On May 31, 2004, the Minnesota Timberwolves found themselves walking off of the court at the Staples Center as they were eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The loss was bittersweet for the Timberwolves as it marked their best season in franchise history which included winning their first playoff series. But little did the T-Wolves know what was coming down the pike for them.
Since then the Timberwolves have failed to make the postseason and they’ve only been able to secure one winning campaign. Over this stretch the Timberwolves have employed eight different head coaches, while trading a future Hall of Famer in power forward Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics in 2007, and trading another perennial All-Star in power forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014. In 2009, the Timberwolves entered the NBA Draft with four, first-round picks, but they managed to pass up on point guard Steph Curry twice as their mistake would be beneficial for the Golden State Warriors. Once the Timberwolves exited the playoffs in 2004, they’ve gone on to have nine seasons in which they’ve lost at least 50 games and unfortunately for them, another one could be in the cards.
Last spring saw Tom Thibodeau named as the Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations. Thibodeau came to Minnesota after he compiled a record of 255-139 in five years as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls. Thibodeau is known as a disciplinarian and a stickler for defensive basketball which meant that it would be an interesting relationship between he and the young T-Wolves.
Thibodeau took over a Timberwolves team that is loaded with young talent which includes the last two NBA Rookie of the Year Award winners in small forward Andrew Wiggins and center Karl-Anthony Towns. But with more than two months of the NBA season in the books, it’s the same old Timberwolves.
Through 37 games the Timberwolves are 11-26 and they are well on their way to another 50-loss season. Minnesota has never won more than two games in a row this season with the lowest of the low points coming this past Tuesday when they lost 93-91 to the Philadelphia 76ers. Towns is averaging 21.5 points, and 11.6 rebounds this season which includes a pair of 40-plus point outings, but as a team Minnesota is allowing 105.2 points per game which is 17th in the NBA as Thibodeau is pulling out the few hairs that he has remaining. The Timberwolves lack the attitude at the defensive end of the court that is needed for Thibodeau’s system to be successful, while some of his issues that ended his run with the Bulls are front and center once more.
During Thibodeau’s time with the Bulls, he was as stubborn as they come on his basketball philosophy which included running his star players such as point guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah into the ground. The Bulls made the playoffs in each of Thibodeau’s five seasons in Chicago, but they were a fatigued team when they got there as the long minutes that his starters logged during the regular season caught up to them.
Now in Minnesota, Thibodeau has a team that not only features Towns and Wiggins, but other explosive young players such as guards Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn, and Zach LaVine. The Timberwolves are better suited for something out of the Don Nelson school of coaching where you simply roll the basketballs out and get out of their way as opposed to the grind it out fashion that we are seeing. And what we’re currently seeing is what happens when oil and water are mixed.
Thibodeau isn’t going anywhere anytime soon as he is the Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations which means that anyone not named Towns, Wiggins, or Dunn who was the team’s first-round pick last summer are expendable. But this is a team that was expected to be showing some improvement this season under Thibodeau.
The biggest thing that is still holding the Timberwolves back aside from being one of the youngest teams in the NBA is that they don’t know how to win. There have been several instances where Minnesota either held a lead at halftime, or heading into the fourth quarter, and they were not able to seal the deal. The T-Wolves have also lacked that killer instinct to take care of their business against other sub-.500 teams which has resulted in them currently being 14th in the Western Conference.
The good thing for Minnesota is that they are only four games behind the Kings for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference as the season isn’t completely a wash as of yet. But if the young Timberwolves cannot get on the same page with Thibodeau, while he also needs to adjust his coaching style, the losing on the basketball court will continue in the Twin Cities.