Timberwolves Shouldn't Be This Bad
by Trevor Whenham - 11/19/2008
The Timberwolves were supposed to be one of the good stories this year. They were coming off a 22-win season last year in which they had to learn how to live without Kevin Garnett and watch him win a title elsewhere, but they had lots of young talent and there was a bit of hope. Not tons, mind you - this clearly was not going to be a playoff team. It looked, though, like it could take a significant step forward - maybe 32 wins instead of 22. They could theoretically still do that, but they aren't making it easy for themselves - they are just 1-8 out of the blocks. They started out 1-9 last year, so this certainly isn't looking like forward progress. Here's a look at where things are going wrong and the chances that they will turn around soon:
Close calls - If you are looking for a slight reason for hope then this is it. This team is really bad, but they are close to being only sort of bad. They have lost once in overtime and once in double overtime. Three of their other losses have been by five points or less. They have only once lost by more than 10 points. They still count as losses, obviously, but it shows that this team isn't totally beyond hope - a few tweaks and a lucky break or two and they could easily win three or four out of nine instead of one. Still not good, but better. The biggest challenge coach Randy Wittman faces among many is keeping this team believing in themselves and being positive as they keep dropping close ones. He also needs to teach the team how to close games out. The T-Wolves have had fourth quarter leads in six of their eight loses, but have found ways to lose them all.
Schedule - The schedule maker is not doing this team any favors. Their next four games are all against teams that were in the playoffs last year and should be there again this year - Philly, Boston, Detroit and Phoenix. Something will have to change for them to avoid 1-12. If 1-8 is frustrating then 1-12 could be lethal. After that they get what should be a break when they travel to Oklahoma City. The problem is that they have already lost once in Oklahoma City this year. That really exposes one of the big problems the team has - they haven't exactly lost to a group of powerhouses. Besides the Thunder, they have dropped games to other uninspiring teams like Sacramento and Golden State, and struggling contenders like Dallas and San Antonio. A team that wants to be legitimate has to capitalize on the opportunities they are given. Minnesota certainly hasn't done that.
Al Jefferson - In Jefferson, the T-Wolves have something to build around. He is only 23 years old, but as the key piece of the Garnett deal is a bona fide star. His game has moved to a new level this year, and he's sitting at 11th in the league in scoring. He dominates virtually every game he plays, and he is the best player on the team. There are some signs of potential discontent on Jefferson's part - he has been dismissive to reporters, and he skipped three days of practice to return to Mississippi to deal with a family matter. He's clearly a serious competitor, though, and he is doing all the right things on the floor. He is signed for five more years at serious money, so he isn't going anywhere. He is the new face of the franchise, and that's something Minnesota fans should be happy about.
Point guards - If you want to point the finger in one place, the point guard would be it. The original starter was Randy Foye. All he managed before he was benched was to further reinforce just how bad the trade of him for Brandon Roy was. He's shooting just 36.3 percent from the field, and he balances off a decent assist average with, at times, a stunning number of unacceptable turnovers. He lost his starting spot for a while to Sebastian Telfair, but that didn't work either - Telfair shows flashes of brilliance, but he is shooting just 32.4 percent. With such a young - 10 players 26 or under - and scattered team, good point guard play could make all the difference for this team. The lack of sound guidance and leadership makes the struggles no real surprise.
Coach - Randy Wittman took over the team halfway through the season two years ago, so he knows that he is in a tough spot. He hasn't exceeded expectations, though - he was 12-30 in his first half season, and won just 22 games last year. He needs to show progress, and so far he just hasn't. He has some loyalty built up - he has been an assistant for this team three different times, so he is well liked in the organization. His problem, though, is that Kevin McHale is his boss. He's not going anywhere, so if ownership gets impatient and looks to make changes then Wittan's head is the one that is going to roll. Not to be unkind, but history doesn't really show us that Wittman has what it takes to turn this situation around. Prior to his struggles in Minnesota, he was just a head coach once before. He had two miserable years at the helm in Cleveland, and his second year there was worse than the first.