I've been away for a fairly long time, so I figured I may as well do a full-out front page post to gather my thoughts on the Wolves rather than digging through hundreds of forums posts and scattering them all over the place. It's probably been a solid month and a half that I've been all but absent from this site, so there's a lot of ground to cover. Perhaps the best place to start is this: I was wrong.
When this season started out, it was the first time that I was genuinely excited about a Timberwolves season since 2005. I wasn't predicitng playoffs by any means, but if you look back to my season preview, you'll see that I did peg the T-Wolves for a 33-49 finish. I was excited to see how Kevin Love's hustle and Mike Miller's outside ability would open things up for Big Al. I also felt that our young core would be much improved after having an entire season to gel. After we won our first game vs. Sacramento, I was downright giddy. And then the floor fell out from underneath us...
If there's one thing that I can't stand, it's being in "The Void". That's when you love your team so much that you can't cheer for them to lose, but at the same time you also can't root for them to win because they're so screwed up that only the lottery can save them. The Timberwolves had spent the latter half of the past three seasons firmly entrenched in The Void. When it became painfully apparent that that 2008-09 Timberwolves had reached "Void-status" a mere nine games into this season, I simply couldn't take it any more. The thought of having to spend the next 73 games secretly hoping for my team to fail was more than I could bear. After all, there's enough stress in real life, why subject yourself to more over a basketball team?
I still followed the Wolves, but not anywhere as close as I used to. I knew if they won or if they lost, but I really didn't care how they did either. I spent most of my time in the forum cooking up trade ideas, focusing on the draft, or scheming up ways to replace Randy Wittman. When the last dream on that list actually became reality, I allowed myself to get a little excited again. After all, since the day he took over, I've said that Wittman was nothing more than an anchor weighing this team down. I've always felt that our players were never as good as they could've been because of the horrible coaching they'd been subjected to in their formative years. I also liked McHale as a coach, although not as much as a real coach like Jeff VanGundy, and felt he had done an admirable job during his first stint in 2004. Yet any excitement that I may have had disappeared rather quickly as a brutal stretch of games helped K-Mac to an 0-8 beginning.
At this point, the Wolves were farther into The Void than perhaps they had ever been. While the early schedule clearly didn't help McHale, more than a few of those losses were downright huuuurrrrrible. There was not a single player outside of Big Al who looked like a legitimate NBA player, and even his double-doubles seemed pretty shallow in light of all the losses. Face it, our so-called "alpha-dog" was quickly acheiving Shareef Abdur-Rahim status. We had almost no players worth trading for, Brewer blew out his ACL, the 2009 draft appeared to be fairly weak, we had followed up the Foye/Roy swap with the Love/Mayo trade, and our "genius" idea to clear cap space by 2010 had been replicated by so many other teams that there was no chance a big name was landing in Minnesota two years from now. In other words, we looked completely and utterly screwed.
I had "had it". Between being a doctor, running Bloguin, studying for the boards, and having my computer crash, something had to go in my life. At that point, making that "something" the Minnesota Timberwolves was an easy decision. Before logging onto TWolves Blog today out of curiosity, I hadn't paid attention to the Wolves in all of 2009. I had heard rumblings about a good start, but being in The Void, that only frustrated me more. I figured we had just done ourselve the disservice of ruining our draft positioning. However, today, when I realized that "good start" was actually an 8-2 run to start the year with wins over some quality opponents, something changed. I read Sonia's news recaps, I dabbled in the forum, and I began to realize that this team had somehow clawed its way out of that terrible abyss.
Is the team royally screwing up its draft positioning? Yes. But I don't care one bit. You see, I'd much rather have Randy Foye, Kevin Love, Rodney Carney, Sebastian Telfair, and Craig Smith turn into bonafide players who can either contribute or at least be traded in a decent deal, over getting a high draft pick any day. The biggest hurdle the Wolves have faced throughout these years of drought is that nobody wants to take on our players. It's hard to build a winner when you're stuck with a lot of redundant players that you can't move for pieces that fit better. Nevermind the what simply having all your players play better will do for your team.
I don't know, maybe it just took 10 games or so for the venom of Randy Wittman's horrendous coaching to seep out of our locker room, but from what I can tell by reading these game recaps, it appears that the Timberwolves have decisively turned the corner. In fact, they appear to be at least the "33-win-level" team I had thought they were, and while it may be a bit premature to say this, the "42-win-level" team McHale predicted might even be more accurate.
As the title of this article suggests, I definitely have some crow to eat. I had a lot of valid reasons to do so, but I essentially threw the towel in on this season and didn't expect much good to come from it. Somehow, all that "potential" everyone had talked about so long has finally decided to rear its head. With half a season to go, the T-Wolves trail Utah by 11 games for that final playoff seed. Unless they can keep up their torrid pace for another 40 games, the likely outcome of 2008-09 appears to be just missing out of the post-season and sending our 1st round pick to the Clippers. As deflating as that may seem, if you're going to lose a draft pick, it may as well be in a weak year when you've potentially got three other 1st rounders coming your way. If nothing else, it goes to show that the 2009-2010 Timberwolves are primed and ready to make a run out of the lottery and into the playoffs for what would be the first time in six years. Add in some more maturity, the return of Brewer, a free-agent signing, a trade or two, and somebody not named Wittman as the head coach for a full 82 games, and you've got yourself a recipe for the post-season. I would've never thought I'd be saying this a month ago.
Now if you'll hand me a fork and knife, I've got a pretty large meal to tackle.