The Timberwolves: Are they really the worst?

In the spirit of bad luck at the NBA Draft Lottery, comedian Joe Mande took to examining the agony that is being a Minnesota Timberwolves fan. In his Grantland piece, Mande does some soul-searching that seems to suggest if not outright proclaim that the Wolves are the worst possible team that a fan can cheer for. In his Stage 4 of lottery-related grief (Depression) Mande writes:

The Timberwolves are not bad. They’re so much worse than bad. If the Wolves were simply “bad,” that would imply that they could possibly get better, that the basketball gods hadn’t cursed them, that there was hope. Being a Minnesota Timberwolves fan is an affliction. It’s a deep, personal shame that eats away at your soul like a cancer. That might seem hyperbolic, but it’s true. When people find out you are a Timberwolves fan, they treat you like a cancer patient. Every time I meet someone who’s into basketball, we’ll start talking hoops, and eventually they ask, “Who’s your team?”

“The Wolves.”

“The Wolves?”

“Yeah. The Timberwolves.”

“Oh, right … sorry.”

“No, it’s OK. You didn’t know.”

It’s pointless. The Wolves are doomed. Just in the last four years, they’ve decided to take Jonny Flynn, Lazar Hayward, and Wayne Ellington over the likes of Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins, Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Jennings, Klay Thompson, Iman Shumpert, and Larry Sanders. It’s almost too much to bear.

It got me thinking:

Is this true?  At least in present-tense terms, are the Woofies really the worst team?  What would be the criteria to make such a claim?

This is all off the cuff.  I’d look at things such as…

* Last year’s win total

* Legitimate reasons to expect improvement

* Entertainment value

* Team History

The Wolves won 31 games this season. That’s fewer than 21 teams, but still more than 8.

They won those 31 games despite missing Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Kevin Love, Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic for extended periods of time.  Oh, Brandon Roy, too I guess, if we’re being exhaustive.  In Love’s case, he’s the most productive player on the team and he wasn’t healthy for a single game.  There’s reason to believe the Wolves will be substantially improved next year if the only change is better health.

Ricky Rubio is widely considered to be one of, if not THE, most entertaining players in the league.  Fans who care nothing about whether the Wolves win or lose will still tune in on League Pass to see Ricky. The Wolves are not lacking in the entertainment department.

Most of Minnesota’s proud basketball history is claimed by the Lakers — long since moved to Tinseltown — and the Gophers of the 1970’s and before.  The Wolves  have those eight seasons dominated by Kevin Garnett when they were competitive but far from great.  History is pretty terrible, given that they’ve been around since 1989 and been past the first round of the playoffs once.  But by my own “present tense” rules, this factor shouldn’t matter quite as much as the three before it.

Quickly skimming the league’s list of teams, I’d rather have the current State of the Timberwolves than the following:

Orlando Magic – worst record in the league, zero exciting players and, well, Glen Davis.
Charlotte Bobcats – just 28 wins over past two seasons, and a single playoff appearance (they were swept in the first round) in 9 franchise seasons. Things are so bad in Charlotte that they’re changing back to the Hornets to restore THAT tradition.
Cleveland Cavaliers – this one is close, due to Kyrie and the rights to this year’s top pick that will be Nerlens Noel, if they don’t trade it.
Phoenix Suns – this one is not close.
New Orleans Hornets – this might change if you convinced me that Eric Gordon could ever be healthy and in good spirits again.
Sacramento Kings – they just waived their right to revenue sharing to keep their team. For their sake I hope the start drafting better players.
Detroit Pistons – whatever exactly a “Kahntract” is, Joe Dumars makes it look like digging through the bargain bin.
Toronto Raptors – some nice players, a few ridiculous athletes and Jonas seems legit, but nothing on the level of Ricky, Love, Pek and Coach Adelman to drum up too much enthusiasm.
Philadelphia 76ers – getting worse instead of better. The Bynum trade didn’t pan out.
Milwaukee Bucks – if the Wolves were in the East they’d easily take Milwaukee’s playoff spot off its hands. The Bucks have free agency issues coming up that will probably lessen their talent level from its 38-win status.
Boston Celtics – reasonable minds could disagree, here. Maybe I’m being unreasonable. I’m optimistic that the next few seasons will be the first since THE TRADE that Minnesota fares better than Boston. I wouldn’t want to rebuild around rehabbing Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green.

Beyond this list I’d have some doubts.  In plenty of cases — such as the four teams still playing basketball on May 22 — I’d obviously not prefer the Wolves’ state of affairs as we know them.  But there are more teams I did not list (Washington, Portland, Dallas, Utah, Atlanta, Houston, LA Lakers…) where I think an argument can be advanced with a straight face that the Wolves are in the better position for the next few years, assuming they stay reasonably healthy and tweak the roster enough to insure against having no shooting ability.

Piling on, jacking up the hyperbole, ignoring counter evidence and nuance can be an easy and fun way to write.  You’ll see it here sometimes.  But now isn’t really the time to be down in the dumps as a Wolves fan.  The team’s getting better instead of worse, it has a great coach, it underwent a refreshing if not exciting management change, and — assuming they don’t draft Shabazz Muhammad — I don’t think the still-loyal fan base is going to run away any time soon.  Keep the faith.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Timberwolves: Are they really the worst?

  1. j.

    sounds like you’re in Stage 3: Bargaining.

  2. Dave A.

    What is this “Minnesota” thing with pro sports? Minnesota Timberwolves, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Vikings, etc. Minneapolis is pro basketball and St. Paul is pro hockey. “Wolves” and “Wild” are associated with the tundra. Let’s get real. Minneapolis is urban and the basketball games are played there. Minneapolis Lakers had it right. The name is the worst, but not the team or the Twin Cities metro area.