The Twins ended four years of misery with an 83-79 record in 2015. This created some optimism for 2016, a notion that was reinforced as they showed areas of strength in spring training and won 19 of 30 exhibitions.
The Twins then opened with nine losses and were 8-26 on May 13. They were 21 percent of the way through the schedule and manager Paul Molitor’s second season already was a disaster.
The 2015-16 Timberwolves were extra-young and coach Sam Mitchell faced criticism for having too heavy a hand with his neophytes. Yet, there was improvement in the final five weeks of the schedule. A victory in Oklahoma City on March 11 started an 9-8 finish that landed the Wolves at 29-53.
Tom Thibodeau was hired as coach and basketball president on April 20. He received a five-year, $40 million contract, and Scott Layden was given $2 million per year to serve as Thibodeau’s general manager.
The over-under on Wolves victories this season was put at 40.5 on betting sites. In mid-October, NBA.com released a survey of general managers. The Wolves were selected to be the most improved team, Thibodeau as the new coach to make the most impact, Karl-Anthony Towns as the player most GMs [48 percent] would want to add to their roster for the future, and Kris Dunn to be the Rookie of the Year.
The Timberwolves opened the season 1-5. The only victory was a gift in the home opener from Memphis, which chose not to play Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.
The Wolves were mostly horrendous Monday night in a 112-103 loss to Utah and fell to 5-12. They are 21 percent of the way through Thibodeau’s first season, and the mix of the haranguing coach and a still-young roster has the appearance of oil and water.
Amid the positives being spread by us in the media, national and local, the Twin Cities sporting public wasn’t buying the idea of sizable improvement for the Woofies from the start.
The announced attendance in Target Center for the opener on Nov. 1 was 14,774. That was down to 9,384 for Monday night’s loss to Utah. Through eight home games, the Wolves are 30th (last) in the NBA with an average of 13,085. That’s not bodies in the building, of course, but tickets alleged to be sold.
This will be the 13th consecutive season the Timberwolves will miss the playoffs. It will break a tie with Golden State (1994-95 through 2005-2006) and put the Woofies second on the all-time list for NBA playoff droughts behind the 15 for the L.A. Clippers from 1976-77 to 1990-91.
You might be able to bamboozle the media and even rival GMs, but you’re not going to hook the public with optimistic words after such a magnificent stretch of haplessness.
The sports consumers want to see action — or, in the case of the Timberwolves, they don’t want to see it.
The Wolves beat out Denver by a total of 4,000 tickets sold in 41 games last season. Now, surpassing the Nuggets for 29th in attendance in 2016-17 appears to be only a dream for the team’s marketers.
One refrain heard in the Twin Cities is that we have such a crowded sports market that “someone is going to get hurt.”
No worries. There are always losers to take that role. The Wolves have been in it for over a decade, and now their next-door neighbors, the Twins, have joined in the hurtin’.
In response, I’ve come up with what some might consider a radical plan:
Owners Jim Pohlad and Glen Taylor should trade manager and head coach. Molitor would coach the Timberwolves and Thibodeau would manage the Twins.
The 2016 Twins were doomed by thickheaded, thick-bodied players with the competitive fire of woodchucks. This wasn’t a young, talented team; it was a group that settled comfortably into losing.
Molitor rarely ranted, driving these non-achievers in low-key fashion all the way to 59-103, the worst record in 56 seasons in Minnesota.
Mollie’s back, which says … well, I guess it says the new guys in charge, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, are at peace with that because they see this as an organization that must be fixed from the bottom up rather than from the top down.
The 2016-17 Timberwolves are a young, talented team. Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, all 21, can be a winning threesome, if surrounded by more muscle. They also need Ricky Rubio to have some freedom to run things.
What they don’t need is 48 minutes of Thibodeau bellowing out nonstop instructions, and then waving his arms in disgust like a middle-school coach when there’s a screw-up.
In summary: The Twins need to be sat on more often, and the Timberwolves need a coach to sit down once in a while.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org