Observers of Timberwolves history know a lot of things (and a lot of pain), but one near-constant in 30 seasons is that the franchise has tended to be much better at beginnings than endings.
The Wolves have rebuilt so many times that they actually made an ad campaign one year out of the concept. These fresh starts tend to begin with excitement before fading into mediocrity (or worse) until the next one.
Remember the first year of “MV3”: — Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell — and the trip to the Western Conference finals? The second year cost Flip Saunders his job and started a downward spiral.
Or the jolt from acquiring Ricky Davis and several other players from the Celtics in 2006? The Wolves won in a rout in that first game with all their new players, believing they had started something special, and then slid right back with 17 losses in their next 22 games.
Garnett’s first game after being traded back to the Wolves in 2014-15 was electric, but the momentum faded fast.
Even the bumps from getting Jimmy Butler and then trading him were temporary. If either had been permanent, interim coach Ryan Saunders wouldn’t be the next in line to try to make a new beginning last.
Saunders delivered a promising debut Tuesday after taking over for fired coach Tom Thibodeau. He pushed a lot of the right buttons — including the one that turned Andrew Wiggins into a player worthy of his max contract — in a 119-117 victory at Oklahoma City.
From here, of course, the task looks in some ways easier. The Wolves have a favorable upcoming schedule and Saunders can stop running on fumes. But history tells us the hard part is only beginning.
Saunders won’t win this job permanently just by delivering a few early victories — with the next one possibly Friday in his Target Center debut vs. Dallas — but rather by continuing to get Minnesota to play at a high level when emotion wears off.
The Wolves already have been re-energized this season, going 9-3 after trading Butler following a 4-9 start. Everything had changed ... until they went 4-9 in their next 13, looking as listless as ever in many of those games.
None of this is particularly limited to the Timberwolves. There are countless examples of other teams getting a sudden jolt of energy from a trade or a firing, particularly if there is a positive shift in popularity with the new blood.
Human nature seems to be bent on gaining strength from renewal. How else would we explain the concept of a New Year’s resolution, when any of the other 365 days of a year would be perfectly good times for beginning positive change as well?
Saunders is a smart young coach with a last name that can sell tickets and a relationship with cornerstones Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns that could yield impressive results.
Only one coach in franchise history has produce a stretch that could be considered the good times lasting, and that was his dad with eight consecutive trips to the playoffs.
We’ll see if Saunders can counteract the rest of the franchise history and find something sustainable for more than just the immediate afterglow.