LeBron James signing with the Lakers gives the Timberwolves another reason to wish Glen Taylor had succeeded in moving them to the Eastern Conference.
If the Wolves can’t shift their franchise, they might as well alter their expectations.
Every Minnesota sports team wants you to believe they are building toward a championship, even though no male major sports franchise in our state has won one since 1991. That’s the selling point, the conceit: Stick with us; we’ll win one someday.
And they’re right, once every 30 years or so.
So if, realistically, the Wolves aren’t going to win the NBA championship in the foreseeable future, if the Western Conference is going to resemble a stretch of highway in a Mad Max movie, the woebegone franchise faces another in a series of difficult decisions.
They can sell out trying to win this year, knowing that their best version of this team may earn a third or fourth seed in the West and at best win one playoff series. And knowing that any injury to Jimmy Butler or Karl-Anthony Towns could cause them to miss the playoffs.
They can tread water, hoping that the current roster can contend, while conserving assets and developing younger players (their new draft picks, Tyus Jones, Andrew Wiggins) for the future.
They could fold, trade Butler, and try to re-rebuild for a future playoff run, when the Warriors, Rockets and LeBrons may have faltered.
There is a cold logic to folding and rebuilding. The problem with that strategy is that more rebuilding efforts fail than succeed, and even those that succeed often take longer than initially expected.
The Wolves tried rebuilding in the mid-2000s, and that plan prompted them to make a terrible trade of Kevin Garnett and to fail to post a winning record for 13 straight seasons, while becoming unwatchable and emptying Target Center. If they hadn’t been owned by a local billionaire, that stretch of ineptitude might have cost Minnesota its NBA franchise.
So the Wolves could learn something from other local franchises that have failed to win championships: There is value in relevance.
The Twins haven’t won a title since 1991, but their success in the 2000s produced one of the most compelling eras in franchise history. They were a terrible playoff team, but they brought us a Cy Young winner, two MVPs and a flurry of All-Stars. They played meaningful games in September almost every season.
The Vikings have never won a Super Bowl, yet their franchise has never been healthier or more popular.
The Wild has never won a Stanley Cup and its current roster isn’t good enough to contend for one, but the franchise makes the playoffs and fills the building.
The Wolves have built their best team since 2004. They have a perennial All-Star in Butler, one of the game’s best young players in Towns, a local hero in Tyus Jones, a former MVP in Derrick Rose and a chance to make the playoffs again.
Do you really want to throw all of that away to start another rebuild?
Let me help you with those who don’t remember David Kahn, Kurt Rambis and Anthony Bennett:
No, you don’t.
This team might not be good enough to win a title, but it’s good enough to play 41 meaningful regular-season games and perhaps a handful of playoff games at Target Center.
If the Wolves can’t be Golden State, maybe Wolves fans should think of them as Memphis.
From 2010 through 2017, the Grizzlies made the playoffs in seven straight seasons, reaching the conference finals once and the semis twice. They were entertaining. They packed their building and energized their city.
They didn’t win a title, but they performed the primary function of a sports franchise. They entertained.
There are worse ways to spend a night than watching a very good team slug it out in an exceptional conference, even if champagne is never spilled.