Welcome to Fantasy Island

The original title of this article was going to be Come Aboard, We’re Expecting You. A million puns are at a writer’s disposal when penning a Timberwolves column these days, thanks to rookie Kevin Love. Being a huge fan of 70’s b-list celebrity dramas I opted for The Love Boat reference. As it turns out, the Love Boat’s sinister twin, Fantasy Island, is the more apt 70’s b-list celebrity drama metaphor to describe the state of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Sometime after Christmas and shortly before his death, Mr. Rourke welcomed the 2008-09 Timberwolves to Fantasy Island.

“Who is this Mr. Rourke.” Tatoo asked.

“Ah, Tatoo, these are the Minnesota Timberwolves. Mr. Jefferson’s fantasy is to be a professional basketball all-star. Mr. Foye desires to live up to his potential as a basketball player, Mr. Love wants to be recognized as one of the best rookies in the game, Mr. McHale is seeking vindication for ridiculous decisions and the team, Tattoo, the team wants to experience victory, but not just one, but many to give their downtrodden fans some hope.”

What guests on Fantasy Island quickly discover is that a mind meld is only a motion away.

The Timberwolves laughed it up in January as they reeled off 10 wins in 12 games. In the process Big Al was punctuating an All-Star first half by establishing his post game as the best in the NBA, Kevin Love was proving to be the best young rebounder in the NBA, Randy Foye remembered how to play basketball and Kevin McHale’s team was winning and grinning.

Then the mind meld began. Big Al was an all-star snub. Kevin Love was inexplicably left out of the Rookie/Sophomore game. The Lakers and Celtics reminded the Timberwolves how young they were with beat downs in consecutive games while Randy Foye forgot how to play basketball again. A week later Big Al tore his ACL and suddenly Mr. Rourke was handing the Timberwolves coconut drinks and wishing them a safe departure from Fantasy Island.

Watching the first game without Big Al was brutal and a familiar feeling surfaced throughout the game, an ugly feeling. I wanted the team to lose. I hated the sensation because I’d sworn off rooting for the team to tank. The NBA Draft Lottery is what losing teams hope for and this is why Big Al’s injury has left Timberwolves fans wandering willy-nilly through the rest of this season. We don’t want to go back to the old hope, we liked the new hope better.

The following article comes from a time and place where hope and victories had conjoined, leading us here, once again, to disappointment. The article was ready to run when Big Al went down and suddenly the words don’t seem real anymore and serve better as an example of how hopeful this Timberwolves fan had become and is entirely too evident of what has come to pass.


Come Aboard, We’re Expecting You

There’s a remarkable story happening in Minnesota this 2008-09 NBA season, not that anyone really notices. ESPN is too busy hyping another Spurs(yawn) Lakers(zzzzzz) game taking place two weeks from now. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Timberwolves went 10-4 in January. The Minnesota Timberwolves. Remember? You used to pay attention to these cagers when they employed a superstar? Forget it. It’s not worth it, besides Dirk and Nash are about to play each other for the 30th time since they were tragically separated 5 years ago.

I’m not saying the Timberwolves should be hailed as an emerging NBA power, no, far from it, in fact, most of those January wins came against bad teams but sometimes there’s a good story to be told in sports not involving a mega superstar?

Here’s the thing, those 10 January wins emerged out of the most despondent two months in Timberwolves history. I don’t think the NBA or national media realize how bad things had gotten in this burg. The mere mention of the Timberwolves as they ran willy-nilly to a 4-23 start induced sharp pains in the hearts of Timberwolves fans. The franchise was never in a darker place. Timberwolves fans had not only lost KG but watched KG win a championship with Boston, subsequently realizing how long the road back to the playoffs, let alone a championship, actually was. In fact, the road wasn’t even visible.

With glazed over eyes peering through fingers fans watched their ballclub start the season 4-23 and watched with horror as Randy Foye forgot how to play basketball as box scores across the land were teeming with OJ Mayo 20 point lines AND Brandon Roy was dropping 52 on someone AND it was getting dark at 4:30 in the afternoon AND the worst winter in a decade was in its infancy AND the 5th worst coach in NBA history, Randy Wittman, was leading the team to basketball hell.

Then something happened. After abiding an 8-game losing streak to start the Kevin McHale coaching regime, the team went 10-4 in January, including a 5-1 record on the road. The Timberwolves were precariously close to a 13-1 month. Miami was left off the hook in a home game that could have gone either way and two 7 footers, Mehmet Okur and Rasheed Wallace, rained 3’s down on the Wolves in the final minutes of the fourth quarter of losses at Utah and home against Detroit. After going 2-14 in December, January was a miracle on wood as the Timberwolves authored a 10 win month for the first time in 4 years.

Kevin McHale was named NBA Coach of the Month for leading the January turnaround but this did little to appease fans frustration over the omissions of Al Jefferson and Kevin Love from their respective all-star games.

Al Jefferson is averaging 23 and 11, joining Dwight Howard and Tim Duncan as the only 20/10ers in the NBA. Big Al punctuated his first half with a 39 point, put the team in the station wagon road trip through the Chicago Bulls just a few days before West reserves were selected. However, there aren’t many delusions in this town when it comes to pro basketball and jaded Timberwolves fans could see Big Al’s fate a mile away. We knew the score. The NBA All-Star game is in Phoenix, thus, Shaq was going to be named in front of Big Al because it’s how da NBA works don’t ya know? Yeah. Sure.

While the Big Al snub was frustrating, the omission of Kevin Love from the Rookie-Sophomore game was downright absurd and insulting. The kid has exhibited the skill to potentially be the best rookie in the gifted 2008 draft class. At the very least he is doing more to help his team consistently win than any other rookie in the league. Has anybody in the NBA seen this guy play? Love is a magician out there and he’d be the Meadowlark Lemon of the Rookie/Sophomore game.

Hey NBA, don’t you think Timberwolves fans deserve a little something? Just a little nibble? No, Kevin McHale being named Coach of the Month does nothing to placate the exclusion of Love and Jefferson. McHale is still not a made man in this state and the only way he ever will be is if the team’s recent play translates into a decade of playoff appearances beginning next season. He’s certainly not going to be made for getting named coach of the month. I do have to give McHale credit for trading for Kevin Love along with getting rid of soul suckers like Ricky Davis, Mark Blount and Marko Jaric, still, this doesn’t erase the failure of not acquiring the pieces to win a championship with KG. Yes, he was burned by Marbury, it’s a broken record, it’s Timberwolves scripture. If McHale wants to erase his seemingly indelible legacy as an awful general manager, he’s going to have to coach his way out of it. Now, please, whoever’s making personnel decisions down on 1st Avenue, go get a legitimate veteran point guard and a 7 footer who can tie his own shoes.

The Wolves are celebrating their 20th anniversary season and, yes, some of the Timberwolves greatest moments have occurred in losses. Timberwolves broadcaster Tom Hanneman will be like, “Tony Campbell scorched Dallas for 23 points on February 21st, 1991 as the Mavericks snuck past the Timberwolves 120-89.” So it goes being a Timberwolves fan. So it goes.

There have been a few gems though and one of them occurred on MLK Day 2000 when the late-great Malik Sealy drained a three as time expired against the Indiana Pacers. Trent Tucker was the analyst on that MLK Day 2000 and as euphoric teammates piled on Sealy, Trent Tucker yelled, and I’m paraphrasing, “If you don’t love the effort of this basketball team and you don’t love the way they play basketball, you don’t love yourself!”

Damn. You don’t love yourself. Amazing.

There haven’t been any transcendent moments like the Sealy game in the five years since the finals run, however, there was one a couple weeks back against a depleted, yet fully Chris Pauled New Orleans Hornets team. With less than 2 minutes to go, the Wolves had a slight lead when Big Al passed out of a double team to Randy Foye. Big Al’s been getting ripped for being a vacuum on the box so his decision to pass out of a double team could be viewed as the newsworthy item. Big Al said it’s more of a trust issue than a ball-hog issue, so, if we take Big Al at his word, what occurred after the pass is the true game-changer for this franchise. As Foye, who was coming off a three pointer and a block on the preceding offensive and defensive possessions, rose for the shot, Big Al raised his arms to the rafters and flashed a rare grin before Foye even let the ball go. Foye delivered and fans across the state rolled over in their chaise not believing their eyes as hope once again returned to a bloodied and bruised franchise.

Where would this team be with Foye and Mayo in the backcourt and Kevin Love performing magic tricks in Memphis? More than likely stuck in some point guard/shooting guard rotational waltz where time stops and all life is sucked out of a franchise already gasping for breath. Drafting Mayo would have left Foye in the shadows and probably on his way out of town and, as I’ve written before, the real possibility of Minnesota being only a pit stop for OJ Mayo. Mayo would be averaging 20 points a game and it would have been exciting for a while but the future of the team would be suffering. More importantly, the Timberwolves would not have the services of Kevin Love.

The most encouraging thing about these Timberwolves is the 20 year old rookie. I would not trade Kevin Love for O.J. Mayo straight up. The kid is Basketball Buddha.

In my opinion, Kevin Love is going to be a better basketball player than OJ Mayo. There’s no questioning the talent of OJ Mayo and that’s not what I’m doing here, this isn’t about talent or scoring, it’s about the uniqueness of Kevin Love. He’s a singular player in this league, the same can’t be said about OJ Mayo.

The guy is a ridiculous rebounder, like Dennis Rodman ridiculous, without the clown shoes. In January, Kevin Love led the NBA with an insane 20 rebounds/per 48 minutes. His defensive ability is far under-rated and improving every game and he’s only now starting to hit the mid-range jumper that he hit with regularity at UCLA. The most positive thing about Kevin Love’s game? He helps a team win and he’s twenty years old.

Hope is what I’m talking about. This isn’t a prediction of greatness for this team, or a claim that their time is about to come, rather, this is a statement of hope when only a short time ago it seemed there was none.

It’s been hard around here without KG. Timberwolves fans looked forward to every single game that man played. I look forward to watching Big Al play, but lately, it’s Kevin Love who I keep my eyes trained on.

What an amazing thing that Timberwolves went 10-4 in January after the dark days of November and December. The future is, at least, visible again, spring is coming and if you don’t love the effort of this basketball team, and you don’t love watching the basketball oddity that is Kevin Love, you don’t love yourself.

As February grinds on, it’s hard for Timberwolves fans to feel the love in yet another lost season in Timberwolves history.