Wolves at the break: the humanity

Benjamin Polk —  February 18, 2013 — 10 Comments

At the beginning of the season, as the Wolves added white dude after white dude to their roster, we discussed the team’s unprecedented racial makeup. We wondered about the potential interactions between these strikingly white Wolves and their mostly white fanbase. We discussed the Wolves’ potential as a kind of old school/new school hybrid, a stylistic melange that would incorporate and complicate nearly every archetype in the NBA pantheon.

More specifically, we wondered about Ricky Rubio’s recovery and whether his reunion with Kevin Love could possibly live up to our wild hopes. We wondered how Love would mold his newfound superstardom and how that stardom would interact with a new, suddenly competent, set of teammates and with a fuller expression of Rick Adelman’s offense. We wondered what moves Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved might bring to the dance. How would J.J. Barea’s antic freestyles play against Kirilenko’s humble, heavily structured game? What does a Shved/Rubio backcourt feel like? Does Brandon Roy even have knees? And what is a Shved anyway?

Some of these observations have turned out to be salient, some of these questions have been answered. Kirilenko has been even more valuable and fascinating that we could have possibly hoped. He has resurrected the vitality of his Defensive POY days and combined it with the vision and intuition borne of years internalizing Jerry Sloan’s systematics. He’s been a defensive destroyer and a kind of one-man improvisatory flex offense. For twenty games at least, Shved provided all of the brazenly swag that we could have possibly hoped for. Barea continues to freestyle. Brandon Roy has no knees.

But in general, the meaning and feel of this season has changed in ways that, back in September, would have been impossible to believe. The plague of injuries that has leveled the Wolves has prevented many of these conversations from ever taking shape. We don’t know how Love’s superstardom has evolved because he’s barely played, and when he has, he’s mostly been a shell of himself. We don’t know how Adelman’s corner offense looks with Rubio at the helm because the team has been too ragged and undermanned to run it consistently. There have been beautiful moments–usually provided by a Kirilenko backcut or a Rubio pick-and-roll, two moves generated as much by intuition and improvisation than any overarching coherence–but most of the stylistic possibilities that we hoped for have given way to sheer day-to-day survival.

Instead, the season’s predominant discourse has been one of fragility. We saw Love struggle against his subpar conditioning and his shooting hand’s persistent weakness and inflexibility. We saw Chase Budinger hobbled after just eight games. We saw Roy’s body betray him. We shared Rubio’s frustration when his knee refused to do the things it used to do. We saw a team wracked with injury and its consequences: fatigue, thin talent, players forced to do more than their abilities allow.

There have been recent Wolves teams far more appalling than this one. Those teams were contemptible for their callowness, or their apathy or their sheer incompetence–but, for us, there was a righteous indignation hidden away in that contempt. Watching extravagantly well-payed elites in any field fail miserably at their jobs brings a perverse pleasure. That gall we feel sustains our belief in ourselves as fundamentally competent and ok; we just “know” how much better we’d do if only given the chance. That’s nothing to be proud of, for sure, but it at least makes for a relatively satisfying fan experience and–maybe, possibly–slightly tempers the indignity of watching so much patently unwatchable basketball. (Not coincidentally, it also serves as an analog for the rage we feel at our pathetic political culture.)

But this Wolves team doesn’t even allow us that small measure of satisfaction. Their struggles and pains reflect our own. They contend with the weakness and fragility of the body, with outrageous misfortune, with disappointment, with life’s gross injustice. Great players and teams give us glimpses of physical transcendence. Underachieving teams allow us to indulge in virtuous anger. These Wolves remind us of our own mortality, of our own fragile humanness.

Sounds like an art-house film you might like but, suffice it to say: not what we generally look for when we watch sports. Luckily for us, though, the Wolves have managed to offer us small tastes of what is possible: Love’s brief runs of stat-stuffing majesty; Rubio’s recent signs of recovery; Kirilenko’s subtle, off-ball brilliance; Dante Cunningham’s glue-guy passion; even that eight-game glimpse of Chase Budinger’s perimeter scoring potential. These unconnected fragments offer us a measure of hope; and hope is the great narcotic of the fan experience. Followers of the Wolves know disappointment but we also know how to take solace in that old refuge of the brokenhearted fan: next year.

Benjamin Polk

Posts

10 responses to Wolves at the break: the humanity

  1. This year held so much promise (and it started that way) but now all we are doing is really waiting for next year. I was reading a comment that durant said when asked about the suns team that they had just hammered on a home and home and he recounted the time when they were 3-29/3-30 and how he uses that as fuel to keep getting better and how it brought the group together. One of the knocks on klove is his leadership, i would love to see how he frames this for next year. Will the fanbase live in fear of him leaving in 14 or regardless if he leaves or not enjoy the ride because of what he brings next year.

  2. Im hearing rumors of Ridnour and Buddinger to NY. Why would they want to get rid of the best two shooters on the team? I dont understand where this team is going and Kahn keeps dismantling the roster every year.

  3. Haven’t heard about Budinger, but Ridnour is wanted by a few teams. He’s not really part of the future here so we might as well trade him to a contender now. Budinger I think we should hold on to.

    Now that Love has told everyone how much he likes Minnesota and that he wants to stay, can be just trust that for a few months and look forward to what can be in the future. If we can hold on to Pek as well, we’ll have a pretty good starting lineup. Next year can be the exciting times we were hoping for this year.

  4. pagingstanleyroberts February 19, 2013 at 10:31 am

    A few things:
    – Those fans who think they can do better than the guys on the floor are so annoying and delusional. I can’t remember who said this, but the difference between basketball and other major pro sports is that most people don’t think they can hit a major league pitch or tackle an NFL player, but they’ve made a basket before, so they don’t think about how different it is to try to do that when playing at NBA speed and against NBA size and athleticism. Brian Scalabrine’s smackdown of all challengers a few weeks ago proved definitively that it’s just as difficult.
    – Jerry Zgoda’s season-opening piece about race misrepresented the situation. However, hearing Antoine Walker describe his feelings about moving from Miami to Minneapolis on the BS Report makes me wonder if the Wolves’ front-office strategy is mostly based off of getting guys here who can get past the cold. I just wonder if NBA player opinion about Minneapolis differs according to race.
    – This year, for the first time, youth/inexperience are logical reasons why they’re not playing well. Injuries are the main problem, of course, but it should be expected that Rubio, Shved, and Williams will have their hiccups. The good thing is that this group of youth seems to have a higher ceiling than some of the previous groups, so no one has to fool themselves into thinking a guy will be good (except for maybe Williams).

  5. pagingstanleyroberts – – This year, for the first time, youth/inexperience are logical reasons why they’re not playing well.

    What! Are you serious? This team actually got older this year with the pick ups of Roy, Ak47, Cunningham, and Buddinger.

    We traded away draft picks and dumped a lot of young baggage. Team is still relatively young and still one of the younger teams in the league, but they have had a young team for 5 years now. I would say injuries and how it has effected the entire team mentally, is the reason the season has gone the way it has. Reminds me of the 2010 Vikings…..Next thing you know, the roof is going to collapse.

  6. Nice post, Benjamin. I like the art-house movie angle. The Wolves’ travails do mirror the common man’s (like mine). Life is hard… long days, sore knees, unreasonable expectations at work, not quite enough time for a last-minute rally, but short glimmers of beauty and fun. Looking forward to next year and a healthy team. Should be great fun and less of an art-house movie. Meanwhile, Luke Ridnour for Courtney Lee strikes me as a good deal (alec burks would be great, but how on earth would we get him?)

  7. I wish we could get rid of barea. He is useless in a non-contending team

  8. pagingstanleyroberts February 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Um, I said that injuries are the main problem. I’m merely pointing out that when Foye/Jefferson/Gomes/McCants or Flynn/Beasley/Johnson were losing, youth was trotted out as an excuse when the real reason was lack of talent/suitability for the NBA. This past month has shown an injury-riddled team losing some winnable games (at Washington, at Charlotte, pretty much every game on their 6-game homestand) because the young players made mental lapses and/or tried to do too much. It’s not all of them in every game, but Rubio’s shooting struggles and too-frequent turnovers, Shved’s ballhogging and inattentive defense, and Williams’ defensive lapses and missed shots have come back to bite them from time to time.

  9. imagine if they actually got Batum

  10. pagingstanleyroberts February 19, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    The things I’m most nervous about this close to the deadline:
    – Them not opening up a roster spot by getting rid of Roy: Unless there’s a hidden element to his contract that means he only comes off their cap by staying on their roster all season, they need to get rid of him. Even letting him retire so they can add another body is better than the status quo.
    – Choosing to trade Ridnour because he has more value than Barea: If it’s inevitable that one goes, they need to position themselves well for next year. Ridnour fits better with existing personnel and plays more games.
    – Trading their lottery pick: They can still foster a win-now attitude and hold on to this pick. Trading it in a draft that the advanced stats guys consider much deeper than last year’s is a bad idea. They just need to find the right type of player who Adelman will trust enough to play.
    – Taking on any deal that influences their decisions on upcoming free agents currently on their roster: Getting, say, Arron Afflalo and then not matching an offer sheet for Pek is a step backward, not forward, especially since they’d likely have to throw in a pick for whoever they get.
    – Forgoing the draft for the rest of Adelman’s tenure: I know he wants to win, but do the Wolves even have enough leverage to win those types of deals? Kahn’s reputation is such that everyone’s trying to screw him over, and making a trade under those conditions leads to things like the Marko Jaric trade.

Leave a Reply

*

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>