The 1996-97 Timberwolves, with a young Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury, won 40 games. Back then, the West was the NBA’s lesser conference (four teams in the Wolves’ division won 24 games or fewer), and that 40-42 record was enough to get the Wolves the No. 6 seed in the playoffs. It felt like the start of something big, and even though Marbury blew up the dynamic duo, it was the beginning of eight consecutive playoff appearances.
The 2013-14 Timberwolves, with Kevin Love and a cast of others, won 40 games. These days, the West is the NBA’s dominant conference (the Suns, at 48-34, couldn’t even get into the playoffs), and the Wolves missed the postseason by a long shot. It felt like the beginning of the end of a rebuilding project that never got off the ground, and it signaled the end of the Love Era in Minnesota.
We bring up the past not as a way to pick at old scabs but rather as a way to frame the Love Era. In a different league, the Wolves might have been an up-and-comer. Instead, they traded love and started over. In the big picture, though, we do wonder: Are they better off, regardless?
In the short-term, Minnesota goes from being a 40-win team to what will probably be a 28-to-30-win team. As constructed a year ago, and without much prospect for injecting new talent beyond trading Love, the Wolves’ ceiling with Love as their core player was probably what it was during KG’s time before Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell: 45-50 wins and a quick playoff exit.
That sounds pretty good when compared to what has happened the last decade, but it’s not the goal when constructing a team. The goal, of course, is to win a championship. The 2014-15 Wolves are further from that goal than the 2013-14 Wolves were. But, say, the 2016-17 Wolves with Love or with the current core?
An argument could be made that a core led by Wiggins and co. has a better chance to be special than a core with Love.
Maybe that’s crazy talk and wishful thinking. Or maybe the second-best player in franchise history forcing his way out will end up being one of the best things that ever happened to the Wolves.