HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

November 6, 2006

This is a pivotal year for the T-Wolves

By Jesse Menden

The initial reaction of most Timberwolves fans to the start of the basketball season ... yawn! But this year could be a large turning point in the future of the Wolves and one of the most interesting in recent memory.

It will be a make-or-break season. If the Wolves make it, superstar Kevin Garnett will probably be back. If they break, he could be gone at the end of the year, if not sooner, and the team will have a totally new look.

A number of other things could happen, too. Coach Dwayne Casey, working on the last year of his contract, could be gone at the end of the season. General Manager Kevin McHale, despite the life time vote of confidence given to him by owner Glen Taylor, might finally give up the position about five years too late. Other veteran players could be gone also.

The season could go one of three ways for the Timberwolves, and your guess is as good as mine. They could play well and make the playoffs, they could improve over last year and just miss the playoffs, or they could have another bad year. Any of these things could happen.

Obviously, the best-case scenario is for the Wolves to play good ball and make it to the playoffs. They must get major contributions from newcomer Mike James for this to happen.

Wolves fans are well aware of the breakdowns in the fourth quarter of this team last year. With the addition of James, they might be able to win games that are close, and close out games when they have a lead.

Also, they must get inspired play on offense and defense from Ricky Davis, who they traded for last season. Others, such as Troy Hudson and Eddie Griffin, must have career years for the Wolves to win.

If the Wolves do, indeed, make the playoffs, it is quite possible that the self-proclaimed loyalist, Kevin Garnett, would sign a new deal with the Wolves, and basketball fans in the Upper Midwest might stay interested in basketball for a few more years. But it’s not guaranteed that he will come back.

If the Wolves have another ordinary season, and they miss the playoffs and win about half of their games, it could spell trouble. The front office will have some tough decisions to make during the offseason if that is the case.

Assuming that they have an okay year, and are within striking distance of the playoffs, the Wolves will not trade Garnett mid-season, and probably hang on to Casey.

But if this happens, the Wolves would get nothing for Garnett if he goes to another team next year, and they would sink further into the depths of non-competitiveness.
The third scenario is a frightening one, but it could happen. If the Wolves start out the season slow, lots of changes could be made. Coach Casey, who some “experts” say is already on the hot seat after just one year, could be gone if his team does not perform. If the Wolves start out poorly, it is quite possible that he is replaced by mid-season.

Just think how this team could change if the Wolves lose early. Casey could be gone. Garnett could be traded to get some young players and draft picks. Other veterans could be traded for younger players.

It would be a whole new start for the Timberwolves. The Target Center will be a hollow cave, where the only howling will come from the smattering of season-ticket holders who sunk thousands of dollars into a team that is hopeless.

If the Wolves make wholesale changes, it will mean that the previous 17 seasons were a waste of time, even though they had a most valuable player in Garnett. All they have to show for it is one appearance in the Western Conference Finals.

But as bad as it sounds, finishing poorly might not be all that bad. This team has been foundering in mediocrity since its inception; it might be time to just start it all over.

As much as it pains me to say it, the Wolves might be better off taking the approach of the mid-1990s Twins, or the beginning Wild teams. Starting fresh with draft picks might be the ticket to success. However, this will only happen if the Wolves have another disastrous season.

No matter how the Wolves do on the court this season, it will be just as interesting off of the court in the coming months.