The Minnesota Timberwolves have been bogged down in mediocrity for over a decade now, failing to reach the playoffs for 13 consecutive years, the longest active streak in the league. Let’s first look at the biggest factors that prompted the playoff drought to snowball.
Some Timberwolves History
Former franchise superstar Kevin Garnett led Minnesota to its last playoff appearance back in 2004. But after three more years of failed playoff pushes, Garnett grew tired, ultimately bolting town to form a ‘Big Three’ of himself, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen in Boston (a move that paid off almost immediately, with the Celtics winning a title in the 2007-08 season).
New-Look Minnesota Timberwolves Are Ready to Contend
One year later, Minnesota’s next glimmer of playoff hope came with the arrival of UCLA big man Kevin Love. Once Love became a regular starter in his third season, he quickly became a statistical phenom, but ultimately the supporting cast around him was never quite strong enough to qualify the Timberwolves for the postseason.
Like Garnett, the mounting losses weighed on Love, prompting his demand for a trade. In the 2014 off-season, Love got his wish when he was sent to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins. Love also left Minnesota to join a ‘Big Three’ of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. As we all know, that Cleveland team would make a historic NBA Finals comeback and win a Larry O’Brien trophy of its own.
With two star big men having left the team in the past decade, Timberwolves management was left with their hands tied, uncertain of how exactly they’d get back to being a contender.
Team on the Rise
Since Love’s departure, the Timberwolves were downright abysmal. In Wiggin’s first season, Minnesota finished a paltry 16-66. That may have been exactly what the team needed, though, because that miserable season along with a few lucky ping-pong ball bounces landed Minnesota 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns.
As Towns and Wiggins developed over two seasons together, the Timberwolves began showing signs of improvement, although not nearly enough to end the playoff drought just yet. Even so, the Wiggins-Towns core along with the arrival of new head coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau helped create some much-needed optimism around the team.
This past off-season, we witnessed just how great an effect the Timberwolves’ potential and Thibodeau’s presence could have in luring talent. The team complimented their young stars by acquiring All-NBA talent Jimmy Butler in a draft day trade, giving up pennies on the dollar. Thibodeau followed suit by signing a number of free agents, including sixth-man scoring threat Jamal Crawford, point guard Jeff Teague, and power forward Taj Gibson. All three of those signings can immediately fill in valuable rotation minutes. With a decent offensive threat in Gorgui Dieng back as well, the team’s nine-man rotation appears set on paper, although training camp will likely change that.
Ready to Contend?
Many feel that with a revamped starting five (with at least two young players bound to improve) and newfound depth off the bench, Minnesota is finally poised to end its lengthy playoff drought. Even in the loaded Western Conference, it’s tough to argue against that line of thought.
ESPN’s Kevin Pelton released his projected win totals for all thirty NBA teams. Pelton’s prediction pegged the Timberwolves at 50.1 wins, which would slot them in as the Western Conference four-seed.
While the Timberwolves are bound to take some time to gel, especially with so many newcomers needing to learn new offensive and defensive sets, Pelton’s projection isn’t very surprising.
Given the shift of power in the conference which saw longtime Clippers floor general Chris Paul traded to the Rockets and Gordon Hayward leave the Jazz for the Celtics, not to mention the Trail Blazers projected regression, at least two, maybe three playoff spots are there for the taking.
With Minnesota boasting a ‘Big Three’ of its own in Butler, Towns, and Wiggins, the chances of them sliding into one of those spots are favourable.
Embed from Getty Images