring humble beginnings. You’re born and possibly even bred to be much taller than the average human being. And then you use the most simple, basic athletic abilities (Run, jump, shuffle) to gain competitive advantage over the rest of your peers. It’s as silver-platter as a sport can get.
I do believe that Love, who comes from a privileged background which includes an uncle (Mike Love) from the Beach Boys, came into this league a little selfish and perhaps a tad cocky. It wasn’t easy starting out, either. But Love realized that his glory days on the West coast were over and it was time to start anew. He had to work his tail off to show the organization that he could be better than their staple at the time in Big Al Jefferson. He had to win over an entirely unreliable and almost foreign fanbase. And he had to do it all while losing over 50 games a season to start his career. That’s awfully unsettling.
But having been elected now to his third All-Star game and the first starting bid, I think it’s easy to say that Love has come full circle from his immature beginnings. After all, he did work hard enough to not only beat out Jefferson, but to become one of the elite players in the NBA. He has won over a fanbase in Minnesota by even making non-basketball fans come to watch a game or two. And now the team is finally starting to turnaround their misfortune of the late 2000′s and win some freaking games. If you ask me, it’s all coming together quite nicely for both he and the franchise.
Love is currently averaging 24.9 PPG, 12.9 RPG and 4.1 APG. In fact, he’s chasing Kareem Abdul Jabbar to become the only one since to average 25/13/4 before the All-Star break. He’s also ranked fourth in total scoring, second in total rebounds and tenth in offensive rebounds. He’s been so good that the Wolves’s offensive efficiency with him on the court is 114.6. It’s just 96.6 when he’s on the bench, a difference of 18 points. Having one of the best pump fakes in the biz, he’s posting a career-high 13.3 percent drawn foul rate. His work ethic has helped improve his defense, which was a major weakness when he first came into the league. He’s already recorded 38 steals this season, his career-high being 47. The numbers don’t lie, folks; this guy is really good, and he may just only be scratching the surface.
What sparked this article was a transcribe from a conference call Love took, explaining how he found out about his All-Star bid and more. Flip Saunders was jerking him around a bit until he actually dropped the news.
“So [Flip] comes to my room, I open the door, it’s him and Milt and you know, as I’m kind of pushing the door back he said ‘Congrats’. And I said ‘What are you talking about?’ And Flip looks at me and says, ‘You’re going to be an All-Star starter, buddy.’ That was a pretty surreal moment for me,” Love said.
Surreal? But this will be your third All-Star game in as many years…?
“You know for the fans to reach out and vote me in and to play amongst my peers that are very well liked and popular around the world, it really means a lot,” Love said.
Oh, okay gotcha. So it’s more special because the fans voted you in?
“I think it’s a little sweeter this way, because I really didn’t expect it. I was very, I was already humbled by the response the fans gave me to even being that close to the top,” Love said.
Ahhh, now that’s the candid response I’ve been waiting for. Good for you, Kevin. Good for you.
We all know that Love’s NBA fairy tale could very well close its chapter in Minnesota in the Summer of 2015 or even earlier. Free agency is looming and his contract’s running low on days. We don’t know if/when he’ll be wearing another jersey but at least we get to say we had a part in molding Love’s exceptional production but, most importantly, his newfound humility.
This is bigger than Minnesota, even when I went back to Minnesota. Minnesota wasn’t like this.
-Kevin Garnett on his reception returning to Boston.
Earlier this season at the Target Center, Kevin Garnett received a tribute video from the Timberwolves — a nice little montage of moments documenting his career. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, and Garnett stood and waived his thanks. It was a nice moment, but it didn’t feel quite right — like an old boxer returning to his gym years later when fans no longer remember him. KG is respected, mostly from the old-timers who remember what it was like when he prowled the Target Center floors. The younger fans weren’t totally sure why this man who hacked Kevin Love hard enough to draw a flagrant foul later in the contest was being lauded. “That’s Kevin Garnett,” the man sitting behind me said to his son. “He’s the greatest player in Timberwolves history.”
“Then why isn’t he a Timberwolf anymore?” the kid asked.
The first quote you see above was from Sunday night, which contrasted almost directly to Garnett’s Minnesota welcome. Garnett had just received a tribute video, a raucous welcome and a heartfelt, noisy thank you from the Boston crowd in the first visit Brooklyn paid to the Celtics since Garnett and Paul Pierce were traded. No one in Boston’s crowd was there to see Jared Sullinger or Jeff Green on Sunday. Everybody was there to say thank you to their departed heroes.
The contrast was blatant, and a large part of it can certainly be explained away by the time between Garnett’s tenures in Minnesota and Boston. The departure was fresh for Celtics fans, six years old for Minnesotans. There is no love lost for Wolves fans, just significantly more time passed.
Just a quick note before you read on, Ricky Rubio went 2-12 with six points in last night’s loss to the Celtics. He even lost significant playing time to the hands of JJ Barea and Alexey Shved down the stretch. This is the story of the rise and demise of Ricky Rubio and his offensive charm.
In 2009, former President of Basketball Operations David Kahn was in a prime position to turn the Timberwolves’ misfortunes around in a big, big way. Armed with two draft picks in the first seven slots in what seemed to be a pretty solid draft talent-wise, Wolves fans were more than excited to get off the hump and in a hurry.
Well, four years later, we know how that scenario turned out. Most notably, Kahn chose Syracuse point guard Johnny Flynn over the country’s college basketball sweetheart in Stephen Curry. Flynn is currently playing (pro?) basketball in China, although rumor has it he left the team already, while Curry is becoming the superstar some thought him to be right out of college. Despite dealing with a myriad of injuries in his short career, he’s still the face of the Golden State Warriors, averaging 24.1 points and 8.9 assists per game, leading them to a modest 13-12 record this season.
Meanwhile, the other storyline of that draft was Sir Ricky Rubio. The mystical point guard out of Spain was all the rage from that draft because of how mysterious he was. At just 19 years of age and a big question mark regarding his contractual eligibility, Rubio was a hot commodity but it was like having a really big, shiny box and not exactly knowing what’s inside until you open it.
Thanks to a trade with the Wizards, the Wolves were lucky enough to open that box. And even though they had to wait with it under the tree for two years, what was inside was just as shiny and exciting as the box itself. Rubio, alongside Love’s emergence as one of the NBA’s top players, finally rejuvenated a desperate fan base and even instilled some hope for a brighter future in Minnesota. Better late than never, amiright?
But now that we’re in Rubio’s third season, that glitter and shine we all fell in love with is starting to dull and it needs a major rebuffering. The youngster with boyish charm off the court and flashy game on is now struggling to regain that favor with the fans, or at least this critic.
Perhaps I’m being a bit too hard on the guy. After all, on the surface, Rubio could very well turn out to be the best Timberwolves point guard of all time. The competition isn’t all that fierce from Pooh Richardson to Terrell Brandon to Stephon Marbury. If he stays long enough, he could and most likely will break records for assists and steals in Wolves history. Through 122 games played over his three year career, he’s averaging 7.8 assists per game, giving him 950 on his career, which puts him just outside of the top 10 in Wolves history but on pace to break Kevin Garnett’s record of 4,146 in just about six more seasons. Not easy but definitely possible if he remains a Wolf. He’s clearly a magician when it comes to distributing the basketball. And although we haven’t seen as much flash this season like we have in the past from Rubio, he’s still posting consistent numbers and finding players for open shots. He’s ultimately what keeps the offense moving and he’s any coach’s dream point guard from that standpoint.
Then you have the defensive side, where Rubio may just be one of the best on-ball defenders at the point guard position. At 6’4″ with long, swaying arms, Rubio wreaks havoc at the top of the key. He’s got quick feet to stay along with even some of the quickest, more athletic guards in the league. At first, he struggled with those guys because of just how explosive they are. But after a few years of getting used to the speed of the NBA game, he’s figured out how to better position his body to stop the head-on drives to the basket. Perhaps the best part of his defensive game, though, is his mental makeup to gamble and take risks. And, boy, has it paid off. We’ve gotten used to Corey Brewer’s cat-and-mouse defense, where he lunges at offline passes to get a finger on them, but Rubio is more particular about it. That special Spidey sense has equalled 2.4 steals per game, which already leads the Timberwolves all-time, although he’s still a long ways off of Garnett’s 1,282 total steals. It’s still clear that Rubio’s killer instincts on defense are potentially more valuable than his offensive prowess, and I really mean that.
Part of my reasoning about his defensive skills being more important is because he seems more mature than he did when he first started on that end, whereas on offense, Rubio still has a lot of room to grow. Specifically, we’re singling out Rubio’s poor shooting numbers.
Typically, by a player’s third season, they start to solidify habits in their game. By that third year, a player’s maturation has just about blossomed and the things they’re doing on the court now are likely what you’ll see for the rest of their career. That doesn’t bode well for Rubio’s shooting habits. As of right now, Rubio is a career 36 percent shooter, 33 percent from deep. Those current numbers make him the poorest shooting point guard in the NBA in the last three seasons. Ouch.
Let’s have a look-see at what Rubio’s shot chart looks like this season:
A little bit too much red on that chart, if you ask me. But as you can see, he’s actually improved on his three point shot, which is good. But there are two areas that really strike a nerve, given Adelman’s offense and Rubio’s strength running the pick and roll. The mid-range jumper is key to being a pesky pick and roll guard. Think about your options when big Pek comes and sets that screen. For one, you can go right over the top and shoot the jumper from deep. But that’s not a very high percentage shot. So another option is to use the screen and go around, giving you either a clear shot to the basket or an open area to hit the pull-up jumper. That’s what makes Chris Paul such a dangerous option because he can hit that shot with ease. And then your third option is to attack the basket and look for a layup before the help defense collapses down on top of you.
Now, that second option of taking that pull-up jumper is not Rubio’s strength. We’ve seen him hit it before but the problem is that he comes so sharply into that shot at such a steep angle that, once he actually rises to take the shot, he’s moving forward so much that the shot is almost always too deep. And that’s a real problem considering Rubio’s jumper is on a low-arcing curve, naturally, which leaves very little room for any touch. And then you have that third option of attacking the rim. But the problem is Rubio is not very good at absorbing contact, especially with the body, so he shies away from contact quite often. When he draws the foul, that’s a good thing because he can hit free throws at a decent clip. Otherwise he finds himself in trouble in the paint and around the rim, as proven by his paltry 29-72 clip in that area. For most players, that should be close to the easiest shot in basketball but for a sly, slinky guard like Rubio, who masters finesse over speed and power, he can get beat up pretty good down there.
For being a pick and roll artist, you have to be able to expand your game. In his first three seasons, Rubio has not been able to do that. And for someone who appreciates elite talent for what they do (i.e. Chris Paul) it’s hard to look past Rubio’s glaring blinding weaknesses on the offensive end. The flash is fine. The charm is exciting. The defense is wonderful. But Rubio still has a long ways to go before the Wolves go and consider giving a player a big, or a potential max contract, to someone who can’t even crack the “below average” category in terms of shooting percentage. The name of the game is to put the ball in the hoop, and Rubio’s not even average at that. C’mon, man!
So whenever you go back to that 2009 draft and debate with your buddies, everyone always dwells on the “What if we took Curry over Flynn.” But isn’t it fair to evaluate, with over three years now in the league, if taking Rubio over Curry was the right choice? It’s too late to dwell on any past decision but it’s time to start thinking about whether or not Rubio was and is the right choice for the long-term future of the franchise.
If you’ve been on Twitter today and are a Timberwolves fan you’ve undoubtedly heard the Derrick Williams trade rumors. Apparently they spread locally and something was supposed to go down today, and it didn’t Then ESPN’s Marc Stein dropped these nuggets and some validity was added to the speculation:
Timberwolves, I’m told, are in advanced discussions with Sacramento on a deal that would swap Derrick Williams for Luc Mbah A Moute
By dealing Williams for Luc Mbah a Moute, the Timberwolves would get the consistent perimeter defender that the lost when Andrei Kirilenko headed east for Brooklyn. Mbah a Moute, averaging just 4.4 points per game, will never be accused of being a great scorer, but will score in the ways that Williams scored best: within the flow of the offense as a cutter/spot-up guy. In fact, MySynergySports.com says that he has been above average in those categories so far this season.
Mbah a Moute has been damn-near shutdown on the wing so far, holding opponents to just 39.5 percent shooting and a strong 0.84 points per possession. For comparison’s sake, Corey Brewer is averaging 0.80 ppp and with Mbah a Moute, the two would combine to give the Timberwolves another defender on the perimeter. Now, would you ever play the two together? Probably not too much since they could leave the Timberwolves with too few scoring options on the court, but that might depend on the lineup. However, if they did play them both, Mbah a Moute has shown to be a better spot up shooter and Brewer a better transition player, so that could work; the only way to really know is to try it out.
For Williams, he would get the change of scenery that he needs. After a relatively productive season when he was asked to step up, his minutes have fallen and so has his production. Or his production is down because of his minutes…either way. With a healthy Kevin Love and Dante Cunningham, the Timberwolves just don’t seem to have a use for Williams. And without a superstar at either forward spot, Williams will have the opportunity to earn all of the minutes that he desires. Which is good, because he is a useful player when he is used right and can even be a capable defender for spurts.
Williams’ production has been concerning, but that’s more of an effect of the lack of playing time so far. The last time Williams has been asked to play this few minutes was probably, well, never. So, the adjustment to 14 minutes per game has made it difficult for him to get a feel for the game and in rhythm. Williams’ percentages have fallen from respectable averages of around .430 percent and .333 percent from three last season, to .335 and .133 this season, despite taking fewer threes per 36 minutes. For Derrick, he’ll be in a more advantageous position competing with Patrick Patterson and Jason Thompson for minutes instead of Love and Cunningham. If he can someday prove to be a serviceable small forward, he’ll only be competing with Travis Outlaw and John Salmons, so this will be a good opportunity for him.
From day one it seemed like it was going to be a challenge for Derrick Williams to succeed here. There was always one too many players in front of him and the Timberwolves tried to get him on the floor where and when they could. Last year, Cunningham joining the team immediately seemed like it was going to push him out of the rotation, and it did. This season, Chase Budinger came back and Robbie Hummel impressed Rick Adelman enough to earn his favor. Adelman spoke of Hummel on Media Day as a solid player that never tried to do anything that he couldn’t do, which was a fault of Derrick’s at times. This isn’t too say that Williams didn’t put in the work, because he absolutely did by losing weight, trying to work on his game and exerting effort on defense. This worked last season and Adelman praised him for it, but it appears this was always going to be his role on this team had everyone been healthy as they are now. It’s just where Derrick is at this point in his career, and he can have success in the NBA, but it just won’t be here.
As Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears reports, the deal will go through tomorrow pending physicals and Derrick Williams’ time as a Timberwolf will be done. Sacramento isn’t traditionally known as a hotbed for player development, but DeMarcus Cousins has made strides and Williams’ attitude and work ethic gives him as good of a chance for success as any. If this goes through, expect it to be a straight deal with no picks or cash being exchanged.
Trade sending D Williams to SAC from MIN for Luc Mbah a Moute to be completed if latter passes physical Tue due to knee concerns,source says
Losing a part of your connection to your favorite team is an unfortunate consequence of writing about a sport in the long term. Of course, you’re still a fan deep down, but it’s a different type of fandom. You begin to see the game more objectively and your mind opens up to new ways of thinking that you had never considered before. Most times, it’s great because it helps you as an observer of the game. Other times you do miss it, but I honestly enjoy having the new perspective that I have gained over the passed few years.
It’s odd, because you still care about the team and the success, but it’s just…different. A lot of times things will happen in a game that you don’t get as emotional about either way because your brain has been trained to think of things in a broader sense than before. At times this can put off people who view games in a more traditional fan sense because they have never considered a different angle and your job becomes to shine the light on it. This isn’t to say that I am never wrong, because I am. Quite often, actually. Nor does this make you better in anyway, just different, which is just fine.
This is what has happened to me over the last few years and I really don’t regret it happening. After all, I’m still a fan and wouldn’t have it any other way, but your relationship with your long-time favorite team changes.
Yet, tonight is one of those nights where I feel just like a normal fan. Tonight’s win over the Lakers wasn’t meaningful just because of the final score or the fact that the 22 consecutive game losing streak is now over: it was meaningful because of everything that the streak embodied since 2007.
Think about it. Since that time the franchise has traded it’s greatest player and ushered in the Al Jefferson era. We’ve been through David Kahn, Kurt Rambis, Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson. We’ve endured being the butt of jokes whether it be having too many point guards, Manna from Heaven and a general reputation for being a laughingstock for many years– too many years. And by beating the Lakers it was like being able to finally move passed all of that, finally.
It’s not as if we hadn’t tried before. For years we tried to talk ourselves into what was ultimately a lot of false hope. Even when we thought that our fortunes had finally turned, last season happened and added to the frustration we all felt. We had the coach, the star player and a supporting cast that was supposed to bring the team back to the playoffs and relevancy. Going into the season, nobody was cracking jokes at the team’s expense anymore and there was a lot of optimism surrounding the team by basketball fans in general for the first time in ages– which was refreshing.
But misfortune strikes every team, believe it or not. We had to be patient and wait, just like we had the nine previous years. In a lot of ways, carry such a streak of futility almost served as a reminder that the past was not yet behind us yet. For a fanbase and organization that was primed and ready to move on from the past, this was a burden we longed to cast away.
Tonight, the Timberwolves record stands at 5-2 and they set the franchise record for points in a quarter on the same night. While the record in itself is a cool thing to have, it drives home the point that this is a different era in some ways or is some way of indicating that the team is officially back to relevancy. Or maybe that’s absolutely ridiculous, what do I know.
I’ve told this story several times, but I’ll tell it again. I remember going to a Timberwolves game back in 2009 for the first time in a long time and remember being shocked by what I saw. I was one of maybe 5,000 people in attendance and there was just one concession stand open in the upper level. As someone who grew up with such fond memories of raucous crowds at Target Center, it was a little saddening to see the way things had gone since I had last attended. That was Kevin Love’s rookie year and things have improved as he has steadily done the same. Now, going to a game is once again a positive experience and seeing kids who were my age in Timberwolves gear and cheering for them reminds me of the memories I had there.
Yeah, it’s just game seven of an 82 game season against a Lakers team that was missing Kobe Bryant and ultimately will not matter come June, but it matters to us. Jim Peterson said it best on the broadcast that he was enjoying the blowout of the Lakers and the streak ending, not only as an employee, but as a fan too. That’s exactly what this was like for those who have endured and continued to follow the team through thick and thin: a chance to connect or reconnect with your inner fan. More than that it was like being able to breathe a sigh of relief no longer having to hear all of those stats about how long it’s been since the Timberwolves had beaten the Lakers.
While my fandom has evolved over the years, the fact that I’ve been able to stick with it through the years by talking myself into certain teams year-to-year and still fist pump on the couch at home when Nikola Pekovic converts a three-point play to put the Lakers away, tells me that it’s still there. Sunday night was about closing the book on a long period of transition for the Timberwolves and for it’s fans. It’s what has been long overdue for us as a community, really.
Think about it: no more false hope, talking yourself into a best case scenario or anything like that. This is — or at least should be — different than previous years. The past was always the past, yes, but now we won’t have to be brought back in to it on a semi-annual basis. This is a team that we can not only hold to a certain expectation, but that we should. It only took us the better part of a decade to get here, but we’re finally here and that’s all that matters.
That was the last year that the Timberwolves have been apart of the Western Conference Playoff group. That might not seem like that long ago but let me put it in perspective.
Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake headlined the 2004 Super Bowl in what turned into television’s worst (or best) wardrobe malfunction of all time.
Meet the Fockers was one of the most popular movies of the year, and Million Dollar Baby won the Oscar for Best Film. Good movies, now classics.
Facebook launched in its campaign to take over the internet.
President Bush campaigned and was re-elected for his second term. Oofta.
Both Ronald Reagan and Ray Charles passed away. So did Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Pour one out for the homies.
Livestrong rubber bracelets among others for great causes became popular. Oh, what little did we know back then.
Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris’ ‘Yeah!’ was the year’s popular anthem.
Ashlee Simpson was relevant because she was caught lip-syncing on Saturday Night Live.
Speaking of television, the hit American Idol was adored by millions to top the charts. The winner that year? Fantasia Barrino. Yeah, I was hoping to put a picture of Carrie Underwood up too.
Amongst all that action as well as adapting to the ever-changing technology world, 2004 was a good year to Minnesota Timberwolves fans. But that was when it all ended. Not that life has been awful since but in terms of fandom, well, it kind of has. Between then and now, we’ve seen the franchises only star be traded away to Boston and win a championship for them. We’ve seen 6 different head coaches in that span, none of which have won more then 44 wins with an average of 27 wins per season. There have been botched trades, like the Kevin Garnett deal, the Cassel-for-Jaric swap and even the Antoine Walker fiasco. The NBA Draft, which is typically a great medium to re-tool a struggling franchise, was never all that great minus a few instances. We all know the Jonny Flynn before Stephen Curry pick, as well as the Brandon Roy-for-Randy Foye swap on the 2006 draft day, but with 11 1st round picks since 2004, the Wolves have come up with just two combined All-Star appearances, both of which came from Kevin Love in 2011 and 2012.
So I think you’ve finally caught my drift. It’s been a long, hard and miserable soon-to-be 10 year anniversary since we’ve experienced pay dirt in the playoffs. But another new year means more predictions, more calculations on what’s ahead in the future.
Because I’m trying to sum up the history as well as what others think about the current state of the Wolves and their prospects of finally reaching the playoffs again, here’s a list of what the media thinks is the outlook for the Pups.
“Realistically, Minnesota is looking at a win total in the mid- to high 40s. That should be more than enough for a return to the playoffs, and might just make the Timberwolves the surprise threat to the West’s five championship contenders.”
“On paper, the Timberwolves looked poised to make the leap into the playoffs for the last two seasons.”
Clearly there’s a solid mix of optimism and unadulterated pessimism from that group. There are more NBA previews with inevitable opinions on the Wolves still coming but based simply off of those, the general consensus of a potential playoff finish is positive.
So what’s HTW’s thoughts on this matter? Obviously there are a lot of factors in this prediction. And just like Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose of Grantland, I thought I’d divide this into sections and give you my final prediction once it’s all said and done. Continue reading →
If there was one common theme among Timberwolves players at media day it was that this was a new season. The injuries, the missed games and consequential losses are things that the team is looking to put behind them as they move towards the coming season. In fact, most players brushed back most questions regarding the injuries with the same dismissive answers that make you wonder if they got together and planned out their answers. That’s alright. With so much promise to this coming season the Timberwolves have little reason to look back.
Even when pressed about what they thought of injuries already rearing their ugly head as it has with Chase Budinger, the player’s expressed sympathy for their teammate, but were far from dejected. Where some fans have already begun with the “Here we go again…” diatribe, the Timberwolves reminded us that injuries are a part of professional sports and that players will miss some games. In short, they’re not paranoid, and they’re not checking underneath their beds for the Injury Boogeyman every night.
Kevin Love, who arguably endured the most trying season of all last season, was perhaps the fastest to close the door on any questions concerning last season. When pressed about his relationship with former general manager David Kahn and Flip Saunders, Love just said that “The past is the past,” and went on to praise the job that Saunders has done so far. When asked if he had a message for fans for this coming season he just said that it was a new season– a sentiment many of his teammates also wished to stress to their fans.
Love and the Timberwolves know that how far they go will be dependent in part to the growth of their All-Star power forward. Rick Adelman said that he wanted to see Love expand his game to becoming more of a facilitator and more of a factor on defense. This wasn’t Adelman calling Love out, either. Love said he knew what his coach was talking about and added that he knew that he wanted him to setup a few more plays for teammates (Love called his approach to passing as able, but not always willing.) and — along with his teammates — work to improve as defenders. J.J. Barea added in his availability that Love’s leadership will be a big determinant of their success will also be Love’s growth as a leader and that it has to be him to step in to that role.
Adelman himself said that he is looking forward to having Kevin Martin in the fold, who has he coached during much of the guard’s career. Interestingly enough, Adelman said that Martin came to him last season asking when they were going to reunite. Adelman believed this to be indicative of how much Martin believes in his system and said that now that he has the personnel, he is looking forward to adding more Motion sets to their predominantly Pick ‘n Roll attack from a year ago in hopes of being able make their attack more dynamic.
Additionally, the team addressed concerns over their ability to get defensive stops by saying they expect their to be a great focus in camp on team defense, not just individual defense. Much of that will be helped by communicating and playing together over time, or as some people may call it: chemistry. Despite their improved offense, the team is aware of their flaws on defense, but it’s encouraging that they appear to be on the same page about how to limit the damage on that end of the court.
If anything, there was a sense of excitement; not just over the new acquisitions or having a new decision maker at the helm, but over the return of last year’s injured players and finally getting an extended look at their three best players on the floor together. Also, you cannot understate the morale boost that Rick Adelman’s return to the bench gave the players. With their best players and one of the game’s best coaches in hand, the Timberwolves have all of the reasons in the world to look at the road ahead.
Of course, you can’t talk about the Timberwolves without talking about the weight of their players. Even I fell victim to this trap on Twitter when Love came up to the microphone with his face noticeably slimmed down in what appears to be the best shape of his career. Derrick Williams was also one of the offseason’s biggest losers, having dropped from 250 pounds to 235 pounds with the idea to be better-suited to play the small forward position in a stacked power forward rotation. Yet, the funniest moment regarding player weight questions was when Shabazz Muhammad and Barea were on the stage together when Muhammad was asked about his weight and Barea turned his head and laughed.
It’s the offseason, JJ. We know it’s not important, but we are out of things to talk about at this point!
Way Too Early, Super-Tentative Opening Night Starting Lineup
This was one thing that Adelman let out that gave us a better idea of where the Timberwolves are headed in the wake of Budinger potentially missing extended time. Adelman said that the guards will probably be Ricky Rubio and Martin; Pekovic and Love at the four and five; but then finished off by saying “probably Corey at the three.” If Budinger winds up missing camp and/or preseason it might make sense to have Brewer start the season as the starting small forward to ease Budinger back into things.
So here is the way too early, super-tentative opening night starting lineup for the Timberwolves:
PG: Ricky Rubio (Duh.)
SG: Kevin Martin (Kinda duh now with Budinger possibly out.)
SF: Corey Brewer (Wasn’t so duh a week ago.)
PF: Kevin Love (Duh)
C: Nikola Pekovic (Duh.)
Ronny Turiaf is the Man (And You Won’t Convince Me Otherwise)
Seriously. He’s my new favorite player and he hasn’t even played a minute of basketball for the Timberwolves.
Perhaps the best moment was when him and Derrick Williams were supposed to hold their press conferences jointly and Derrick was late, so we proceeded without him. Mid-question, Turiaf notices Derrick standing off to the side and tells him to join us. Derrick says he wanted to make sure he wasn’t interrupting, which is funny because this exchange probably interrupted things more than it would have if he just pulled up a chair next to him.
Turiaf and Williams went on fielding questions from the media for another seven minutes or so. Derrick had the same jaw surgery that Kevin Love had awhile back with the same doctor that corrected his bite and said that he was feeling great because it helped his breathing. Turiaf, was not only an entertaining interview, but also mentioned that he’s made money so he’s only here to make something special happen, which was cool.
As they were getting up to leave, Williams before Turiaf, Ronny calls out, “Thanks for joining us, Derrick!” You might’ve had to be there, but it was perfectly timed.