Tonight’s game will mark the end of years of frustration for Timberwolves fans all around and mark possibly the start of something special. Two years, seven months and four days ago, the Timberwolves named David Kahn general manager of a team that finished 24-58 the season before. That team, put together by former GM Kevin McHale consisted primarily of Al Jefferson, Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Kevin Love, Corey Brewer, Craig Smith, and Rashad McCants. This is the squad that Kahn inherited. No GM wanted to touch this team with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole, let alone take the job of GM and try to turn this team around. David Kahn took on the task and criticism of being the league-wide joke around the NBA. However, a month later, without a coach officially named, Kahn took his first step in his attempt to turn the team around by making a day-before-the-draft trade with the Wizards for the No. 5 pick in the draft for the Randy Foye and Mike Miller. With that pick the Wolves selected an 18-year old Spanish point guard by the name of Ricky Rubio. From then on, Kahn would constantly reiterate to the media and the fan base that it may be a couple of years until the much-ballyhooed Rubio would step foot on the Target Center floor.
Without their top pick on roster, a new hire in unproven coach in Kurt Rambis, fans knew that things were going to get worse before they got any better. The first season for Kahn and coach Rambis was dubbed as an “evaluation” season to see what players were going to be worth keeping around for the future. After tying the 1991-92 Wolves for the franchise record for losses (67), Kahn decided that Al Jefferson was not a part of the future he had envisioned. He admittedly sold low on Jefferson and received some speculative first-round draft picks in the process and cleaning his hands of a black hole. The biggest beneficiary of this move was the growth of Kevin Love. In reality it was addition by subtraction. Kahn also made a couple other additions by stealing Michael Beasley from a cap hungry Miami Heat squad and drafting another top-5 pick in wing Wesley Johnson.
The plan or a semblance of a plan was starting to come together just 417 days into the job. David Kahn was showing signs of progress…well at least on paper he was.
The following year was nearly as disastrous as the year before with the team accumulating just 17 wins. Clinging onto the nightly double-doubles of Kevin Love, the scoring of Michael Beasley, and the rights to a Spanish point guard, and the front office seeing its window of opportunity slowly closing fired Kurt Rambis after just two seasons and replaced him with one the NBA’s best coaches in Rick Adelman.
Which brings us to today — 948 days in the making.
Two years, seven months, and four days ago the team consisted of:
Al Jefferson/Randy Foye/Mike Miller/Ryan Gomes/Sebastian Telfair/Kevin Love/Corey Brewer/Craig Smith/Rashad McCants
While tonight’s roster consists of:
Kevin Love/Michael Beasley/Ricky Rubio/Derrick Williams/Wesley Johnson/J.J. Barea/Anthony Randolph/Darko Milicic/Luke Ridnour
Add in the sage Rick Adelman and this team is ready to start winning some real games and go places.
In recent weeks, the Wolves have been receiving optimistic praise from the media. Not having generated this much excitement since the 2004-05 season, for once Wolves fans have something to generally be excited about. In a shortened 66-game season, the Wolves have the depth, young legs, and coaching to compete on a night-in-night-out basis. The Western Conference still remains much deeper than its twin brother, and specifically the Northwest division will continue to be tough on the Wolves — Minnesota was just 1-15 against NW division opponents last year. Oklahoma City, a team that came up short in last year’s conference finals did not lose anyone of note and are one year older now and are favorites to represent the Western Conference in this year’s NBA finals. The Denver Nuggets who are always well coached, have a lot of depth even when you consider that three of their better players (J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, and Kenyon Martin) are being held hostage in China right now. Nuggets’ coach George Karl will find ways to win with what he has at his disposal. The Trailblazer are the team many have penciled in to finish third in the division, losing Greg Oden again to injury and Brandon Roy to retirement could hurt them in the long-run, but the addition of Jamal Crawford and their depth will keep them from losing too many games. The Utah Jazz are a team without a definite sense of direction, having drafted a couple young players recently in Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kantar, Alec Burks and a coach in his first full season. However their older players are still leftover from the Deron William’s regime in the big-men tandem of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. What the Jazz will do this year remains to be seen and there is a good chance they could finish last in the division.
The Wolves have added three key items since the end of last season that could vault them into 2010-11 Los Angeles Clippers status (aka a fun, young up-and-coming team that can win some games).
Item #1 – Derrick Williams
Drafting a player who many tabbed as the best player in last year’s draft can only help this team. Although he plays the same position as Love and Beasley, he looked good in the preseason and definitely can play in this league. Additionally, he may be the Timberwolves best athlete for his size, as he has continually shown his willingness to dunk the ball when the opportunity presents itself.
Item #2 – Ricky Rubio
Two years, six months, and one day ago, the Timberwolves drafted Ricky Rubio and ever since have been waiting today. Tonight Rubio will play in his first game as a member of the Timberwolves. In a very, very, very small sample size (one preseason game) Rubio looked as good as the scouting reports said. His passing ability was excellent and his shooting is still a work in progress. However you want to shape it up, Rubio is an upgrade over career role player Luke Ridnour and more importantly tonight will prove all those naysayers wrong who years ago said Rubio would never step foot in Minnesota. David Kahn put his career on the line for this guy when he drafted him and promised fans to wait patiently for him. Tonight’s game is a symbol of persistence and patience and hopefully of good things to come for this franchise.
Item #3 – Rick Adelman
Probably the biggest X-factor this season is new head coach Rick Adelman. He has finished with a below .500 record just two times in his career (19 full seasons), which was during a two-year stint in Golden State during 1995-97 and throughout his career, Adelman has made the playoffs 16 times in those 19 full seasons. A decade removed from his best coaching days in Sacramento, Adelman possesses arguably the best resume of any coach in Timberwolves history. This might be Adelman’s last run as a coach as he looks to energize and lead a talented young group of players, but whether he can teach the team and players like Michael Beasley how to play defense and figure out how to win game in this league will be his ultimately challenge.
The following is an excerpt from Bill Simmon’s columns about a week ago and echoes nicely the days when the Timberwolves were relavant almost a decade ago.
The best thing about following sports? When the stars align and your team wins a championship. The second-best thing? Anticipation. Having a quality team, knowing it’s headed someplace, dreaming about the possibilities. Staring at the schedule, circling games, knowing that something like 50 of your next 150 nights are going to be a blast. Glancing at the clock at 3:30 in the afternoon and saying, ‘Four more hours.’ Standing in front of your seat 20 minutes before tipoff, watching warm-ups, feeling that buzz, feeling those goose bumps slowly form on your arms.
A moment like the one below may not be possible this season, but the way this team is assembled one day it could happen again…
For Timberwolves fans who have followed this team through thick and thin, especially over the past three to four years, tonight brings a true optimism. One that hasn’t been felt in years. Knowing that the penny stock you invested in 948 days ago has grown and flourished into something you and everyone around suddenly appreciates is something that I get excited about. Sometimes the journey is more rewarding than the destination itself. The team that take the court tonight represents patience that has been endured and the hope of better days on the near horizon. Seeing where this team was 948 days ago, one would have thought the franchise was doomed for eternal failure from the get go, never to be relevant again. It looks like that perception might change after tonight.