Past, Present, Future; Minnesota Timberwolves Finally See Light Again
Tuesday afternoon was no normal day in Minnesota. It was the Minnesota State Fair, but then again it was far more than that as well. Since the departure of Kevin Garnett in 2007 after his trade to the Boston Celtics, the city of Minnesota has been looking for some excitement within their basketball Franchise the Timberwolves.
With one solid draft pick, and a three team trade, this year’s State Fair was about bringing that excitement back to Minnesota as it was when Garnett carried the load. The Wolves introduced 13th overall pick Zach Lavine, along with seven year veteran Thaddeus Young, 2013 first overall pick Anthony Bennett and 2014 first overall pick Andrew Wiggins.
It was the perfect scenery for the perfect introduction. Not only did the Wolves introduce four new long-term pieces for the future (unless you don’t count Young who’s a free agent after the season), but they included the community of Minnesota into the future. It was basketball and the city of Minnesota back together for one day. With everyone involved knowing that more bright days are ahead for the Franchise.
Wiggins and Bennett come to Minnesota from Cleveland, who in return got the Wolves Franchise player Kevin Love. This trade was out in the news for almost three weeks, but due to Wiggins signing his rookie contract the 19-year old could not be traded for 30 days.
Young comes over from Philadelphia, making this an official three team trade. The 76ers in return got Luc Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved and Cleveland’s first round draft pick.
It’s great reading about the Cavaliers and their new big three of Love, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. It’s great reading if they can win 60 or more games. Its great reading about how their offense is going to be arguably the NBA’s best, while their defense is below league average. It’s going to be fun seeing Love get no credit for wins, but most of the blame for losses, as Wolves owner Glen Taylor predicts.
For once, though, let’s give the Wolves a look. A franchise that’s been lost within a rebuild of a rebuild has finally found a path of light. Usually their rebuilds only include one player with a bright future, but now it’s a core.
When the Wolves drafted Garnett in 1995 with the fifth overall pick, the Wolves franchise was looking for somehow to become meaningful in the NBA. Garnett’s rookie season was less than meaningful as the Wolves finished 26-56, but that was the last of rock bottom for the Wolves. For Garnett’s next three seasons (not including 1998-1999, due to the lockout shortened season in which Wolves finished 25-25) the Wolves improved their win total to 40, 45 and 50. In 2000-2001 that total came down to 47 only to then raise to 50, 51, and 58 win totals the next three seasons respectively.
Garnett wasn’t just getting it done alone, though. The Wolves success was coming from a core of players like Stephon Marbury and Wally Szczerbiak. But with an early departure from Marbury the Wolves were never as successful in the playoffs as during the season. In the Wolves first seven playoff seasons with Garnett they failed to get out of the first round. Putting together only five playoff wins in a total of 23 games.
In the Wolves final playoff run with Garnett in 2003-2004 the team reached the Western Conference finals only to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers 4-2. It was Garnett’s and the Wolves best playoff run, and final one too. Since then the team has been unsuccessful of making the playoffs as it’s tried to put a similar core together.
Garnett was traded to the Celtics for prized big man Al Jefferson and package of other assets in 2007 as mentioned earlier. Jefferson was potentially supposed to be the replacement for Garnett, but just a season after acquiring Jefferson the Wolves drafted Love. The two big men played alongside each other for three non-playoff seasons before Jefferson was traded to the Utah Jazz for Kosta Koufos and a couple first rounders that turned out not to be helpful at all.
Then came highly touted point guard Ricky Rubio, and center Nikola Pekovic. Rubio has been what was expected of him. He’s fancy with his passes, but a lack of offense with his shooting doesn’t help any team. Pekovic has talent as a big man, but he was never intended to be the number two guy on a team.
With the Western Conference being so strong the Wolves could never sneak into the playoffs with this core, and their best record came last season when they finished 40-42. It was after the season Love informed management that he would not re-sign with the team, leading to the trade.
After all that being said, we have arrived to the Wolves present and future. Wiggins could possibly become an NBA superstar, Lavine with his crazy athleticism could become a key starter and Bennett is finally healthy and has lost weight, putting himself in position to being a key role player. In a sense these three young athletes are like Garnett, Marbury and Szczerbiak, but can they live up to the same skill level, and possibly make stronger playoff runs? That’s yet to be seen.
Where does a veteran like Young come into play? Back when Garnett and Marbury manned the Wolves as rookies, the Wolves had veterans like Sam Mitchell and Terry Porter, to name a couple. Young will fit that same role along with 11 year veteran point guard Mo Williams.
Taylor, owner of the Wolves, General Manager Milt Newton and Head Coach Flip Saunders have built a roster similar to the Wolves teams back in the late-90s and earlier-2000s. A roster of young bright talent, learning from veteran players. It’s the brightest the Wolves future has looked since they drafted Garnett back in 1995.