The last time the Minnesota Timberwolves made the playoffs prior to this season was in 2004. For reference, Kevin Garnett was flanked by Wally Szczerbiak, Sam Cassell, and Latrell Sprewell, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were teammates, and Facebook was only a couple of months old.
So, yeah, it had been a while.
Entering the 2017-18 season, the goal was simple: end the drought. The Wolves, equipped with talented pups in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, decided they needed more veteran know-how. Head coach Tom Thibideau brought in some, uh, familiar faces.
First, they traded for Jimmy Butler to lead the way and mentor Wiggins. They later signed Taj Gibson to add some toughness and wise counsel for Towns. Throw in the additions of Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford, and (later) Derrick Rose, and suddenly the Wolves had a nice enough mix of young talent and wily vets to make some serious noise.
Things got testy throughout the year — Wiggins was uneven, Towns was lost in the fray, and Butler was lost to injury during a crucial second half stretch. The Wolves had to battle the surging Denver Nuggets on the last night of the regular season for the final playoff spot. Ultimately, the Timberwolves were able to win in overtime — their 47th overall win of the season — and punch their postseason ticket.
Minnesota’s run didn’t last long. The Houston Rockets eliminated them in five games, mostly taking advantage of Minnesota’s poor defense. Still, their primary goal for the year was achieved. Now, they enter the summer ready to build upon their successful campaign.
Here to talk to me about the state of the Timbewolves is Meredith Minkow of Bleacher Report. You can follow her on Twitter at @murrminks.
7. ND: First and foremost, the Timberwolves finally ended their playoff drought. How did it feel?
Ending the playoff drought was huge for this team. For so long the Wolves have pushed the narrative of “this team will be scary in the future, just you wait.” They had been the Timberpups for so long, when they made the trade for Jimmy Butler it was clear to every fan that this team needed to make the playoffs this year.
On the other hand, it was pretty bittersweet. This is a team that was in the third seed for a good portion of time before Jimmy got hurt. To slide all the way to the bottom and to have to fight for that last spot didn’t sit well with a lot of fans.
6. What are your feelings on Tom Thibodeau? Can the relationship between him and Minny’s young duo (Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins) be salvaged?
I have mixed feelings on Thibs. I fell in love with basketball watching that Bulls team with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Butler, Taj Gibson and others, so I was so excited when Thibodeau came in. But the way he’s played Karl-Anthony Towns and brought in more Bulls guys who aren’t necessarily what’s good for the team (hi, Aaron Brooks!) has made me question my attitude towards him. I think he’s a great coach, but not the right fit for this team at all.
And no, I don’t think those relationships, especially with KAT, can be saved at this point.
5. What’s up with the Thibs-KAT relationship? Is it just a matter of touches?
That’s a big part of it. Thibs sees Jimmy Butler as the main guy and you can tell by the way he runs his offense. It’s very iso-centric. There’s off-court stuff too, like Thibs firing one of KAT’s closest friends on the coaching staff without telling him.
Overall, Thibs’ decisions during the season are definitely having an impact this summer. I don’t think he really has a hold of the team right now and there’s no real team unity. That can impact the Wolves and free agency this summer, in addition to the vibe of the team going forward.
4. Derrick Rose may just be the league’s most controversial player at this stage of his career. He showcased during the postseason that he can still be a serviceable spark plug, but his checkered past (at best) makes it difficult for some to root for him. How do you deal with that dynamic?
The whole D-Rose thing is something I’ve struggled with all season. I didn’t agree with the signing, I don’t agree with the stuff I’ve read about his off court behavior, and I really don’t agree with giving him minutes over Tyus Jones.
In terms of on-court impact, yeah, he was a spark plug at some points, but the Timberwolves aren’t gonna win with Rose soaking up a ton of possessions. He had the highest usage rate on the team during the playoffs. He played well, but that’s not a wining recipe. In terms of the off court dynamic, I think that’s a bigger issue — something that needs to be discussed in sports.
The NBA is probably one of the best leagues in terms of having a close-to-zero-tolerance policy. But you still see a good amount of guys in the league who’ve had issues in the past.
3. Fair enough. Switching gears, let’s talk about the draft. The Wolves have the 20th pick in this year’s draft. Who are some players you’d like to see them target?
It’s funny. Since the Wolves don’t have high picks this year, I haven’t really been focused on the draft. All the mock drafts I’ve read have us picking someone different so I don’t know what to think.
2. That’s understandable. The Timberwolves do have a unique blend of young talent and vets, so I can see why there isn’t a consensus among who they should take. The only thing certain from my vantage point is that they need more wing depth. If you were in Thibs’ shoes, would you go for an “NBA-ready” guy like Boise State’s Chandler Hutchingson, or a high upside guy like Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo?
I think Thibs will always look for an “NBA-ready” guy. If I were Thibs, I’d definitely take Hamidou Diallo. He’s a freak athlete that should be able to defend multiple positions at the next level.
1. The Timberwolves are over the cap this summer, but still have exceptions and the minimum to work with to add talent to the bench. Who are some players you’d like to see them go after?
The other day I was brainstorming with Derek James and Manny Hill about some guys we’d like to see in a Wolves uniform. I’ve always been a Will Barton fan. I think Trevor Ariza would be a great fit if he seriously explores the market available. A Wayne Ellington return to Minnesota would be welcomed. I also think it’s really important that we try to keep Nemanja Bjelica. He had his best season this year by far, and it would be really sad to see him go.