I think I’ve written before that the 1996 Draft was the apex of my excitement and optimism about my favorite basketball team, the Minnesota Timberwolves. There were a few different reasons for this:
First, it was the summer before eighth grade, so something like excitement about my favorite sports teams was more easily generated. Second, Kevin Garnett, straight out of high school one year earlier, had begun to look like a future superstar toward the end of the previous season. The franchise had its first true sign of positive momentum. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders did what fans had desperately hoped they would do, by trading up in the draft to get Stephon Marbury, the freshman from Georgia Tech.
Marbury, an explosive point guard from New York City, was going to be the Stockton to KG’s Malone; the Payton to Garnett’s Kemp. Everything about it made sense. To make it even more storybook-perfect, the two had already established a friendship. It was a matter of “when,” as opposed to “if,” they would start winning championships together as the best 1-2 punch in basketball.
Of course, those championships never came. Not even close. Things started out great when they made the playoffs immediately. Steph (he wasn’t “Starbury” yet) and Da Kid played like stars together. But everything unraveled after KG signed his massive, lockout-inducing contract extension. Jealousy set in, Marbury was traded away, and — despite Garnett ascending to “all-time great” ranks in Minnesota — the Wolves never even reached the Finals.
The question is, was it wrong to feel excited on that June night in ’96?
And the answer, of course, is no.
I could’ve worried about a potential ego clash just like I could’ve worried that Garnett would tear his ACL or Marbury would blow out an Achilles. Shit, Len Bias DIED the night after he was drafted second overall by the Celtics. Terrible things can happen, and there is no point in worrying about them unless you are actually working off of facts, or current events.
This is perhaps a strange way of introducing the subject of Tom Thibodeau, the Timberwolves newest coach as of about two hours ago. But there are two general ways to react to the Thibs-hiring news, and I hope that most people are doing it the same way as I am now, and the way that I reacted to the Marbury news in ’96.
That is, to celebrate what we have here now.
The Timberwolves awesome young core has been discussed not only here and every other Wolves-centric site, but all around the national NBA media and blogosphere. This was happening over All-Star Weekend ’15 when Wiggins, LaVine, Dieng, and Muhammad were all “Rising Stars.” It increased two or threefold this past season after they won the draft lottery and wisely chose instant-phenom, Karl-Anthony Towns.
KAT turned in one of the best rookie seasons in memory.
The Wolves young core improved their record by 13 wins, including some incredible ones down the stretch of the season over the best teams in the league.
On pure talent, this young group of Timberwolves rivals what they had in Marbury and Garnett.
But today’s news that these wonderful young players are going to be taught, coached, and led by one of the most brilliant basketball minds in the world?
This pushes it over the top for me.
Thibs is one of the best basketball coaches in the world.
In my view, today marks the most promising point in the history of the Timberwolves franchise. Under Tom Thibodeau, Towns should become an MVP candidate within the next few years. Under Thibs, Wiggins should become the “defensive stopper” that we’ve seen flashes of and his athleticism clearly allows. LaVine, for myriad reasons, is more of a question mark, but even a medium-level result might be a wayyyy more athletic version of some of those gunner guards that Thibs used so well at times in Chicago.
And Ricky Rubio?
Ricky Rubio will reach the playoffs. He deserves that.
The other way to digest this news that Thibs is leading the Wolves is to worry about what could go wrong.
You could worry that Thibodeau’s reputation for overworking his players will grow in Minnesota, and he will recklessly mismanage minutes. Maybe he learned nothing from his time coaching in Chicago.
Maybe Wiggins or Towns will get injured in a freak accident like Derrick Rose did, and we can all wonder if it was Thibs’s fault.
Maybe Thibs will yell too much and Andrew Wiggins won’t like that.
Or maybe Thibs will have short-sighted personnel moves — he is President of Basketball Operations too, after all — that will limit the team’s options down the road when they are trying to fill out a contending roster. Maybe he’ll deal out future first rounders as recklessly as, well, as recklessly as Kevin McHale, David Kahn, and Flip Saunders did before him.
Maybe all sorts of terrible things will happen.
Maybe this will prove to be an even bigger waste of potential than the Marbury & Garnett tandem was.
But this is not really an “optimism” versus “pessimism” matter. Not in most respects, anyway. Everybody agrees that Towns is a great young talent. Everybody agrees that Thibs is a great basketball coach. Most people agree that Wiggins and LaVine have high potential and stand to benefit from expert coaching. It’s a fact that the Wolves will have another high draft pick this year — unless they swap it for what should be a good player — and they will have over $20 Million in cap space this summer. They still have Ricky Rubio.
If you just pile those huge pieces of information on top of each other, there’s so much to feel excited about right now.
The heavy lifting is over.
Thibs is the final major piece of the puzzle.
When you have no idea what the future holds, and even less control over it, why not enjoy the moment?