The Timberwolves were expected to be a Western Conference playoff contender this season with the addition of Tom Thibodeau as coach and another year of development for young standouts Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine.
But with a 7-18 record, they are off their pace from last season when they were 9-16 after 25 games under interim coach Sam Mitchell.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was asked if he expected this kind of start after some of the big offseason changes.
“Well, let’s say that I was hopeful they would get off to a better start,” said Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune. “Even in all the games they have played, you can see the exceptional talent that we have, and the ability to win. But for some reason or another, which I don’t have an answer for, we just have a terrible quarter in each game and get ourselves so far behind that it’s hard to pull it out. I’m hopeful that we’re getting it figured out.”
What has been difficult to understand is how a team that finished last season 7-5, including an impressive overtime victory over record-setting Golden State, and then added a world-renowned coach could look like it has taken a step backward.
Taylor said the bigger picture of changing head coaches and front-office officials challenged players to learn new systems and ways to develop, which sometimes is a slow process that doesn’t immediately translate into victories.
“I agree with you,” Taylor said. “It appeared that last year we were making progress throughout the year with these young guys, and I guess it was maybe my expectations and others that we could just pick up on that and go forward.
“But we did change the coaching and we did change the direction of what we’re asking of the players. Obviously I have to be more patient than I intended on being.”
The Wolves have the 10th-highest offensive rating in the NBA (106 points per 100 possessions) and a measly 27th in defensive rating (108.9), but they are 20th overall in net rating, so the numbers show they shouldn’t have nearly the worst record in the league.
The team has lost a number of games after building double-digit leads. Taylor was asked if some of it might be a personnel issue and if trades needed to be made.
“I think that we don’t have anything right now that we’re going to do,” he said. “I just think Scott [Layden, Wolves general manager] will be looking at all the possibilities out there. I think you always want to be looking if there’s a trade that will make your team better. I’m sure if he finds one he’ll bring it to me. But at this point, I’m not aware of anything that is likely that we’re going to do soon.”
Taylor said Thibodeau shares his frustration.
“He’s frustrated that we don’t win. I think he’s being patient, probably more patient than I thought his personality would let him do,” Taylor said. “I know that he’s working hard with these players, to show them what they’re doing wrong and how they might improve. He likes the guys, he likes their work ethic, he sees a lot of potential in them. But he, too, wants to see some wins to show that we’re improving.”
Youth and the future
The Wolves are starting an extremely young team with LaVine (21), Wiggins (21) and Towns (21), Gorgui Dieng (26) and Ricky Rubio (26). Taylor said that might be having an effect, but he doesn’t view it as an excuse.
“I’m sure it does, but I think most of our fans are like me, we’re a little inpatient,” he said. “We’d like to see victories sooner. That’s a hard thing. I’m still very confident that we have the right players for the long run, which is what our goal is, to get into the playoffs and head for the championship.”
The Wolves enter next season with a lot of salary cap space, but Taylor knows that keeping the team’s young stars eventually will be expensive.
“We have flexibility right now — we’ll lose that flexibility in a couple of years as these young guys get into their big contracts — but right now we have flexibility if we saw the right situation,” he said. “Each year in the coming three years, we’re going to have contracts that are coming up because of all the young guys that we’ve drafted over these last four years.”
Zimmer on Indy
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer knows his defense, ranked second in the NFL, is going to have its hands full Sunday with the Colts, who have the 14th-ranked offense in the league and one of the league’s best QBs in Andrew Luck.
“Offensively, they’re very, very good. They’re [ninth] in the league in passing,” Zimmer said. “Andrew Luck is a terrific quarterback. He moves with his feet. He can make every single throw. He throws into tight coverage. He throws the ball deep, he throws the ball short. He runs a little bit of zone read.
“They have Frank Gore, who is the eighth-leading rusher in NFL history. They have some extremely fast receivers. T.Y. Hilton is his go-to guy. [Donte] Moncrief is really fast, the receiver from Miami [Phillip Dorsett] that [was a] first-round draft pick a year ago, he runs a 4.25. They have a ton of offensive skill with that football team.”
Zimmer still believes his team, coming off a tough but complete 25-16 victory over Jacksonville last Sunday, is ready to push for the playoffs.
“The good thing about winning this last week is it puts us at 7-6,” he said. “A year ago at this time our team was 8-5, and it’s just funny how everybody looks at the season and things like that and say we’re having a terrible season and last year we were great. We’re really in the same boat we were last year.
“If we can win this game this week, then we’ll worry about the next game after that. I think our team really showed a lot of heart, especially offensively. I thought they did a great job this last week and we need to continue to do that.”
U’s assault issues
One has to wonder if a recent Star Tribune investigation into the University of Minnesota’s response to sexual assault victims played into their decision to pursue punishment toward 10 Gophers football players investigated in a reported sexual assault in September.
The Star Tribune reported in October that more than 1,000 sex assaults since 2010 were reported to the Aurora Center, the school’s rape prevention and victim advocacy department. According to a Star Tribune review of those records, not a single person was prosecuted.
So certainly the university is under the microscope for how it is handling these kinds of tough situations, even after a criminal investigation resulted in no arrests or charges in the September incident.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org