Minnesota Timberwolves, punishingly bad, slouch into spring

David Kahn wants to fill this building.
David Kahn wants to fill this building.
Photo: Jpellgen/Flickr

In the month of March, the Timberwolves executed one of the more radical moves we've seen from a professional sports franchise in recent memory. Going very much against the pro sports grain, they drastically cut season ticket prices for next season by as much as 50% for some seats. It's now actually possible to buy lower deck season tickets for as low as $10. That's a pretty serious deal.  Here's Wolves' GM David Kahn explaining the motivation to Truehoop: "I'm hopeful that the end result here is that the pricing decrease here will be made up with a fuller building and more buyers, and a better atmosphere for our team and our fans."

Now, I'm no fan of the way that pro franchises tend to manipulate their fans with transparent gimmicks and sentimental language; team loyalty tends to be a one-way street. But what the Wolves have done is, in many ways, pretty cool. Thanks to these moves, and to some almost as drastic deals for this season, there are actually fans in the seats, many of whom are not obscenely wealthy, and many of whom seem to actually care about basketball. I think this may have been the intention.

But let's not go overboard with the populist rhetoric. Considering how punishingly bad the Wolves have been recently, these moves reek unmistakably of desperation. Wolves fans have been asked to endure a lot over the years; their patience for rebuilding has been nearly exhausted. The team has to know that they are close to a crisis point. Even fans who are flush with the thrill of affordable season tickets can't possibly stomach another season as miserable as this one has become.

The facts: The Wolves have lost 17 of their last 18 games. Only twice in the past three weeks have they been within ten points at the final buzzer. Their resiliency, their inner reserve of will, seems severely depleted. They seem to have become exhausted by the agonizing fact that to simply stay close in any game they must exert a staggering effort.

This depletion shows itself in a host of ways. Most obviously, the Wolves can't seem to summon up the effort to compete on the glass or in their transition defense. We saw this in Utah on Wednesday and especially in that stunning loss to Phoenix on Tuesday, in which the Wolves surrendered 79 points in the first half and 152 in the game. When the Suns and Jazz made their big runs, when they started finding open shooters and casting their particular spells, the Wolves simply wilted. They couldn't force themselves to really fight for rebounds; they couldn't race the floor in transition; they couldn't stop the ball.

Compounding the problem is a concomitant lack of composure on offense. So many of the gains in offensive understanding and execution that the team made before the All-Star break seem to have fizzled away. We haven't seen more than brief flashes of the triangle's fabled movement and fluidity in weeks (when Corey Brewer is the team's prolific shooter, as he was against both Utah and Phoenix, it's a good sign that things just aren't functioning properly). Jonny Flynn has regressed to early-season form; the inexplicable shot selection and the aimless freelancing seem to have won the day. Worst of all, the Wolves have committed an average of just under 15 turnovers per game over the last four. That's a really good way to get pounded.

Even the Wolves' reliably energetic and poised players have succumbed to the swoon. Ramon Sessions, Corey Brewer and Ryan Gomes have all, at times, looked lost and drained in recent weeks. And as for Kevin Love, sometimes considered the Wolves' best player, a player who has been rightly included among the league's top five rebounders, who once seemed guaranteed to bring nightly, ferocious effort? Wolves color man Jim Peterson had this to say: "Kevin Love looks to me like he's checked out." Hate to say it, but I agree.

So, although $10 lower-deck NBA season tickets is a cool thing, fans can only be expected to stomach so much. Its hard to imagine many people sticking out another season like this one, in which the team endures nightly 20-point drubbings, in which the team's best players and best prospects have plainly given up the ghost. Kahn better hope he uses that cap space and those draft picks wisely.

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