A trip to nowhere: the eternal crisis of the Wolves post Garnett

Since the departure of Kevin Garnett in 2007, the Wolves are a drifting team that has not moved in the market and remains doubtfully supported by Towns and Wiggins.

2 points, 21 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals and 5 blocks. These are the numbers that Kevin Garnett made on May 19, 2004, his birthday, in the seventh game of the semifinals of the Western conference against the Sacramento Kings. It was the highlight of a project and a franchise. Also from a man like Garnett, who no matter how much he achieved in a ring in another city and with another team four years later he reached his best level as a professional that season.

It was a historic season for the city, which in that game lived the best moment in its history. They had never passed the first round and at that time they slipped no less than in the last round of the West. Four match of the Finals. A historic milestone for a franchise that had achieved for the first time the best record in the NBA and that had joined its star with Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell to form a template that would practice the most attractive game of the moment. They were the sensation of a League that was about to start a new cycle, a new era. Or to finish another. As you look at

The Wolves seemed to run out of air after such a hard effort. The project had involved a marathon that saw the light in that year 2004, but such a long career has consequences and the franchise touched a roof that they have not even looked closely again. Since then, a single series of playoffs in 15 seasons, a very heavy slab for a reconstruction eternally postponed and far from closed.

In 2004 the Wolves fell to the Lakers (4-2) in that last round of the West that meant the elimination of the best basketball team that the city of Minnesota has seen. That season would be the first and last in which they would spend a round. It would also be the campaign of the end of the Laker dynasty, the farewell of Shaq, the advent of the Suns of the seven seconds or less or the confirmation of the Spurs as a legend team.

Garnett remained in the team until 2007 and continued signing legend numbers, but the head was imposed on the heart in Minnesota. The patience of the power forward was no more: he wanted to fight for the ring. The franchise for its part realized that the project around its star had come to an end. The player who caused the first lockout in NBA history thanks to a contract of 126 million in 6 years, a record figure at that time, was heading for the Celtics in exchange for the transfer that more players has ever involved with 7 in total .

A very long shadow in a very small market

Garnett's legacy in the Wolves is tremendous. It is a leader in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, minutes played and field shots scored. He was the spiritual and moral leader of a franchise to which he returned in 2015 with a ring under his arm and walked 40 years to play 43 games in a season and a half before finally saying goodbye to basketball. Although his real departure was in 2007. Little could bring in his ephemeral return beyond retiring in what was his first home. There have not been many professionals who have had as much connection with the public as the pivot wing had in Minnesota and then in Boston. Garnett was a bulwark that possessed a huge emotional charge that transcended fans and did not always seem good to all rivals. Ask Duncan.

The search for that player to replace the lost hero has been unsuccessful. None of the seven players who arrived in Minnesota in the exchange with Garnett did so to stay. Al Jefferson, the most prominent player of that horde of professionals who came to the Wolves, found himself being the leader of a drifting team that he failed to lift despite the good numbers he provided from 2007 to 2010.

Nor did Kevin Love become what he promised. And he promised a lot. From its arrival (2008) until its departure (2014) the franchise seemed to take the right steps towards a reconstruction that had the necessary pieces to be successful. On the track he did it through the draft. Minnesota is a small market, with little capacity to attract free agents. Cold and snow are not exactly what the main free agents of the NBA are looking for.

From drifting reconstruction

Through the lottery came not only Love, but also Ricky Rubio (ranked 5 in 2009), Wesley Johnson (4 in 2010) or Derrick Williams (2 in 2011). Aleksei Shved also arrived from Russia and the team was completed with veterans such as Andrei Kirilenko and a seemingly recovered Brandon Roy. Luke Ridnour, Darko Micicic, Nikola Pekovic, JJ Barea ... a long and promising squad that faced a real basketball master like Rick Adelman, who played two NBA Finals in the 90s and trained those Kings who fell in that seventh game against the Wolves of Garnett. And before the Lakers of Shaq and Kobe two years before.

The steps were correct, but the results did not come. Roy only lasted 5 games on his return, Milicic was inoperative and the injuries of key players like Ricky or especially Kevin Love in one season or another prevented the project from moving forward. The young nucleus was unable to take the course of a team that had a meteoric projection with Adelman on the benches (26-40, 31-51 and 40-42) but insufficient to reach the playoffs in an always ultra-competitive West.

Ademan said goodbye after 2013-14 to take care of his sick wife and retired after 23 seasons in the NBA with a tremendous legacy that did not include the ring. Flip Saunders, who had returned to the franchise to occupy an armchair in the offices, went back down to a bench that he had not occupied since Garnett left Minnesota while Kevin Love was heading for the new LeBron Cavs. The power forward, one of the most talented players of his generation, made numbers (26 + 13 in two different campaigns) that could have earned him an MVP if his team had been higher ... but he never knew how to transfer his incredible team game statistics. The role he played in Ohio never resembled that of the Wolves and today, depression through, is still lost in a team that (too) desperately tries to come to light without The King as a reference.

The 2014-15 season was a transition that served to fire old faces: Saunders, died after finishing the year after leading up to four conference finals during his career (one with the Wolves and three with the Pistons) while Garnett returned in applause to say goodbye definitely to a franchise that had morally left in 2007. The team was drifting (16-66 that season) and a new attempt would have to be made to rebuild it again.

Wiggins and Towns: one last attempt that never ends curd

Andrew Wiggins had been chosen number 1 in the 2014 NBA draft. He won the Rookie of the Year. The Wolves did not go back, but they would also have first place in the lottery the following year with Karl Anthony Towns, who also won the prize. They were the foundations on which the franchise was going to be based to return to the playoffs, the main objective of the team.

In 2016-17 Towns was going to 25 points and 12 rebounds per game. Wiggins, at 23.6 points. Both in 82 meetings. LaVine stayed at 18.9. The record was negative again for the twelfth consecutive season, but it was a good omen. The following year, Tom Thibodeau arrived at the team, who had been Rivers' assistant in the Celtics and first Bulls coach who reached the Eastern finals in 2011.

It also didn't set. What worked for franchises such as OKC or Golde State, which formed competitive teams (or real dynasties) with draft elections and coach changes at times, a priori, appropriate, did not go well in Minnesotta. The arrival of Tibs was accompanied by Butler's, a very competitive being who dynamited the costumes and never met the two young promises of the franchise, which he accused of not having "passion" .

The Wolves reached the playoffs for the first time since the end of West 2004 with Garnett. They did it in extremis and winning the Nuggets at home in the last game of the season. But they were almost swept in the final phase (4-1 in the first round against the Rockets) and living in the locker room was increasingly complicated.

Last year was a nonsense. Butler left after only 10 games and Thibodeau did the same in the middle of the season with the second best record in the history of the franchise, which tried to return to the origins with the appointment of Ryan Saunder, son of the late Flip. He left good feelings and quickly connected to the locker room in a season in which they ran out of playoffs, although Towns and Wiggins slightly improved their numbers without Butler in the team. Especially the pivot, which was going to 28 points and 13 rebounds after the All Star break.

Now they face the most important moment of the project. Once it is clear that the epicenter is Towns, it will be this season that they have to step forward. Since 2004 (blessed year) they are the worst NBA franchise with 36.5% victories by 38.5 for Knicks and 38.6 for Kings. Now they have the base, they have gotten rid of Butler, they have a young and new trained who will grow with the squad and have their two emerging stars tied: Wiggins until 2023 and Towns until 2024.

The time for the Timberwolves has arrived. The Nuggets, with which the playoffs were played in 2018, were second in the West only 12 months later and today they are one of the teams covered for the ring. Other teams such as the Kings, who have also been since time immemorial without stepping on the playoffs, seem to see the light. In small markets, draft rounds are the key and the Wolves have taken those steps well. You just need to know how to surround your stars, especially Towns, of the right pieces.

It may be the last chance for them. If things go wrong they could consider a medium-term transfer of their stars, but starting a third reconstruction since 2007 does not seem the solution to their problems. If they manage to make Jarret Culver work and surround Towns well, they can give a lot to talk about. And if the pivot goes one step further, especially in defense, the Wolves can start to win games and feel competitive again at the end of a trip that, for now, has not taken them anywhere. A crisis that lasts since the departure of Garnett, the hero that Minneapolis longs for. Someone has to take that place and make the team competitive again. Wiggins, Towns ... the Timberwolves will fight another year to come to light

Photos from as.com
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