The state of the Timberwolves

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NBA.com

If you have stumbled upon this brilliant commentary hoping to find information about actual Timber Wolves, I regret to inform you that you have been swindled by our possibly misleading title. But if you just so happen to be a fan of Timber Wolves and the Minnesota Timberwolves, then you might as well stay!

It is hard to know who to this article is speaking to. With the history of the franchise, and more specifically the past few seasons, our fan base is in an odd place. Some have completely jumped ship since the 2003-04 season when we made it to the Western Conference Finals, but ultimately ended in heartbreak. Others, and probably the majority, show interest and hope at the beginning of each season, but the feelings are always fleeting as the hardships come.

But then there is the crowd that has not wavered in their steadfast support for the pups. This group was at an all-time low before the arrival of players like Andrew Wiggens, Karl Anthony-Towns. With slow and steady improvements across the roster and coaching staff, I am here to say that this last group of diehard fans are on the cusp of being rewarded for their years of loyalty, through thick and thin.

I know I sound like a broken record, and most will still have their doubts. But for the first time in a long time, the Minnesota Timberwolves are a force to be reckoned with.

 

The Build Up

Since their inaugural season in 1989, the Timberwolves have only finished in the top 10 in the western conference only 10 times. To give a better picture of the Timberwolves timeline, those 9 of those seasons we all in succession. So from 1996-2005, we were on the rise as a franchise. Since then, we have return to the bottom of the barrel, and our reputation around the league follows suit.

But it hasn’t always been cloudy days for the Wolves. After 8 seasons in a row of losing in the first round of the playoffs, we went all in for the 2003-04 season. With seemingly the best roster in franchise history, we were well on our way to the NBA finals. Aside from the obvious Kevin Garnett, two of the other stars of the team were Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, and Wally Szczerbiak

Sprewell, Garnett, and Cassell. Photo courtesy of Sport Illustrated

But this wouldn’t be a piece on the history of the Timberwolves without giving credit to the best player the franchise has ever had, Kevin Garnett. After joining the team in 1995 straight out of high school, Garnett became the face of the Timberwolves for 12 years. He was the piece that the team was always built around, and for good reason. He was selected to the all-star team nine of the 12 years in his first stint with the team. And it made sense that in our best season in 2003-04, he was named the Most Valuable Player that year.

But lets get back on track, because for the first time our team was good. And I’m not just good-for-the-Timberwolves, good. We were actually a dominate team, and we ended up in the top 4 in the league. I don’t think I need to go into much detail about the heartache that ensued after having our season ended by the Lakers, a team that finished second in the western conference during the regular season, behind us. And although they followed up with top 10 conference finish, everyone knew that we were never going to be the same. We could all see the demise coming, one that was made all the more excruciating due to the fact that we had FINALLY been so close to the top, far closer than we had ever been, but fell short. The fans who had patiently waited for years as the franchise struggled, had their hopes built up, just to be let down right at the end. The ultimate let down.

 

The First Wave

To be 100% honest, there is no point dwelling on the Timberwolves from 2005-2013. But for anyone wondering, here’s a brief rundown. We had Kevin Love from 2008-13, he was good, we never won enough games. The end.

Obviously in that time there were other players that had a major role on the team. Two of the most noteworthy are Ricky Rubio and Al Jefferson. One note worthy addition during this time was power forward Gorgui Dieng out out of Louisville, who showed a great deal of promise and has continued to grow into an important role still in to this day.

But in all honesty, the Timberwolves made few real exciting additions until 2014 when we traded Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. To say this was a gutsy trade would be an understatement. Love was the pillar of our franchise for years, and often the only thing keeping us from totally collapsing. With that being said, Wiggins and Bennett were the first-overall picks in 2013 and 2014, so it was clear that the Timberwolves were looking to invest in the future. This trade marked the beginning of the rebuilding process, and is the foundation of the team we have today.

Wiggins and first round draft pick, Zach LaVine, were the bright spot in the organization and they brought a level of play that fans hadn’t seen in years. Although their record was pitiful, fans were given a renewed sense of hope for the future based on the young talent we had acquired. Fans were also largely encouraged by the fact that Wiggins won the Rookie of the Year Award that season.

2015-16 marked the next big push for the franchise as we added the 3rd first-overall pick to our roster when we selected Karl-Anthony Towns out of Kentucky. Selecting the 19-year-old big man gave the franchise and it’s fans a jolt of excitement that has been missing for quite sometime.

Although our record didn’t improve by any mesmerizing amounts, it certainly didn’t get worse. It is sad that we measure a season by just trying not to be worse than the previous year, but I suppose that’s a necessary step when rebuilding a franchise around such a young team.

That season the Timberwolves also received some attention around the league when Towns was awarded Rookie of the Year. This was a huge deal because very few teams have two of those award winners on their team, let alone in back-to-back years. This was very important for the franchise in terms of fan support, and players around the league began to think of the Timberwolves as a team with a lot of young talent. When you’re a team known for this, you become a destination for other stars in the league that want to be surrounded by a talented supporting cast.

A good place to start when rebuilding a team is picking the right coach, and build out from there. So the Timberwolves signed the defensive-minded, Tom Thibodeau to help steer ship that is one of the youngest and most promising teams in the NBA.

In 2016-17 the hometown Wolves saw a three game win increase, along with an increasingly prevalent chemistry amongst the team, which is crucial when you are trying to turn around a losing team. And although we weren’t winning a ton of games, you could feel the shift amongst the team, franchise, and the fans. This shift was everyone beginning to see the Timberwolves for everything they were becoming, and the potential they had. This sort of attitude is contagious, and after the season was over, we began to make some major roster moves that have brought us to the present day buzz around the franchise. The sort of buzz that hasn’t been around this team since the 2003-04 season.

 

The New Look

As I mentioned, having a team full of guys that gel is an important piece to this puzzle. I say this because a franchise can only rebuild around a young team when everyone buys into this mission. When players are committed to sticking it out and turning it around, other players around the league with the same ideals will want to join in. If you have a team full of young talent, but they are impatient with this process, then they will always be looking for a way out and your team will sink deeper into the hole.

I am here to say that I firmly believe that we have laid the foundation of this rebuild with genuine players that care about the long term success of the franchise. Having players like Wiggins and Towns leading the charge is the driving force behind this team. Because they continue to believe in the future of this team, we are now an up-and-coming team in this league. And this ultimately leads to other stars with more experience wanting to come join the Timberwolves, something that we haven’t had in a over 10 years.

So let’s start to cover the exciting additions we have made, rounding out our promising young roster.

The first big move we made was trading away Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and a first-round draft pick for a more experienced Jimmy Butler. Butler is an explosive swingman that is known for not only his scoring abilities, but also his strong defensive abilities. This fits in well with Thibodeau’s style, especially since Butler played for Thibodeau for multiple seasons in Chicago.

Then through free agency we picked up Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford. Teague probably provides the most star power in this bunch, and will give the Timberwolves a welcome new scoring option from the point guard position. Gibson is a veteran power forward that will serve as a perfect complement to our younger big-men, Gorgui Dieng and Towns. Then Crawford offers us a well rounded scorer that we have been missing in years past.

Gibson, Butler, Towns, and Wiggins in the updated jerseys. Photo courtesy of Dunkingingwithwolves.com

All of these players have years of experience that will surely help guide our younger foundation. Another common theme is that all of them wanted to come player here because of the promise they see. Being a preferred landing for free agents is new to this franchise but it is important moving forward.

Another bonus item that shows that we are a team on every star’s radar is the fact that when Kyrie Irving demanded to be traded from the Cavaliers, he listed the Timberwolves as one of his top teams he would like to play for. I don’t think have been any players, let alone a superstar, that has asked to play for the Timberwolves in a very long time. Maybe ever if I’m being completely honest, I certainly don’t remember another time.

To round out our new roster, the franchise found it fitting to update our branding. The new color wave and jerseys are a mark of the new beginning. We are symbolically shedding our past and looking forward to what is yet to come. This has only increased the buzz around the team and fans are rapidly gaining interest in the franchise again, for the first time in years. Fans will also be treated to a new court design and tons of updates to Target Center as part of the rebranding of the franchise. The team is also redoing the locker rooms for the players, and upgrading their luxury suites around the arena. 

 

Trust the Process

I know, that is such an overused phrase, but it is vital to remember that during our upcoming season. It isn’t likely that we all of a sudden make it to the NBA Finals and become one of the top five teams in the league. But, there should be some major improvements from year to year. Now we don’t have forever to live in the “rebuilding” phases as some of our new additions are approaching the end of their careers and the younger players could potentially lose hope in the future of the franchise. I don’t mean to be a downer, but it is important to note how crucial this year is.

With all of this speculation and talk surrounding the future of this team, the only thing left to do now is sit back and watch it all unfold. ESPN has us finishing 5th in the western conference, which would only boost our visibility around the league and potentially bring more talented players. Once again proving that this year is pivotal, and could potentially be the season that we look back on years from now and say “that was the year we finally turned it around.”

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