Had you told a Minnesota Timberwolves fan before the start of the NBA campaign that their team would be one game over the .500 mark on February 28, they most likely would not know whether they should have hugged you, or call for the truck from the local insane asylum to come and take you away. As far-fetched as that scenario may have been back in late December, it is reality as the T-Wolves pulled off an exciting comeback Tuesday night and defeated the Lops Angeles Clippers 109-97, to put them at 18-17 and giving them a winning record for just the second time this season.
The victory has them also just a half game out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference as they and the Denver Nuggets are right on the heels of the Portland Trail Blazers for the last Playoff slot in the Conference. The club from Minnesota may share the same team name as the franchise that finished dead last in the Association last year; however the attitude adjustment on this year’s edition make’s them look like a totally different squad.
Timberwolves Team Owner Glen Taylor after firing former coach Flip Saunders and trading Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics, in such bad shape that their team was the first franchise mentioned pundits when NBA Commissioner David Stern threatened to explore possibilities of contraction for the Association last year.
The last few seasons had been particularly pathetic, the team dismissed former coach Randy Wittman and pulled Kevin McHale out of the General Manager’s chair to coach the team. After Taylor stated that McHale could come back as coach only the following season if he so desired, the club’s new Team President David Kahn promptly fired the former Celtics legend as soon as the season ended.
Kahn did not impress many veteran NBA observers with his first choice in the 2009 NBA Draft, choosing Barcelona guard Ricky Rubio with the fifth pick in the first round, a player that everybody realized had very little chance of playing in the Association that upcoming season. Although it would have been a good move at the time for the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics, it was not looked at as a wise move for a team that needed assets as quickly as possible.
Taylor and Kahn decided to go on the cheap for the bench boss to replace McHale, choosing former Lakers player Kurt Rambis; a Los Angeles assistant at the time; who had never been a head coach at any level. Whether Rambis can be a head coach in the NBA remains to be seen, as he had very little to work with on the team other than All-Star big man Kevin Love.
The duo had every right as well as some pretty good reasons for firing Rambis at the end of last season, when the club ended up in the basement of the Association. What they did not have the right to do however, was to allow him to twist in the wind for as long as they did which precluded him from getting a job with another team as an assistant if he wanted to work this year.
Slowly, the cloud that had hung over the franchise for the past few seasons stated to dissipate starting last spring. The first piece of good news for the T-Wolves was that after waiting for two long years, Rubio would join the club for the current campaign. Rubio has earned the starting point guard slot on the team, as the native of Spain is averaging 11.3 points, leads the team with 8.4 assists and has 4.3 rebounds per game so far this season.
Minnesota helped themselves in the 2011 NBA Draft when they chose forward Derrick Williams with the second selection in the first round. Williams was one of the keys to their win over the Clippers on Tuesday, as he knocked down 27 points in the win. Playing off the bench, he has averaged 7.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest and has shown enough potential that persistent rumors that the T-Wolves are shopping Michael Beasley are flooding the Internet.
The club added an asset when they signed former Mavericks guard Jose Juan Barea to a Free Agent deal in December. J.J. was the poster boy for tenacity and toughness throughout the Post Season for the Mavericks, and already has shown those same qualities in his time in Minnesota as he is averaging 10.8 points, 2.9 assists and 2.4 rebounds in a season that has seen him on the sidelines for almost half the club’s games this year.
Center Nikola Pekovic has been a very pleasant surprise for the T-Wolves as he has worked his way into the starting lineup as he has scored 12.5 points per game while grabbing 7.2 rebounds. The Montenegro native trails only Love in scoring in just his second campaign in the Association.
The biggest and best move that Taylor and Kahn made was not acquiring a player, but the signing of a solid NBA coach with a record of success in Rick Adelman. The Rockets gave their former bench boss a raw deal at the end of last season; as they fired him for not making the Playoffs. Adelman kept the Rockets together with spit and tape and the club finished with more wins than losses, which would have sent them to the Post Season in the Eastern Conference. The veteran NBA coach apparently saw the talent on the team and knew he could easily improve on their embarrassing record from last season.
The new T-Wolves coach has shown his squad that he believes in them and they in turn now believe in themselves. Last year the team from Minnesota walked into games expecting to be defeated, which is why they became the doormat of the Association. This year they believe they can beat any team going into a contest and so far they have been right more times than wrong.
Whether the Timberwolves can keep up this pace and actually make the Playoffs this year remains to be seen. One thing is certain however, after years of being without a clue this team is finally heading in the right direction.