Apr 9, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) drives to the basket past Phoenix Suns center Channing Frye (8) in the second half at Target Center The Suns won 114-90. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
The Timberwolves are about to miss the playoffs yet again. But can they finally consider their latest season a step in the right direction?
April is supposed to be a month that signifies change in the American sports landscape. Some seasons are wrapping up (NHL and NBA regular seasons, NCAA basketball) while others are just beginning (MLB, basketball & hockey playoffs, the NFL draft, PGA majors). It's a time to simultaneously reflect on past accomplishments and strive for even greater heights.
Unfortunately for Minnesota sports fans, the month of April has become grimly routine. The latest iteration of April has brought yet another year of the following:
Disappointed Vikings fans, busy with multiple mock drafts, trying to figure out how to fix their flawed franchise while praying that the front office doesn't pick the next Troy Williamson.
Disappointed Twins fans, busy crossing their fingers that the bodies of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer don't disintegrate again while dreading the moment that the other shoe eventually drops on their new season. Sometimes that shoe drops late (like in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs to the Yankees) and sometimes it drops early (like it apparently already has just four games into the 2012 season).
Disappointed Wild fans, busy wondering when they're going to get that top-flight line that can consistently score and finally carry the team back into the NHL playoffs.
Disappointed Gopher basketball and hockey fans, busy licking their wounds after another postseason exit that came at least a game or two too early.
Disappointed Timberwolves fans, busy fantasizing about a world where the team doesn't flat out suck.
Disappointed Lynx fans--wait a second, never mind! GO LYNX!!
Outside the shining beacon of hope that is our local WNBA team, April has represented the same disappointment of every major Minnesota sports team for the past several years. But the Timberwolves have taken April (losing) showers to an entirely new level.
The Wolves' lastest Spring skid has eliminated all hopes of making the playoffs, which means they're about to miss the postseason for the eighth consecutive year. So isn't this April just like the rest of them? Are there any ways to count victories in what was ultimately another failed season?
Why yes, yes there are. While the T-Wolves fell short of their goals yet again, the 2011-2012 campaign had a different feel to it by nearly any measure. The fact that they aren't mathematically eliminated with eight games to play speaks volumes about how far they've come. This version of the Timberwolves fought and competed on nearly every night--something that hasn't been true since the Kevin Garnett days.
Most of the credit for Minnesota's resurgence has to be attributed to one man: Kevin Love. K-Love made the quantum leap from "stat sheet stuffer" to "legitimate MVP candidate" before our eyes this year. He's averaging over 26 points and 13 boards per game. He has canned over 100 three-pointers. He makes well over 80% of his free throws. And oh yeah, he's still one of the best post passers in the league. Nobody's repertoire comes close to what Love brings on a nightly basis. The only disappointing thing about Love this season was the fact that the team gave him a four-year contract extension (with an opt-out clause after three) instead of giving him a max deal. Without Love, the Timberwolves would be a slightly flashier version of the Bobcats--even with Ricky Rubio for the entire season.
Ah yes, Ricky Rubio. (Feel free to pound your desk in frustration. I'll wait. Feel better? Sort of? OK, let's move on.) The slick young Spaniard finally made it stateside and immediately electrified the masses. Rubio just "gets" the game of basketball better than most--he possesses that rare form of Basketball ESP that leads to quick steals and easy points. Until his freak knee bump with Kobe Bryant led to a torn ACL last month, Rubio had the team playing some of its most entertaining basketball in the history of the franchise. In fact, Derrick Williams should pay Rubio some sort of royalties for every time a Williams alley oop ended up on Sportscenter's Top 10.
Speaking of Williams--don't look now, but the Timberwolves might have actually got a draft pick right! Nobody's penciling Williams in for a string of All-Star appearances just yet--he's had his fair share of "raw" moments throughout his rookie season--but there's definitely some promise. At the very least, he doesn't look afraid every time he touches the basketball, like fellow Timberwolves first-round pick Wesley Johnson. (I'd elaborate on Johnson, but this is supposed to be a positive article.) With some more coaching from Rick Adelman, Williams could evolve into a dependable starting forward in the NBA.
It's hard to quantify exactly how much Minnesota's new coach has done for his team this year, but it's definitely safe to say that the team is in much better hands with Adelman. While former coach Kurt Rambis always seemed annoyed that all his players weren't his old teammates from the Showtime Lakers, Adelman has groomed this young team every step of the way. Just look at the development of Nikola Pekovic. He was an afterthought under Rambis in his first NBA season. This year, he has become both a fan favorite and the bruising presence in the middle that the team has desperately needed for years.
The next thing that the Minnesota Timberwolves desperately need is a long-awaited playoff appearance. Unfortunately that won't come this year. But if they can build on the successes of this season, I'm guessing that next April won't be the same old story in Minnesota.
For more on the Minnesota Timberwolves, check out Canis Hoopus. You can also check out professional basketball news from around the league over at SB Nation’s NBA page.
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