In a few days the Timberwovles will play the final game of their 2009-10 campaign. It will officially mark the third consecutive season of virtually unwatchable Wolves basketball to anyone other than the hardest of core fans. This season holds the distinction as perhaps the worst full season performance by any Timberwolves squad in team history. Yes, this assemblage of “talent” could very well be worse than the early 90s teams that showcased Felton Spencer, Gerald Glass and Doug West. Of course, one could argue that this particular outcome was intentional. That in order to truly rebuild the team had to abandon the ‘one foot in, one foot out’ approach that McHale had attempted and instead fully hit rock bottom before they could rebuild the right way. To that I say mission accomplished, Mr. Kahn. Mission most definitely accomplished.
There is, fortunately, reason for hope. Optimism can be found in the team’s considerable assets. Three 1st round picks. Ample cap room. Youth. Blah. Blah. Blah. That may all be so, but when reviewing this god forsaken season there can be no sense of hope. No silver linings. No glimmering instances of good to hang your foam finger on. There’s no way around it, this was ugly in it's purest form. Turnovers upon turnovers. Ill advised pass after ill advised pass. Missed dunks and missed free throws. NBDL bench players masquerading as NBA athletes. More 15-0 runs than I ever care to remember. Yes it was so very, very ugly. On that note, I present my 2009-10 team grades.
(I should warn you, this is going to be a bit negative. I’ll probably even say some things I don’t really mean out of anger. Such, I feel, is my right, my allowance if you will, for enduring yet another year of basketball by the loosest of definitions and yet surely pulling myself off the mat to do it all again next year.)
The Roster: F
The worst team in the Western Conference deserves no better a grade. Honestly, there is no one on this team that played well enough to make me declare them vital to the team’s long term plans. The closest thing they have to that is Kevin Love but even he showed his flaws. Most notably, his tendency to become obviously shaken by a lack of minutes or cold shooting streak or some other slight that anyone with an appropriate level mental toughness would have overcome. Also, he was used in a reserve role most of the season and is yet to show that he can still put up the ridiculous rebounding numbers against frontline starters.
Al Jefferson, the most dominant player they have, actually had his most unselfish season but never seemed to fully recover from the torn ACL that ended his previous season early. As with pre-injury Jefferson, post-injury Jefferson continues to look a little lost when the offense isn’t running through him.
Jonny Flynn showed glimpses of both good and bad extremes. Regrettably, more bad than good. I can say that he might be the victim of being the most miscast player I’ve ever seen as far as style of play and type of offensive system go. In an up tempo offense I could see him thriving through a persistent fast break attack. In the triangle hybrid offense the Wolves run he was reduced to an undersized guard who cant shoot. His well advertised on ball lock down defense was either an outright lie or the result of criminally inept scouting.
Ramon Sessions had his moments but it was hard to appreciate his game when every minute he was on the court was a minute that Jonny Flynn wasn’t. And Jonny Flynn, as I have already highlighted, needed the minutes.
Corey Brewer was the most improved Timberwolf, probably one of the top five most improved players in the league, but he still can’t shoot well enough to warrant the lion’s share of the minutes at the two guard.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Ryan Gomes needs to be the 8th man on a contending team. Read into that however you like.
At any given time on any given day at any given YMCA in any given pick up game there are no fewer than three guys running full court that are more athletic than Damien Wilkins.
I actually felt disrespected as a fan every time Ryan Hollins, Sasha Pavlovic or Nathan Jawai were on the court.
Oleksiy Pecherov had two good games all season.
Wayne Ellington: a young guy with room to develop, who plays a position of need and unlike the rest of the guards on roster – can shoot. So naturally, he hardly ever plays. I’ll get back to this in the coaching section.
Darko Milicic. I like his game and think he could eventually be solid contributor to a winning team if given the chance. There has been a lot of talk about convincing him that he should stay in the NBA and specifically, with the Timberwolves. How about we flip that and ask ourselves the question, has he done enough to convince the Timberwolves to keep him? I'm not sure that he has.
And finally, the Wolves traded Brian Cardinal to the Knicks. The Knicks cut him. Then the Wolves resigned him. Kind of like when the Cavs traded Zydrunas Ilgauskus and then resigned him a month after he was cut by Washington, except for in the Cardinal instance the player is worthless and the team is irrelevant.
Your 2009-10 Minnesota Timberwolves, ladies and gentlemen!
The Coach: C
The hiring of Kurt Rambis was unusual because at the time he was the highest profile candidate out there. Whereas the Wolves previous few head coach hires had been straight from the bargain bin, Rambis was top shelf, and they paid for it. So far, they’re yet to get their money’s worth.
On the plus side, Rambis kept the team together. Over in an equally pathetic situation, New Jersey, there was all kinds of player drama. Guys were demanding trades or to be outright released. Signaling the onset of female puberty, some Nets players even Tweeted their disgruntled feelings. The Wolves didn’t have any of that and it showed Rambis has their ear. That’s a good thing and a positive sign to move forward with.
On the downside, Rambis failed to achieve what this season was about: player development. I didn’t sense or see that Jonny Flynn was ever getting consistently better. Wayne Ellington regularly and inexplicably took a back seat to the likes of Sasha Pavlovic. Kevin Love and Al Jefferson were given very little opportunity to play together before it was declared a failure. Similarly, Flynn and Ramon Sessions rarely took the court together. I realize these situations created mismatches for the Wolves but in the end, who cares? Instead of going with a non-traditional lineup and trying to create a mismatch for their opponents as well as themselves, Rambis quickly resorted to a safe and formulaic rotation which went on to produce an embarrassingly few amount of wins and a bountiful number of blowout losses. Could it have really been all that much worse had a lineup of Flynn-Sessions-Ellington-Love-Jeffe
rson took the court together? Would they have ended up with the worst record in the league instead of the second worst? Oh no, that would have sucked.
In fairness, Rambis needs more talent. Phil Jackson would have maybe squeezed twenty wins out this group. Beyond that, he needs to develop an identity as a coach. He’s attempting to run some sort of triangle-fast break cross breed offense. Typically, players that thrive within one of those aren’t really suited for the other. The thing is, and I really think Rambis needs to consider this, the only two successful triangle offenses in NBA history have included guys named Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, neither of which have anything to do with the current Timberwolves makeup.
The Front Office: C
David Kahn inherited a tricky situation. His predecessor, Kevin McHale, had acquired just enough talent to not be amongst the league's worst and to give the semblance of a team on the rise, but at its core, was limited in growth potential. So Kahn’s inevitable dilemma was that he was going to have to blow the whole thing up and start over. To a fanbase that had already felt like they were blowing things up when they traded Garnett, the notion of doing it all over again wasn’t in the slightest bit appealing.
The 2009-10 season is ultimately what it needed to be and at heart, what we all knew it would be: a disaster. This season was a series of painful losses followed up by a series of slightly less painful losses, sprinkled with the occasional win. This is what rock bottom is. Rock bottom is somewhat acceptable when you know that your stay on the bottom is merely a pit stop on your eventual way back up to the top. It is in this way that David Kahn will eventually be judged. A little lottery luck and a Ricky Rubio sighting in Target Center within the next year or so will dramatically help that cause.
Other than that, what Kahn does this offseason will be extremely vital. All those afore mentioned assets need to materialize into
positive growth. One thing Kahn said before this season that stuck with me was, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the Wolves wouldn’t
realistically win a lot of games this year but they would always play hard and with tireless effort. They would never lose for a lack of trying. They would be the gritty, gut it out sort of team that other veteran teams don’t like to play for the high level of effort they would need to exert in order to beat one of the league’s supposed bottom feeders. If the players didn’t do that, Kahn promised, he’d find ones who will. Unfortunately, this team rolled over far too many times this season. It led to the disgust I felt, which I’ve never had for this organization before. I hoped it would never come to this, but Kahn will need to live up to his promise on this one.
Up Next: my 2010 mock offseason, in which I speculate on things that will almost certainly not happen!