James said, “Ice cream.” And lo, there was ice cream.
The Cavaliers were once what the Timberwolves are now: a franchise with deep regrets and fresh hope. While the Cavaliers are enjoying their just desserts, the Wolves are ready to serve appetizers.
Their season starts tonight in Memphis, and this opener feels like no other in franchise history.
Never have the Wolves built a team stocked so deep with star-quality young talent, or one that promises to be so sustainable.
There was hope when Stephon Marbury joined Kevin Garnett, but given the Marbury family reputation at the time, maybe nobody should have been surprised by his willingness to blow up a team to make more money.
The arrival of Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell always was headed to unsatisfactory contract negotiations, which made Cassell’s injury during the Western Conference Finals so devastating. His suggestive dance became that group’s last waltz.
This Wolves team feels different.
Tom Thibodeau is an exceptional coach. Karl-Anthony Towns could be one of the five best players in the game by season’s end. Andrew Wiggins is a rare talent, and so is Zach LaVine. Ricky Rubio is healthy and playing well. At most points in franchise history, Kris Dunn’s face would have been plastered on billboards all over town; on this team he is asked to wait and learn.
Thibodeau and Scott Layden have dramatically improved the bench, and if the word “culture” is too new-age for you, think of it as this: Thibodeau won’t let anything slip — not a lazy step on defense, not a dumb pass on offense, not a rushed three-pointer with his team leading by 40 in a preseason game.
This franchise is set up to be great, or at least to challenge the NBA’s current greatness, and this is a good time to remind that in this league, personalities and relationships rule.
Enjoy Towns’ full-court sprints. But watch his body language.
Thrill at Wiggins’ dunks. Pay more attention to the way he listens to Thibodeau in huddles.
Marbury, Sprewell, Cassell and Kevin Love all became problems shortly after becoming reasons for hope, and that’s the way it often works in the NBA.
Wizards stars John Wall and Bradley Beal aren’t close, leaving Washington executives to wonder whether they can win big together. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook choked together in the playoffs last year, and revealed that their relationship wasn’t warm after Durant left.
In the NBA, one player can make a decision or “The Decision” and alter the league landscape.
As of today, Towns, Wiggins and LaVine are likeable kids who say and do all the right things. The same could have been said of Love, until losing and negotiations led to a less-than-amicable divorce.
I asked Thibodeau if he cared whether the Wolves were viewed as a likeable team.
“I know it’s a great sports town,” he said. “I think the big thing is if you play real hard, and play together and you play smart, that will resonate with the people here.
“And I think we will. And the fact that we have high-character guys is a big plus. You can tell they care about the community, they care about each other and they want to do the right things.”
The talent is undeniable. As former Warrior Brandon Rush said, “This is one of the most athletic teams I’ve ever seen. Fast. A lot of fast guys. A center, Karl, who’s getting up and down the court like a guard.”
Towns is the NBA’s ideal young star — spectacular on the court, polite off it. Which could be said of the less-talkative Wiggins who, asked how about he felt about the improvement in his games, said simply, “Great!”
There is so much to like here. The Timberwolves have a chance to become the league’s next great team, if their key players can stay on the same page, not to mention the same roster.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org