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Minnesota Timberwolves

A professional basketball team in the Western Conference of the NBA.

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Howling in Sorrow

  • Sep 3, 2012
The history of the Minnesota Timberwolves can be divvied up into three very distinct eras: Before Kevin Garnett, Kevin Garnett, and after Kevin Garnett. In layman's terms, these eras can also be called sucked, good, sucked again. The Timberwolves are one of the league's more nondescript teams because they haven't had a real way to identify with their fans in a place where everyone worships hockey or the Minnesota Vikings ( Minnesota wasn't even thought of as a go-to basketball destination for a long time, at least not since the departure of the Minneapolis Lakers ( in 1961. Until the 1987-1989 expansions, the place was barely even considered, and you can't blame the NBA for forgetting it. Back when the American Basketball Association was formed, Minnesota was given two teams, the Minnesota Muskies and the Minnesota Pipers, and they both lasted only a year.

After the Timberwolves were formed for the 1990 season, they named the team through one of those Name the Team contests. The two selected finalists for the name were the Polars and the Timberwolves, so all the voters went with the obvious Timberwolves choice by a margin of nearly two to one. The Wolves then began the season on the road in November 1989, losing to the Seattle Supersonics ( Five days later, they made their home debut against the Chicago Bulls ( and lost that too. They were a first-year expansion team, what do you really expect? The Wolves lost a lot, eventually concluding their first season with a record of 22-60. They did, however, manage to set an NBA record for attendance, drawing over a million fans that year in large part because their home stadium was the Metrodome, which is little more than an enormous cavern.

The following season, the Wolves moved into their ever-since home, the Target Center, and managed to improve to 29-53. They also blamed their poor standing on their coach, Bill Musselman, instead of on the fact that they were still an expansion team that hadn't yet gotten its feet underneath it yet. So Musselman of course got lopped, ex-Boston Celtics ( Jimmy Rodgers was installed, and former Detroit Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey was hired with the hopes the team would soon get itself together. Instead, the Wolves regressed and fell to a 15-67 record, worst in the league that year even with first-round selections like Christian Laettner and Isaiah Rider. Basically, the team was hoping McCloskey was recreate the era of the Bad Boy Pistons he had created in Detroit. How wrong they were.

After a near-sale to New Orleans in 1994 and a 21-61 finish in 1995 following the naming of Celtics legend Kevin McHale to general manager, in the 1995 draft the Timberwolves named Kevin Garnett as their first draft pick. They also named Flip Saunders head coach, and traded for Andrew Lang and Spud Webb with the Atlanta Hawks. Garnett was to be the team's go-to guy on the inside, but his career, for everything Garnett became, started off slow. Garnett averaged a mere 10.4 points per game as a rookie, and by some accounts the trade for Stephen Marbury in 1996 made a bigger impact initially. Garnett and Marbury played well together and became two of the league's fastest-rising stars as Kevin Garnett turned into KEVIN GARNETT and Marbury scored 17.7 points and 8.6 assists per game. They slowly began winning during this era, at least until the playoffs, where a first-round meeting with the Minnesota Timberwolves was a guaranteed ticket to the second round.

In 1998, the Timberwolves decided that Kevin Garnett was gonna be their guy. Now nicknamed The Franchise, the Wolves decided to splurge a little, following their good luck over the previous couple of seasons, and they did that by signing Garnett to a six-year contract worth $126 million. And seeing as how the 1998-1999 NBA season was largely wiped out by a strike and reduced to a mere 50 games, the Wolves then became the poster child of irresponsible spending. They also wanted to sign Marbury to a good long-term contract, but Marbury wanted a chance to be the head honcho somewhere else, so he refused a contract extension and basically forced a trade. Joke was on him, though, as he got sent to the New Jersey Nets.

In 2000, guard Malik Sealy was killed in a car accident, and his number was retired. Another event that happened that year was that the NBA voided a contract free agent Joe Smith signed with the team, because the team had violated proper procedure in the signing. The league punished them by stripping them of five first-round draft picks, but eventually rescinded just enough to reduce that to three picks. The team was also fined and Kevin McHale was suspended. In spite of all that, Garnett was his usual awesome self and the Timberwolves made the playoffs again, only to be eliminated in the first round again, this time by the San Antonio Spurs. In 2003, they made a couple of very strong moves: Trading Joe Smith and guard Terrell Brandon for Ervin Johnson, Sam Cassell, and Latrell Sprewell. During the 2004 season, the Timberwolves emerged as the team to beat, people started taking notice, and Garnett was given the MVP award. The Timberwolves went 58-24, were the top seed in the Western Conference, and finally got past the first round for once, beating the Denver Nuggets and Sacremento Kings before failing in the Western Conference Finals to the previous team from Minnesota, the domineering, all-powerful Lakers.

The Wolves missed the playoffs the next year despite hanging on to most of the players from their Western Conference Finals appearance the previous season and decided it might be in their best interests to get a new coach. Eventually they brought Dwayne Casey aboard, but they only kept him for a couple of years due to inconsistency. He was out by January of 2007. He wasn't the team's biggest casualty that year, though.

You might have noticed that I've been name-dropping Kevin Garnett a lot. If you're a fan of the NBA, you already know why. If you're an aspiring basketball fan or just a person reading because you're interested in my criticism, understand that the Minnesota Timberwolves are a very young team and, in their short existence, Garnett is the only player who had a long, defining career as a Timberwolf so far. The man was (is) a superstar; there's no mistake about that. He was a league MVP, which is no easy task in the NBA. It had to be rough on Garnett after the 2004 season, because after a dream year like that, it was reasonable for Garnett to have expectations for greater things. The 2005 season, when the Wolves went 44-38, might have come off like an abberation or hangover at first, but Cassell was traded and Sprewell turned down a contract extension. So at that point, Garnett began thinking the magical 2004 season wasn't a springboard to greater heights, but the very apex of what he would ever achieve with Minnesota. And when Casey was fired, that only confirmed it, and Garnett had been around for twelve years at that point, so he couldn't stick around and wait for greatness again as the team rebuilt. He wanted out. The Boston Celtics were happy to get him out, giving up a total of seven players - including two future first-round draft picks - for him and him alone. In the 2008 season, Garnett was a Celtic, teaming up with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and winning his ring with a very jubilant Bill Russell in attendance.

The story for Minnesota since then has been losing, back to the old way. During one terrible two-year stretch, they compiled a record of 32-132. They have an up-and-coming player named Kevin Love who's looking like a great centerpiece, but the Timberwolves just can't seem to right the ship.

I've mentioned Kevin Garnett a lot in this story, but that's - again - only because he IS the story. No Kevin Garnett, no playoffs for the Wolves, who seem to perpetually be in the first year of their annual five-year rebuilding plan. Only five players from the Minnesota Timberwolves have received All-Star invitations. None of them have been Rookies of the Year, although seven have made the NBA Rookie First Team. (Even Garnett wasn't a Rookie of the Year!) The Wolves are now on their tenth head coach. Only one of their coaches, Flip Saunders, has a winning record with the team, and he's also the only coach who ever got the Timberwolves into the playoffs. He compiled an overall record of 411-326. After him, the majority of these coaches have records that are not only bad, but downright putrid: Kurt Rambis was the 32-132 guy. Randy Wittmen went 38-105. Jimmy Rodgers was 21-90. Kevin McHale and Dwayne Casey are the only coaches who really were even able to so much as approach success, McHale going 39-55 and Casey 53-65.

There's no way to give these guys style points, even. They're not mentioned in a lot of conversations about classic games or memorable series. They're just not very memorable.

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Nicholas Croston ()
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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