Minnesota Timberwolves Struggling to Find Who They Are
The team is preparing for a match up with the consensus gold-standard of the NBA, the Golden State Warriors. Amid a 3-game losing streak, the team sits on a 6-17 record for the season. Attendance is at 14,809 fans per game, good for second worst attendance in the league. But their fans are oddly excited. This team is the 2016-2017 Minnesota Timberwolves. An explosive offense is led by top unicorn Karl Anthony Towns. Andrew Wiggins is dunking on everyone. Zach LaVine is tapping into his skill as a lethal shooter, finally garnering respect around the NBA as a real scorer. And most of all, the team sucks. But the fans love them. Why?
The team is preparing for a match up with the down-on-their-luck, Dallas Mavericks. Featuring two all-star players, and one who is close to it, this squad is sporting a 15-11 record, good for fourth in the Western Conference. Attendance is up to over 16,000 fans per game. Any fan of this team, born after May 31 of 2004, is preparing to experience playoff basketball for the first time. Yet, fans aren’t pleased. Some are even pissed off… This team is the 2017-2018 Minnesota Timberwolves.
This story doesn’t make sense, right? Any fan in their right mind should be pleased with a team currently sitting as a 4th seed in the loaded West, likely a top 6 team in the NBA, especially when said team hasn’t made the playoffs in 14 years. The Wolves are sitting right around where most projections had them. But fans are bored. We still only produce the 27th best attendance record in the league. A quick visit to the Timberwolves Subreddit or any social media outlet will quickly inspire anger. National writers are calling for our coach’s career on a platter. What the hell is going on in Minnesota?
— The Ringer (@ringer) December 7, 2017
The answer is simple: CHANGE. Timberwolves fans, myself included, can hardly remember a time when we were good. When we were featured in commercials. When any NBA commercial or top 20 player in the league list featured at least one our own. We’ve been through a period when our greatest points of excitement included:
– A single run at the 8th seed (2013-14 – which we lost in the last days of the season).
– Kevin Love being considered the best power forward in the league
– Brandon Roy coming out of retirement for 5 games
– Ricky Rubio finally coming overseas from Spain, just in time for Jonny Flynn’s career to end
– 20 Point Per Game scorer Kevin Martin joining us to “lead us to the playoffs”
It was a rough 10 years. Then, a glimmer of hope shined through with the Timberwolfiest introduction to the team we have ever seen: Zach Lavine saying “F*** me” upon hearing his draft announcement. After this, some magic happened. The King went home, after a stay in Miami, and he told the 2014 number one draft pick to go north, in exchange for Kevin Love.
Andrew Wiggins was coming to Minnesota.
The Minnesota hype train was gaining some steam, following the acquisition of our two young stars. We didn’t have enough to win. But, for the first time in forever, we were an exciting team that carried some level of potential with two high-flying wings, an experienced Ricky Rubio, and other young pieces like Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad, and Anthony Bennett. Finally, Zach Lavine gave us an identity when he dubbed himself, and Andrew Wiggins, the “Bounce Brothers.” We were officially the young, up-and-coming team, that featured uber athleticism and dunks-a-plenty.
That identity only grew further with the drafting of Karl Towns, who was dubbed the next great big man in the NBA and a transformative, new-age center. Defensive mastermind and former coach of the year Tom Thibodeau joined the pack. We struggled repeatedly, but dammit was this a fun team to watch lose. Then, it all slowly crept away from us. Zach Lavine tore his ACL, removing any hopes of a playoff run in 2016-2017. Following the season, Timberwolf great Ricky Rubio was traded for a first-round draft pick. The Bounce Bros were no more, and we no longer had a point guard known for flashy passing and leading the break. Our identity, the first one we had held since the first Kevin Garnett era, was gone.
Today, we still aren’t quite sure what we are as a team, or where we are going as a franchise. Following many off-season acquisitions, including all-stars in their prime like Jimmy Butler, along with aging stars such as Jeff Teague, and Jamal Crawford, we appear to be close to our peak as a team. This is where fans are scared and lost, as just one year ago we had the makings of a perennial contender. At the moment, it appears we may tap out as a third or fourth seed, possibly never sneaking by the Warriors, before Jimmy Butler’s tenure in Minneapolis ends. This is the ultimate question that Timberwolves fans have asked on repeat over the past sixth months; did we give it all up for a few seasons of glory?
For now, that remains to be seen. But this new team needs an identity, one different from the defensive stalwarts of Tom Thibodeau’s past. The Timberwolves fans, players, and followers just want direction. Where do we look? What do we have to look forward to? Where can this team go?
I guess those are answers we will get as we creep toward the spring and playoff basketball in Minnesota for the first time in a LONG time.
Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images