For most of 25 years, the Timberwolves lacked talent, luck and organizational savvy. The team mascot should not have been named Crunch. The team mascot should have been named Ibid.
This year the Timberwolves look like failures once again. They are 12-28. They have lost their past eight games. The have the second-worst record in the Western Conference. The only team with a worse record, the Lakers, has openly dedicated the season not to building or winning, but to honoring Kobe Bryant at any cost.
This appears to be another bad team slouching through another bad season in front of remarkably small crowds at Target Center. But this is not a typical bad Timberwolves team.
This team has talent. This team has benefited from luck. This team’s roster is the result of organizational intelligence.
Talent? Andrew Wiggins is one of the league’s best and most promising young players. Karl-Anthony Towns is the best of a strong crop of rookies. Ricky Rubio is a valuable player. Zach LaVine is one of the league’s most gifted athletes. Shabazz Muhammad is one of the best bench scorers in the league. Nemanja Bjelica is 6-10 and can shoot and pass.
Luck? Landing the top pick in the draft lottery is always a matter of good fortune.
Organizational intelligence? The roster contains excellent young talent, depth and veteran leadership. The trade of Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins was ideal. And the Wolves didn’t need to sacrifice future assets to put this team together.
In most ways, the Timberwolves are better positioned to win now than they ever have been, and yet they are playing as poorly as any team in the NBA over the last month, even as poorly as some franchises that aren’t attempting to win.
The Wolves have demonstrated a lack of offensive structure, an inability to run and an inability to make intelligent plays down the stretch, despite the presence of skilled and talented players.
The Wolves have failed to incorporate the three-point shot into their offense, especially the three-pointer from the corner, the cornerstone of the modern NBA offense.
The problems do not seem to be rooted in attitude. Rubio, Wiggins, Towns and LaVine, the team’s most important players, offer effort.
LaVine did recently note that Sam Mitchell’s hard coaching has at times seemed to him ‘‘unfair.’’ That might have been the most telling quote of the season.
Mitchell was an admirable player. He won the NBA Coach of the Year award with Toronto. I thought he was worth a look as a head coach for this group. We have had a good, long, look.
Mitchell has had his chance. He has coached a talented young team for 40 games. He has produced 12 victories and no sense of progress for a team that should be defined by progress.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor promised to give General Manager Milt Newton and Mitchell a year to prove they should keep their jobs. Newton helped build a talented roster and can’t be fairly judged until he conducts a draft or two and delves into free agency on his own. Mitchell’s situation is different. He is coaching players who are much more important to the organization than he is. If there are any signs that he is not the right person to develop Wiggins, Towns, LaVine and Muhammad, he needs to go.
If this was going to be a season spent evaluating an interim coach, there is an in-season solution that may benefit the organization in many ways. Taylor could hire Kevin McHale as Interim Coach Part II.
McHale is a gifted offensive coach. He would increase the Wolves’ pace of play, which should benefit an athletic roster. He would reinvigorate a fan base that rapidly lost interest in what was supposed to be an entertaining team. And if he proved to not be the right fit for this team, the Wolves could conduct their expected coaching search this summer having vetted two coaches worthy of consideration instead of just one.