Winter is coming. The Vikings' 2-4 start is segueing into a desperately chilly mid-season. And now come the Minnesota Timberwolves, one of the most inept teams in all of North American sport, debuting their 22nd season tonight with a mere glimmer of youthful hope.
Welcome back to hoop season.[jump]
The goal of any professional franchise should be to win a title. The goal for the Minnesota Timberwolves is to eventually make a spirited run for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. While the team should be praised for the candor of their dual letters to fans last month, apologizing for and readily detailing ones stench really does little to remove the actual odor.
The 'Wolves are indeed trying to move in some direction, and, for that, they should receive additional (albeit head-tilted) praise for avoiding stasis as a philosophy. In addition, the organization's efforts to keep some form of fan base intact with affordable ticket packages is also due some applause in a time where it's becoming increasingly costly to attend major sporting events.
But seeing a bad team on the cheap, in the end, really only lights a fast-burning $4.00 Glade candle whose scent will expire long before the NBA's six month season concludes.
Detecting a tone of vitriol herein? Yeah, I know. Perhaps after having the pleasure of covering Twins baseball for three seasons, I'm now foaming to spew some negativity in covering the 'Wolves for the first time. But am I off? Is this misdirected? If so, please advise.
I recognize that in Kevin Love, Michael Beasley (stolen from Miami), Anthony Tolliver and the injured combo G/F Martell Webster, the 'Wolves have some legit talent at the forward position. And sure, there's ample potential at the guard spots with (hampered) Wesley Johnson, Wayne Ellington, G/F Corey Brewer, and the injured Jonny Flynn. But when rubber meets road, this is namely an assortment of complimentary talent in a league like no other where studs dictate ultimate success. Moreover, the term "athletic" has been employed ad nauseam to describe this roster. Last I checked: Deron Williams, Al Jefferson, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Andre Miller and Brandon Roy all play in our Northwest Division and they're all pretty good athletes, too.
I've subscribed some faith to what David Kahn has done (namely by dumping salary) since becoming team president. But the '09 draft -- whereupon he took both Flynn and Spaniard Ricky Rubio -- continues to befuddle. With no sense of when/if the 'Wolves would be able to sign or trade Rubio in a timely fashion, the selection still reeks of either ignorance or ill-preparation. And while the jury remains out on Flynn, the fact that Steph Curry (chosen with the No. 7 pick after Flynn) went for 17.5 points and 5.9 assists in his rookie campaign stings of regret, even if the silky shooter did play in a more up-tempo offense. Lastly, the signing of Darko Milicic to a 4-year/$20 million deal based on 24 games of measured Minnesota production last season requires ample proof-of-purchase, especially for a franchise that has been uniquely doomed for foreign-born players over the years.
I hope I'm eventually proven wrong with this bevy of ill will, just as I hope that the selection of Johnson over burly DeMarcus Cousins in this past draft doesn't add to the above list of 'Wolves curiosities. There is nary a national analyst that didn't pick the Timberwolves to finish last in the conference this season and while I think a 10-win improvement over their brutal 15-67 mark of a year ago is a possibility, a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04 (or even to a .500 record for the first time since 2004-05) appears a howl in the 'Wolves distant future. Yesterday, Love tossed a 30-win season in Bill Simmons face. I'll take that bet. These guys may eventually out-run some teams at the close of the season, but 25 victories would be really tough to top for this crew.
Last week, NBA Commissioner David Stern, remarking on the league's financial woes, brought the doom word "contraction" back into the pro sporting lexicon. When Bud Selig threatened the Twins with as much in 2002, the outcry was palpable. Yet for the Timberwolves, ranked as the 27th most valuable of the NBA's 30 franchises by Forbes, I truly wonder how many voices would passionately attempt to save them from extinction.
Whatever becomes of the financials: When rubber meets hardwood, only a spirited stateside traverse by Rubio combined with the good fortunes of a Durant-level draft selection can couple with the present roster to bring this bunch back to relevance anytime soon.
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