In accordance to the traditions of last month’s “festivus for the rest of us” I have written an airing of grievances against my beloved Timberwolves.
Let’s just say that I’m breaking into new territory into the land of a frustrated critic. I’ve endured, and managed to enjoy too much bad Timberwolves basketball. For years they’ve been stuck deep in the basement of the western conference, and for too many of those year’s my optimism has lead me to be unreasonably hopeful. As they say, hind sight is 20/20.
To give an honest example, I rejoiced over the prospects of a Ricky Rubio/Johnny Flynn back court. To my credit, I always (sometimes irrationally) cheer for just about any undersized athlete . Cole Beasley for the Cowboys, Andrew Hawkins for the Browns, Darren Sproles for the Eagles, the NBA’s own Nate Robinson, Isaiah Thomas, and Norris Cole, and MN Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon are just a start.
For the last few seasons, with Kevin Love leading the squad, we looked like a team on the rise. But with the offensive inconsistency (literally offensive) and the lack of defensive continuity (or, simply, ability) they finished a disappointing 40-41 season, and Kevin Loves departed to Cleveland.
Now this offseason, Flip Saunders called the process a “retooling” and Milt Newton said simply “building”, but now with injuries this season, and the Twolves abysmal record, it’s pretty obvious this team is rebuilding again. Thankfully, I do think they’ve done a pretty great job this time amassing really great basketball talent.
But it ticks me off.
This team was meat to run with Ricky, and we haven’t been able to see that. It was meant to ease the rookies into the NBA with a heavy dose of Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Thaddeus Young, Mo Williams and Nikola Pekovic leading the way. Let’s just say: this hasn’t gone as planned. To be honest, when has it ever gone as planned for the MN Timberwolves.
On that note, it’s grievance time!
First and for most, I’ll start with long ago and all the way at the top.
Grievance #1: Glen Taylor
While Mr. Taylor may be very loyal to his home state of Minnesota, I seriously think he’s on his last legs of … well, sanity. While he is clearly brilliant enough to have stuffed his bank account, he just hasn’t proved himself willing and capable enough to do what it takes to mold his franchise into a winner.
I’m usually not a superstitious man but I continue to find myself believing that David Stern hired a voodoo practitioner to place a curse over the Timberwolves after Taylor and company worked on contract negotiations under the table with Joe Smith. Of course there was (probably) no voodoo involved, but in all seriousness, the draft picks confiscated from the team did significantly alter the rise of the franchise when Kevin Garnett was around. It eliminated the possibility of using those draft picks to help provide KG with a solid cast of side kicks. For a small market team this is almost as good as a death sentence.
This was long ago, but I do believe that moment when the NBA caught the Wolves and Joe Smith acting outside of the appropriate actions of negotiation, and the subsequent punishment, was the single greatest thing, other than Starburry, that resulted in the eventual end of KG’s time as a Twolf.
The narrative of Minnesota being unable to surround Kevin Garnett with competent players built a precedent. Players now can always think of KG’s time in MN and conclude that playing here would be like playing in the Siberia of basketball, and not because it can’t be invaded in winter.
It’s just a given that nobody wants to play ball in a small market. It’s simply not the dream, and the Twolves, unfortunately, have done nothing to change that.
Look at the Kevin Love situation. While Glen Taylor not signing Kevin Love to a max deal might have ultimately lead to one of the most un-twolvesian thing that has EVER happened, the acquisition of Andrew Wiggins (and two PFs that will be grieved upon later on), another precedent remains: NBA players like to get paid.
Though, taking a look at Kevin Love’s years with the Wolves, and Cavs so far for that matter, it easily can be argued that Mr. Taylor did the wolves a major favor giving Kevin Love the early out option. Even disregarding the Wiggins trade, it may not have been all that great to pour that much money into K-Love long term. Kevin didn’t win. Kevin didn’t play defense. Could the Wolves ever surround him with enough talent to actually contend? Could K-Love do what KG could not? … yeah, no.
But what am I even saying, this is a grievance! I’m not congratulating Glen Taylor for letting an all world basketball talent go. Not in the least bit. Because now, with K-love’s departure, there’s another story of how the Twolves have failed a hard working young basketball talent. NBA players can look at Kevin Love’s time in MN and say: “this homie worked his butt off, stuffed the stat sheet until it exploded, put in the work to change his body and game, and he STILL didn’t get paid by Minny.” … not the highest endorsement of the T-puppies organization.
Further more, lets take a gander at what Ol’ Glenny Boy has done with the coaching position. Look at what some of the coaches he has let go from coaching the wolves, are doing this year. Duane Casey is coaching the up and coming Toronto Raptors, Randy Whitman is coaching John Wall and the Washington Wizards into contention in the east, while Kevin McHale is at the helm of the Rockets who certainly are tough to beat.
Then there’s the re-hiring of Saunders, who, arguably was let go prematurely in his first stint with the Wolves as well.
Now I really don’t think hiring Flip was a bad move, in fact it was probably the best option available. But there is no denying that it was also the easiest move for for the organization to make. Flip is old school, for lack of a better term, and literally was hired under the idea: “let’s get back to the way it was.” I don’t see much innovation when it comes to Flip. For instance, John Wall reportedly still knew all of the play calls coming from the Wolves bench when the Wolves played the Wiz earlier this year.
… That’s not good.
Then there’s the perception that coach Saunders is anti-three-point-shot. While I think that notion is a bit over blown, his apparent allergy ts% and amount of plays he draws up for mid-range jump shots, highlights his, and Glen Taylor’s, firm stance in basketball past.
Grievance #2: The Twolves Player Scouting History.
A small market team must build through the draft. I mentioned the consequences of the Joe Smith debacle, but that was only five picks. With the amount of sucky seasons the Wolves have had they should at least have a similar amount of high draft pick successes. Unfortunately, as we all know, this hasn’t happened.
Look at the poster child (which is actually now a grown ass man) for small market franchises: the San Antonio Spurs. They are constantly jigsawing decent draft pick after, low level free agent, after Matt Bonner, after undrafted rando-euro into roles on a contending teams. There scouting is actually in tune with what Gregg Popovich’s need on the court.
Of course, it all started long ago wen they managed to luck/loose there way into drafting David Robinson, and then, still long ago, do the same to draft Tim Duncan. Then they managed to pluck Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili out of the dang euro-rafters and, boom: there’s your core for many years if great basketball.
Minnesota has done nothing remotely close to that. They’ve gotten most picks wrong and what they’ve gotten right, haven’t been right enough. The players they drafted/acquired versus the players they passed by or sent away is laughable. So much so that I’m not even going to go there. Once again, hind sight’s 20/20.
Some of this comes from stupid ass, blind, dumb luck (or voodoo magic, which is still a possibility). Looking back at drafts, the Wolves staffs balanced the pros and cons of the picks they were offered, and while this is up for totally up for debate, generally made league wide consensus picks. But the overall tendency to be cautious and try to make the safe pick held them back. Again, no innovation. No guts. (Except for the regurgitables: Ndudi Ebi & Tanguy Ngombo)
That’s practically all I can stomach when it comes to grieving about Timberwolves past. On to grieving about Timberwolves present!
Greivance #3: The Stable Veterans
While injuries (bad ju ju) have sideline three veterans, the vets who have seen the court (with the exception of Robbie Hummel, and for a bit there Jeff Adrien) have been playing like, well … knuckle head teenagers.
Top on the list: Mo Williams
How did anyone ever get the idea that this guy was a stable veteran PG capable of being a quality NBA role model? I hate to say this but he’s less effective than J.J. Barea. He’s slow, he’s limited defensively, and he’s in love with his streaky pull up jumper. At least Barea was a little instigator and brought energy night in and night out.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen opposing PGs leave Mo in the dust. The worst part is that afterward he looks around surprised, as if someone is always supposed to be there to help him.
Then there’s the, “no Mo, don’t shoot that!” moment that either results in transition buckets for the opposition, or Zach LaVine taking the absolute wrong kind of notes on how to play the NBA guard position.
Next on the list: Thaddeus Young
My grievance with Thaddeus is this: he hasn’t backed up his talk as a veteran role model with his play on the court. I understand he’s being forced to play a tough role as an undersized PF with only one Center on the roster (thankfully Pek is healing and Miroslav Raduljica has now been signed), but he’s just not holding down his side of the bargain in my mind. After the interview at the great Minnesota get together, people were comparing his attitude, confidence and public appearance to KG. Let’s just say on the court, he’s nowhere close to KG … at all.
Hopefully this some of this will change when Ricky comes back and we can see Thad work with a little more space to manuver, but so far this year he’s been lacking on the rebounding front, and looking less confident that a pouting Anthony Randolph when he goes to shoot.
Then recently there have been times where he looks uninterested in moving on the offensive side of the ball, or even trying to rotate to the open man defensively. This, is not okay. Plus, like the now Houston Rocket Corey Brewer, Thad gambles for so many steals. And unfortunately, I’ve seen Shabazz Muhammad and Andrew Wiggins start to do the same thing. This, is not what they should be learning from Thad Young.
Plus, I place a thousand grievance upon his free throw shooting. I just don’t understand.
Then there’s Chase Budinger:
Of course, much of Chase’s issues spout from the injuries he sustained to his knee. Naturally a player is going to struggle after knee injuries, especially a player like Chase who shoots with deep knee bend and once relied heavily on his athletic ability to make cuts and go hard to the rim. That being said, this offseason and back at training camp, he was looking like old Chase.
But so far during the season, except for a few positive streaks, he hasn’t looked great.
He’s clanked big shots, missed easy lay-ups and, like Mo Williams, just hasn’t been the stable veteran we expected him to be. In fact in a key moment in the Suns game, Chase and Mo misconnected on an inbounds play that lead to an easy two points for Phoenix. I think it was Eric Bledsoe who made a great play to pressure Mo Williams, but Chase and Mo were put in that position at that key moment to execute as veterans are expected to execute. They didn’t do it.
Final grievance goes to Anthony Bennett:
Where did this ^^^ confidence go! There were games at the beginning of the season where this guy looked cold blooded. He was confidently rising up and splashing home his mid range jumpers and thunder dunking the ball home on a regular basis. I don’t understand how a guy can be so inconsistent in his effort and confidence.
Seriously, for a while there AB looked like the best of the young guns on this squad, but for a while now, he’s been the invisible man. I don’t understand where the “second chance” mentality he came in with got away from him, because right now he’s playing like a guy who doesn’t care.
Here ends my airing of grievances. Not because I’ve exhausted all possible complaints, but because now I absolutely can’t stomach any more negativity. But it’s good to get it off my chest.
While it’s a little late for a festivus miracle, hopefully, as Wallysworld wrote about earlier, we can keep our position at the bottom of the West and continue this re-building process, or whatever the hell they’re calling it now.
Before the Wolves vs. Suns games, Brent Barry said something very interesting with regards to to the Cavs and the way they are attempting to build a championship team. He said, and I paraphrase, that in order for teams to really reach that championship level, they have to weather the storm together. Hopefully, some group of the young talent the Wolves are amassing, can do just that.
Worst case scenario, is that K-mart and Pek come back and start winning, and take the wolves out of the top few picks of the lottery. If the Wolves do win games this year, I want it to be because Rubio, Wiggins, Muhammad, Bennett and Dieng are building a cohesive offensive machine and building confidence for the future. Hopefully, a future that includes plenty of “feats of strength” in the world of Minnesota basketball.