Will the Wolves ever matter again?

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 26, 2011 - 4:13 AM

Monday's ugly loss to a mediocre Houston team was a strikingly clear reminder that the current Wolves are a long way from reminding fans of The Kid's heyday.

Kevin Love hung his head after he was called for an offensive foul with 95 seconds left in overtime Wednesday night in a 108-105 loss to Charlotte.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Most people get into sports writing because they are captivated by people and teams who win championships, by the bright lights and vivid personalities of the sports world. And how many professions afford the thrill of being threatened by naked 300-pound men while on deadline?

Young sportswriters envision themselves chronicling a great team, analyzing the mystical abilities of a coach and the cohesiveness of disparate players. Sports writing promises drama, travel, the chance to write the first draft of sports history. And free hot dogs.

So while sports writers often are referred to as "negative,'' this is often because of our severe disappointment at being saddled with front-row seats to the woeful and dysfunctional.

Yes, this is about the Timberwolves.

This will not be an attempt at objective analysis. This will be from the heart, and the gut -- meaning my heartburn and my upset stomach, caused by watching the Wolves lose again on Monday.

I want the Timberwolves to become relevant again. I want them to fill Target Center on cold winter nights. If the Twins are to host our six-month summer barbecues, I want the Wolves to throw the indoor after-party.

I've never seen Minneapolis thrive the way it did last summer, when a Tuesday night game against the Royals could fill every bar and restaurant within walking distance of the ballpark. I want to see Minneapolis buzz all winter, too.

The problem is that the Wolves, after a series of management and coaching changes, and the trade of the best player in franchise history, and loads of high draft choices and dramatic personnel moves, still stink.

I wish this weren't true, but there's no other way to put it. I want to believe that this team is making progress, but every time you think they're throwing you a steak bone, it turns out to be Styrofoam.

I've written that they're better than they were a year ago, and that's both true and disheartening. Because they're far better than they were last year in terms of scoring and athletic ability and intriguing talent, and yet they're still 10-34, headed for 10-36 by Friday night, headed for a finish similar to last year's, when they went 15-67 and begged for patience.

They're better in many ways, but they still fail to play -- or attempt to play -- defense. They still lack basketball intelligence. They still choke in close games. They still, after drafting three first-round point guards and signing two more in the past two years, lack a starting-caliber point guard, and their current backup, Jonny Flynn, seems to lack even one above-average NBA skill.

I wish all of this weren't true. I want to believe that Kevin Love will become not just a statistical freak but the fulcrum of victories; that Michael Beasley will find the kind of internal fire that stokes superstars; that Wes Johnson will become more like his idol, Scottie Pippen; that Kurt Rambis knows what he's doing; that David Kahn is doing more than playing shell games just to stay employed.

We tend to look at the Wolves and hope that a key player or two -- maybe even a reluctant, struggling, 20-year-old from Spain -- will trigger improvement, but if you pay attention to the rest of a league filled with superstars and powerhouse teams, you realize just how far away the Wolves are from contending.

A mediocre Rockets team came to town Monday night without franchise player Yao Ming, and demonstrated a dramatic edge in basketball intelligence over our Wolves. With the underrated Rick Adelman orchestrating offense from the sideline and the basketball genius Shane Battier making everyone around him better (Google this: Battier, Daryl Morey, Michael Lewis, New York Times, and read Lewis' brilliant piece on Battier), the Rockets made the Wolves look slow and stupid all night.

Which is just business-as-usual at Target Center. As someone who wants to cover a relevant NBA team in this town, I fear that the Wolves' losing culture is so pervasive that everyone in the Wolves' organization, from owner Glen Taylor on down, has lost sight of what it takes not only to win, but to function in a competent workplace, that they have all become comfortable with the dubious concept of barely visible, incremental improvement.

There was a strange moment at the end of the first half Monday: Rambis came to mid-court to instruct his defense as the Rockets prepared for the last possession. Love rushed over to him, explaining that he had two fouls and should be pulled from the game.

Rambis didn't react. Love stepped out of bounds, next to Rambis, and pleaded his case, and Rambis finally started screaming "AT!'' for backup forward Anthony Tolliver to replace Love.

It wasn't a consequential moment. I'm not even sure what to make of it, except that, as has been the case for the entire Kahn-Rambis era, the Wolves have trouble even pretending they know what thy're doing.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com.

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