No one gives a damn about the Minnesota Timberwolves. Not anymore.
You want proof that the Timberwolves no longer exist? During the 2008-2009 NBA Season the Timberwolves will be appearing on TNT, ESPN and ABC a whopping zero times. We are so uninteresting to the nation that out of roughly 150 nationally televised games, the NBA didn’t have the heart to show one minute of Timberwolves basketball. This should make you angry. I’m angry. The Timberwolves exist at the fringes of NBA life these days and it’s time to become a different sort of fan and a different sort of team. We need to be mean. Fans, players, coaches, announcers, vendors, cheerleaders, everyone; get mean. Big Al mean.
You can blame ping pong balls or an endless line of bad management decisions regarding free agents, bird right players and draft picks but the fact remains, twenty years of Timberwolves basketball produced one NBA superstar and that star was pre-destined. KG was on the cover of SI before he even played an NBA game. KG was talked about by Charles, Kenny and Ernie every week on TNT. KG was splashed all over national television for 12 years and when people saw KG, they saw the Timberwolves. As far as all-timers go, Kevin Garnett was unique for one reason: he actually wanted to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
KG spoiled me. He turned me into a NBA brat.
In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NBA Draft the brat in me wanted OJ Mayo to swoop down out of the sky and save us from NBA obscurity. I wanted a superstar. I wanted the Timberwolves to be able to show some leg to the nation again. I missed the TNT crew talking up the Wolves. A superstar would stir up the fan base and add a whole new legion of fans across the country. OJ Mayo has been in the national spotlight since he was a 7th grader and is a household basketball name. Months later, I realize the pick of OJ Mayo would have been a major disaster for the future of the franchise. This has nothing to do with OJ Mayo the basketball player. It has everything to do with OJ Mayo playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
OJ Mayo only wants to come to Minnesota twice a year and dress in the visitor locker room. That’s it. OJ Mayo doesn’t want to learn McHale’s post moves. OJ Mayo doesn’t want to buy a $200 Dolce & Gabbana skull cap and grand marshal the Holidazzle parade. OJ Mayo only wants to play the Wolves and leave. If the Wolves would have retained Mayo’s draft rights, he would have Marburied this franchise for good. OJ Mayo has the big lights in his eyes. He wants Manhattan, he wants Brooklyn, he wants Chicago, he wants Los Angeles. He doesn’t want Minnesota. I highly doubt he wants Memphis. Judging by the “excuse me” expression on his face while he wore a T-Wolves hat on draft night, Minnesota was a place where OJ would have faked a smile for 3 years then forced a trade. He would have been a quick fix that would have helped us temporarily get over our superstar complex but would have done little to alleviate the most important thing to the future of this franchise: winning.
During the time of KG the philosophy was to assemble a couple of solid players, whoever (and I do mean whoever) they could afford around KG along with a below-average low-dollar bench of reclamation projects and guys who averaged 2 year NBA careers. McHale’s attempts at finding other star players to run next to KG were always cases of too soon or too late. It’s all well documented in our fragile pro basketball psyche. Googs, Marbury and Garnett were poised for championship runs but they died young. Chauncey Billups was morphing into an NBA Championship type player while playing next to best buddy KG when McHale inexplicably chose to keep Terrell “Tuberculosis” Brandon over the future finals MVP Billups. The list of other stop-gap names is littered with disasters and disgraces sans one beautiful year when eeny meeny Minny moe worked and KG ran with Sam Cassell and Latrell Spreewell. They made one run.
That run is all we have. I remember how promising the future was when KG was in his second year. There was no doubt in my mind the Timberwolves were going to be NBA Champions during KG’s career and here we are, 13 years and one serious championship run later.
A new direction has been taken at 600 First Avenue N. and I applaud it. The front office of the Timberwolves has put an end to signing love em’ and leave em’ type players. It began with the brilliant signing of Al Jefferson to a long term contract in which Big Al actually took less money as not to burden the future of the franchise. The trend continued on draft night when the Wolves traded OJ Mayo to Memphis for Kevin Love and Mike Miller. Love’s favorite NBA player is Kevin McHale and he is convincing when he says he wants to play in Minnesota. Mike Miller is from South Dakota and he is convincing when he says he wants to play near home. Signing Ryan Gomes to a cheap long term contract was also a step in the right direction. The draft picks of Corey Brewer and Randy Foye were no accident either. These guys won’t be taking drama classes anytime soon.
Al Jefferson is already one of the best 20 players in the NBA and he wants to play in Minnesota. We are lucky to have Al Jefferson, he just isn’t the national media darling KG is. He does have all-timer potential and he’s as mean as they come. Mike Miller is not a superstar but he is one of the most coveted outside threats in the NBA. There’s a reason why the Lakers and Heat have been trying to get their hands on Miller for years. I still believe that we have no idea how good Randy Foye is. Foye, more than any other player, is the key to the Timberwolves future. Brewer is here to play defense and Love is here to fundamental the hell out of opposing teams. Love is one of those players that drive opposing players, coaches and fans mad. Love will be hated. There’s one X factor on the 08-09 Wolves. Rashad McCants. No doubt McCants can score with any tier 2 NBA player but defense and desire are his biggest questions. It’s up to him.
All of this sounds promising except there is one major issue going forward with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Who is going to lead the way? It may be time for McHale to be a man and walk to Randy Wittman’s office and say “Witt, I love you, but it’s over. It’s me and it’s you.” If the Wolves do any unnecessary stumbling this season, Wittman and his career .333 winning percentage need to go. Then McHale needs to get bold and send a flattering love letter to Avery Johnson.
There isn’t a better model for what the Timberwolves need to do on and off the basketball court than emulate the team I hate more than any other in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs. In 1996, the San Antonio Spurs hired Greg Popovich and they hit their second jackpot, the first being winning Tim “Somebody Stole My Pony” Duncan in the lottery. Avery Johnson was Pop’s point guard and has already proven himself as a head coach with the Mavericks. He was canned in Dallas because of overblown expectations. The Mavericks championship window was already closing when Mark Cuban fired Avery Johnson.
Hire Avery Johnson and let him implement the fundamentals and head games that will turn this Timberwolves team into consistent winners and annoy the hell out of other teams. Here’s a guy who overachieved as a player by sticking to the fundamentals and getting into other teams heads. Here’s a point guard who won championships running the offense through a dominant big man. Here’s a coach that learned the ropes from one of the greatest cheap shot coaches in NBA history. In addition, he’s already coached a team to the NBA finals.
It is time for the Minnesota Timberwolves to turn into asshole fundamentalists in the best basketball sense of the word. It is time for the Minnesota Timberwolves to become the team that annoys the hell out of other fans and teams by playing team basketball and doing the little things.
Speaking of little things, Avery Johnson would be the perfect person for Kevin McHale to look down to. Go ahead, Witt, prove me wrong. I dare you.