Based mainly on their off-season moves, nearly everybody is talking about the Minnesota Timberwolves, currently sustaining the NBA’s longest non-playoff streak — 13 years. From Hall of Famers to former NBA players and coaches to current network game analysts, the consensus is that the local men’s pro basketball team will finally break through this season.
“I am keeping my eye, a big eye, on [Minnesota],” declared Hall of Famer Spencer Haywood to the MSR a couple of months ago during a phone interview on his legendary career. “The Timberwolves are coming in as the most dangerous team out of the West.”
Last week, in separate start-of-season media calls, the MSR asked about the Wolves’ chances this season. “I fully expect them to make the playoffs,” stressed Mark Jackson of ESPN.
“They start off with an outstanding coach in “Thibs” [Tom Thibodeau]. Then you look at the improvement that they’ve made…adding depth. You add Jimmy Butler, a proven guy that you can go to down the stretch, along with [Karl-Anthony] Towns and [Andrew] Wiggins, and defensively it gives so many different options,” said Jackson.
“I would be surprised if Minnesota is not a playoff team this year,” said Turner Sports’ Reggie Miller.
“They are a very exciting, tough team to watch,” added Chris Webber, also of Turner.
ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy said, “They were a very good offensive team” last season. “Their improvement has to be defensively, and adding guys like [Taj] Gibson and Butler certainly gives them a chance to be better defensively.”
The second-year Wolves head coach admitted as much during the team’s media day earlier this month. “Defense is where we suffered” last season, Thibodeau pointed out. “You have to play defense collectively. If one guy is not doing his job, the defense breaks down.”
“Minnesota the last few years has been really bad defensively,” continued Van Gundy, a former league coach. “Towns and Wiggins have to improve dramatically at the defensive end of the floor through a greater effort and commitment. If they do that, the team will be very, very dangerous in a playoff series because offensively their system and their talent is terrific.”
Wiggins, the team’s second-leading scorer last season behind Towns, told local reporters, including this longtime beat reporter, that he is aware that he must improve, especially his rebounding.
The Butler acquisition on draft night last June “got the ball rolling” in almost two months of trades and free agent signings, recalled Miller. Minnesota also got Gibson and guards Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford in separate moves this summer. All are proven veterans to add to one of the league’s youngest clubs.
As a result, 69 percent of the NBA general managers picked Minnesota as the 2017-18 most improved team in this year’s NBA.com GM survey. For such a turnaround to truly happen, we see the Wolves needing the CCDs — chemistry, consistency and defense — if they are indeed to make the post-season field next spring.
“Chemistry is so huge…especially in professional basketball,” Miller responded to our question on this necessity. “Chemistry takes time.”
“Everybody has to make sacrifices to be a good team, myself included,” surmised Teague, the ninth-year veteran point guard, as he challenged his new teammates. “I’ve been in the playoffs every year. I want to continue that streak.”
Both Webber and Miller advised Thibodeau, who prowled the sidelines last season, to loosen up a bit. “Allow these young players to grow. Let them make mistakes and have fun,” advised Miller. “It’s all right to be firm, but you can’t always be an iron fist.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.