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Wolves coach Kurt Rambis was ejected from the San Antonio game in the third period Tuesday night.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Wolves are still bad, but at least they're bad and have a plan

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • January 12, 2011 - 5:44 AM

Michael Beasley was icing his ankle Tuesday afternoon. Someone asked about former Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman wanting to play basketball when they were in college.

"I thought about playing football," Beasley said.

Position? "Quarterback."

His teammates paused, thought about it, then started laughing. One guy asked, how can a guy who never passes play quarterback?

"Man," said Martell Webster, "you'd be the first quarterback in history to be saying, 'What do we do again on that play?' "

You might ask what one of the worst teams in the NBA has to laugh about, and you'd be missing the point.

The point being: The Wolves have been so bad for so long that we view every loss as the latest indictment of a criminally stupid organization, instead of recognizing that this year's failures are different from last year's failures, and all of the failures since '05.

This is a bad team, of course. There isn't enough chocolate icing in the world to make 9-30 taste good. But for the first time in years, this is a bad team with some semblance of a plan.

This is not a team investing blind faith in Rashad McCants or J.R. Rider or Randy Foye, or even a likeable one-dimensional post player in Al Jefferson.

The way this team is being built almost makes sense, at least for a franchise that has looked to Rider or Mike James or Marcus Banks for answers.

Beasley needs to improve defensively, but he's been better than expected offensively. He will, despite his teammates' teasing, pass the ball, and he scores more easily than any player in franchise history.

Tuesday, Beasley decided to play despite a sprained ankle. That was a mistake. He finished with seven points and re-injured the ankle in the fourth quarter of a 107-96 loss to the Spurs, but at least he wanted to play.

Kevin Love is a legitimate All-Star. The fans chanting "MVP" at him when he shot free throws should immediately be drug-tested, but even for those of us who liked the Love-O.J. Mayo trade, this season has been a revelation.

Wolves boss David Kahn wisely dealt for Martell Webster, an ideal scorer off the bench. And Darko Milicic, while softer than cashmere, was worth the investment because he's a 7-footer with bulk and skills who hasn't broken both of his feet, and those guys are hard to find.

Kahn blew it when he chose Jonny Flynn instead of Steph Curry, and he'll probably regret taking Wes Johnson instead of DeMarcus Cousins, but he's the rare Wolves executive who has accumulated credits to offset his debits.

On a sliding scale of mediocrity, this year's Wolves are more competitive, entertaining and promising. They need a point guard who can make his teammates better and orchestrate an offense with the game on the line, and the Wolves seem convinced Ricky Rubio will be here next year and will be that guy.

They need a lucky lottery and a good draft, they need to learn how to play together, and how to play at the end of games, and how to play defense.

They also need their coach to recognize he has as far to go as his players. For all of his rings, Kurt Rambis has yet to prove he knows how to guide his team in close games.

I asked Rambis where he's seen growth in his team. "There is not an area in which I have not seen growth," he said. "I know everyone is frustrated that our effort doesn't translate into wins, but you can't look at this as a 'Year 2' for this ballclub."

Rambis' point: This is a brand-new team, even if Rambis and Kahn are in their second season. And while that view is self-serving, it's also correct.

Tuesday night, St. Paul native Ken Mauer ejected Rambis for arguing, becoming the first guy with the Mauer surname to show emotion in downtown Minneapolis.

Maybe that's why Joe doesn't talk -- his cousin hits him with a T every time he opens his mouth.

Anyway, Rambis received his first standing ovation as a head coach after he was ejected.

If he figures out how to get his team good shots at the end of close games, maybe someday he'll receive an ovation for staying on the court, not departing.

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

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