Being a fan of the Minnesota Twins in the 2000s was a mostly pleasurable experience – they won five division titles, averaged 89 victories per season, appeared in two do-or-die Game 163s, and carved a unique, endearing identity (the piranhas) that made them easy to love. The problem, of course, was their lack of postseason success – a combined 6-21 record in the playoffs, capped off by two consecutive three game sweeps at the hands of the New York Yankees. They never seemed hellbent on going for it, trading prospects or young talent for that veteran pitcher or power bat that may have pushed them over the edge in October. It was their organizational philosophy to build for the future, even when they were on the cusp of winning in the present.
Why open a recap of a 2013 Timberwolves-Nets game with anecdotes about the mid-2000s Twins? Because last offseason, the Wolves and Nets resolved to do the opposite of what the Twins did for all those years. They looked themselves in the mirror, weighed the options, and decided, “You know what? F*** it. Let’s go for it.” Jaded by my disappointment in the Twins, I have a soft spot for franchises that decide to push their chips to the center of the table, because the goal is to win a title, not merely subsist year-to-year on future assets that may not pan out. Continue Reading…
The NBA’s YouTube page is releasing the top 10 plays of a bunch of All-Stars’ careers and Kevin Garnett was one of the first guys they did. I know it’s not totally cool to still love KG because he barks at people and he was mad at Glen Taylor and stuff, but he’s still probably my favorite NBA player of all time. I love watching him even to this day and have a great time seeing the highlights from his career with the Wolves.
Nine of these plays by KG involve the Wolves, one of the plays was in the title clinching game in 2008, and eight of them are in a Wolves uniform. Here are my quick thoughts of remembrance for each play: Continue Reading…
Second night of a back-to-back is hard to win, especially when you’re facing a veteran team like the Boston Celtics on the road. The tricky part is this isn’t the normal Boston Celtics team we’re used to seeing. This is an offensive-oriented team that is harder to keep up with than they are to score against. When you’re a team that misses out on as many easy points as the Wolves did Wednesday night, it’s hard to keep up.
After the deluge of 3-pointers that rained down on the 76ers Tuesday night, the Wolves went much colder from 3-point range. 31.6% is a bad shooting night, but it’s above what the Wolves have done so far this year. However, losing because you made only 14-of-30 free throw attempts in a road game is just frustrating.
This isn’t a good free throw shooting team either. Heading into tonight’s game, the Wolves were 24th in the NBA in free throw percentage. The volume of free throw attempts the Wolves usually get can help them make up for it typically (Wolves have the third best FT/FGA rate in the league). But when you dip below 50% on 30 attempts in a game, there really aren’t a lot of questions as to why you lost the game. Maybe I should write 2,400 words on why the Wolves are a terrible free throw shooting team and see if they can make my effort look completely futile once again?
The funny thing about free throw shooting is the only way to improve on it is to simply hone your mechanics and make them. It’s not like other shots in the NBA where you can devise a plan to get better looks at the rim. You’re getting the same looks at the rim every time. Either they’re concentrating too much or not enough or this porridge is too cold. Whatever the reason is they’re not making them, at a certain point excuses of tired legs and poor conditioning due to injuries have to end and the Wolves just have to make them.
The one thing I noticed about this game is the Wolves never seemed to have much flow on offense while having a defensive presence. What I mean by that is the Wolves were never really clicking well enough on both ends at the same time to go on extended runs in this game. Even in frustrating losses or hard-fought victories this season, the Wolves were able to go on runs throughout different points of the ball game to establish some kind of cushion or some kind of momentum. Whether it was the poor 3-point shooting or the poor free throw shooting, the Wolves were never in a groove on both ends.
The Celtics went on four different big runs throughout the game. They had an 11-1 run in the first quarter, a 10-0 run in the second quarter, a 9-0 run in the third quarter and another 11-1 run in the fourth quarter. The Wolves had a 10-0 run in the first quarter and that was about it. Poor free throw shooting, bad 3-point shooting, and no extended runs after the first quarter. This is how teams lose the second night of a road back-to-back.
I’m not quite sure what else could have been done, either. This was just one of those games.
One thing I would have liked to see more of is the Wolves pounding the ball inside. More than half of their points came in the paint, and they had a real size advantage with Pek and Love on the floor. While Love struggled against KG at times, there was a lot of cross-screening, pick-and-roll switches, and quick hitter stuff the Wolves could have done to get Love a mismatch inside. And once that happens, he can either score quickly or find a cutter coming through the lane. There could have been much more movement.
The Wolves played a game with 98 possessions and typically they like to play around 94 possessions. The tempo of the game was never theirs, and that’s where you want to see them pound the ball inside more. Find Pek when he has position. Trust him to make smart passes out of double teams. Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger can’t handle Pek inside. Neither can Chris Wilcox. When JJ Barea and Alexey Shved are in the game, I’m all for pushing the tempo. But when you don’t have the personnel to push (and without Ricky on the floor yet, the Wolves really don’t), then you have to grind out possessions and punish teams with your size.
Sure, you’re going to get some shots blocked. We saw that against the Milwaukee Bucks. However, eventually you’ll get the other team’s interior to break down. Granted, you might end up going to the free throw line more and that wasn’t a good thing in this game. I’d just like to see the Wolves take advantage of their advantages more often.
Minnesota now has tomorrow off before the battered Cavaliers come to town. Hopefully they can take advantage of the matchup and get back to .500.
When we last left our early-millenial Wolves, their hearts had been broken in Los Angeles. It was now May of 2004, just over a year later and a whole lot has changed. Rasho, Kendall Gill, Rod Strickland and Anthony Peeler had all blessedly moved on, replaced by Sam Cassell, Professor Sprewell, Trenton Hassell and Ervin Johnson. Wally Szczerbiak and Troy Hudson had both missed significant portions of the season with injury. The team was still potent offensively, but with the addition of those veteran scorers their attack was craftier, more deliberate, and better balanced.
But the team’s real improvement was defensive, where they improved from 88 points allowed per 100 possessions in ’02/’03 to 84.2 the next year. Hassell’s manic on-ball D, Johnson’s stoic rim protection and even Spree’s boundless energy all had a galvanizing effect on the team’s defensive culture and particularly on their star. Because that year, KG was on a different plane of existence. He led the league in PER, win share and defensive rebound rate (he was third in overall rebound rate). Ron Artest was the official Defensive POY that season (please), but defensively KG was out of his effing mind. He was, rightfully, the league’s MVP. As a result of all of this, the Wolves had the league’s second best record (behind the Pacers of all teams–bet you’d forgotten that) with 58 wins and earned home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.
Since there will be no basketball for the foreseeable future and I’d kind of forgotten how terrible and nervy I used to feel when the Wolves were in the playoffs, I thought it might be “fun” to reach back into Youtube’s dark ether and extract some of our past lives. Lets talk 2003. I’m living in New York, with little money to speak of and no cable, watching the Wolves in dark bars, drinking what many might consider to be “too much,” feeling sad a lot.
The Wolves are the fourth seed in the playoffs but as foul luck and the ridiculously stacked Western Conference would have it, the Lakers are the five. After getting shelled at home in game 1, the Wolves come back to blow out the Lakers in game 2. Then, improbably, after blowing a five point lead with seconds to play and conceding an absurd four-point play to Kobe (David Stern actually apologized for that one) the Wolves manage to salvage game 3 in overtime (in LA no less!). And so game 4 was shaping up to be the decisive game of the series; either the Wolves would go up 3-1 with two more games to play in Minneapolis or the series would be tied 2-2. So I watched game four. And it was almost as nauseating as I remember it.
Two or three amazing things here. First: watching these two young dudes goof off and enjoy each other its really hard to imagine how it all came apart so quickly. Second: can you believe how hard Stephon defends KG’s retardo contract against all the fakes and pretenders? Third: did you see the clip of KG checking Jordan? Did you see that!?
Anyone who has played pickup basketball has come across the guy who compulsively and needlessly bullies other players. These guys always force you into that ugly headspace, wherein you must calculate what is more debasing: to endure their abuse or to fight back. On Tuesday night, Charlie Villaneuva made a bad compromise by tattling via twitter, when the more appropriate response might have been to punch Garnett in the mouth and let the public decide whether or not it was justified.
I heard that. As a guy who knows from bullies (believe me), I have no doubt that these KG explosions are evidence of some gnarly, ugly bullying. I agree with Kang that the obsessive discourses of power, domination and violence are probably the worst things about sports and are (almost) enough to ruin one’s fanhood. And, sad to say, Garnett’s mean, ridiculous antics do seem to reveal that his single-minded ecstasy has been infected by these discourses.
What’s interesting, though, (and this is something that Bethlehem Shoals alludes to in the comments of the FD piece) is that when he was here in MN, bathed in frustration and futility, KG’s extreme-o moments seemed really, soulfully moving (is that just the fan in me talking?). In those days, Garnett’s intensity radiated with desperation, and desire. And desire is most compelling and sympathetic when it’s unfulfilled, when glory is just an abstract, burning fact of the imagination. Just ask Biggie or the Stones.
But things can quickly get boring and gross when folks attain the power they’ve been dreaming of, when strength and authority become the guiding principles. That’s when we get crass and arrogant and cruel. That’s when we start humiliating the weak. There’s more:
With Garnett, there’s always a sense of insecure theater, of a man who hasn’t quite convinced himself of the virtues and authenticity of his passions. We all know people like this in our daily lives—the sneering indie snob, the violently overprotective mother, the religious blowhard. When Garnett started crying in front of John Thompson in that famed TNT interview, I remember feeling bad for him, not because he was sick of losing, but rather, because he, in true Jimmy Swaggart style, felt the need to imbue such wild theatrics into his caring.
Yes I know these impossible people. And I have to agree that there is something strangely theatrical about KG’s passion–the bellows, the tears. But I don’t think that necessarily casts doubt upon its authenticity; at its best this theatricality reflected a desire to embrace his audience, to pull the spectator into his ecstatic forcefield.
Indeed, I’ve written before that in many ways KG strikes me as the most authentic of athletes. What I mean is that when Kevin Garnett is completely engrossed in his game (that is, when he’s not distracted by his own competitive mania), his energies, his abilities and his purpose are perfectly aligned. Watching–and in some small way participating in–this passionate involvement has been one of the great joys of my sports-viewing life. That these energies do increasingly drive him to distraction is a testament not to some calculating self-awareness, but to an utter lack thereof. Garnett shows us something maybe even more frightening than Kang’s insecure overcompensation: an overflowing of blind competitive hunger so frenzied, so manic as to become performance.
Point Guard: Stephon Marbury (64.3%). This is not really surprising considering a) how much more fun to watch Stephon was than Terrell Brandon and b) my guy isn’t even on the ballot.
Shooting Guard: Isaiah “J.R.” Rider (82.2%). All the people that voted for both Stephon and J.R. should be punished by being forced to actually coach that terrifying team for a year. Call it the McHale treatment. Impossible to imagine without deep, healing meditation.
Small Forward: Tony Campbell (55.8%). This is the closest of all the races, and it isn’t even that close–Wally Szczerbiak trails Campbell by more than 20 percentage points. That reminds me, didn’t Tom Gugliotta play more three than four? All things being equal, I might consider taking Googs over Campbell, Wally and even my original choice, Sam Mitchell (although it hurts me a little and doing so would immediately make this team significantly less good defensively. One to think on.)
Power Forward: The Pharoah (98.8%). At least one of you hilarious people voted for Christian Laettner.
Center: Al Jefferson (95.2%). On this squad, KG would have to guard all five positions simultaneously.
Now, I would agree that the above roster (the one featuring Steph, J.R., no defense and tons of terrible shot selection) would get handled by those all-time Jazz. But I just might give my bunch (KG, Billups, Mitchell, Big Al, West) a fighting chance. Ah, who am I kidding.
So the fellows over at ESPN are asking us all to choose the Timberwolves’ all-time starting five. Sounds like fun right? the kind of idle thought experiment that’s so good at whiling away those long workday afternoon, right? Wrong. Here’s my take:
On the face of things, it would seem that the only clear choices are: the very young, very confident, very skilled Stephon Marbury; Sam Cassell, who hit some seriously huge jumpers and then did the testicle dance; Terrell Brandon, who was actually really productive in his Minnesota years. Of course, Brandon’s career was prematurely ended by injuries (and anyway, he was never the dynamic backcourt player the Wolves needed during those years) and Sammy’s two ill-starred seasons are still killing the Pups (see: the Marko Jaric trade). As for Marbury: he got us really excited and then he broke our hearts; he gave some insane interviews, he ate vaseline on the internet, he went to China. It was all over so quickly.
So I could choose those guys, or I could choose the guy with the Finals MVP trophy and the World Championship gold medal, the guy who resurrects struggling teams upon arrival, the guy who is clearly (if you ask me) the best PG the Wolves have ever had on their roster. Do I care that Lord Chauncey Billups was only a backup for the Wolves and that his best years came after he went on his merry way? I do not.
And anyway, anytime we anthologize the Minnesota Timberwolves we should make some mention of one or more of their many terrible, terrible decisions. Letting Chauncey go was one of the worst.
Answer: Chauncey Billups
It’s ironic and appropriate that the little ESPN voting gizmo lists Randy Foye as a shooting guard. Foye actually manned the point for most of his time as a Wolf but you would never have known it from watching him play; the way he overdribbled and jacked contested threes, he certainly looked for all the world like a shooting guard. ‘Course he couldn’t defend the two or any other position for that matter.
As for Latrell Sprewell, I have always dearly loved the Professor for his utterly fearless, utterly brazen scoring as a Knick and Warrior, and for his role in the best season in Wolves history. But one year of fading glory and another of dead-legged jumpers and pure locker room poison just aren’t cutting it.
Rashad McCants? Ricky Davis? Can I vote for Gerald Glass?
Answer: I dunno, Doug West I guess? See how hard this is?
The offensive stats tell me I should choose Wally Szczerbiak or Tony Campbell. Campbell scored 20.6 points per game as a Wolf and Wally hit more than 45% of his three pointers one year, but I’m not going to go with either of these guys. I’m going to go with Sam Mitchell because he gave the best years of his career to some godforsaken teams, because he defended and rebounded with passion on those unwatchably bad squads, because he played professional basketball in the Metrodome, because he mentored KG and countless others, because he was a completely righteous dude.
Answer: Sam Mitchell
Clearly, there is only one player who can fill this spot and that player is, of course, Joe Smith. I’m sorry, that wasn’t funny.
Answer: the best defender and rebounder of the last decade, who is still the best reason, geography aside, to love the Wolves, who (along with Flip Saunders) was the only reason the Wolves ever won more than 40 games, whose throbbing heart still pounds inexorably under the Target Center parquet, I don’t care what his uniform says.
By the way, wasn’t Trent Tucker the best?
I have three observations about this:
1) I have a soft spot for Rasho Neterovic, don’t get me wrong. But the fact that Rasho and Michael Olowakandi are candidates for anyone’s list of the best of anything pro basketball related is hilarious.
2) Did the Wolves just trade the best center in their history, at age 25, for two first-round draft picks?
3) This is getting depressing.
Answer: Al Jefferson
This starting five–Chauncey, West, Mitchell, KG and Big Al–is pretty good. Throw in a solid crew of all time Wolves bench players–maybe like Kevin Love, Pooh Richardson and Trenton Hassell for example–and you just might have a contender (although I wouldn’t put any money on them beating last year’s Lakers). You heard me: the best team 20 years of Timberwolves history can produce, might conceivably have had a chance to win last season’s Western Conference. Sigh.
So it seems like we’ve hit a bit of a dead calm in this strange off-season. Seems like weeks since we’ve had any puzzling transactions, baffling public statements or furious rumors. In the spirit of turning our minds away from the flux and uncertainty at the heart our current T-Wolves, I thought I’d bring us all back to what is most likely the greatest moment in Wolves history (holler if you disagree):
Uh, wow, Kevin Garnett was unbelievably good. Anyone else remember that?
Also: with all apologies to Kevin McHale’s second-finest hour (the first, of course, being drafting Da Kid himself), that Wolves crew, KG excluded, was really not very good at all. Can you believe that a team that started Ervin Johnson, Trenton Hassell, and an already fading Spree even made it to the playoffs, much less game six of the conference finals? I know that Hassell iced Peja that series and that Spree hit some big shots, but still, that team had no business being as good as they were. Seriously, how freaking amazing was KG? He was at least this amazing: