The 1996-97 Timberwolves, with a young Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury, won 40 games. Back then, the West was the NBA’s lesser conference (four teams in the Wolves’ division won 24 games or fewer), and that 40-42 record was enough to get the Wolves the No. 6 seed in the playoffs. It felt like the start of something big, and even though Marbury blew up the dynamic duo, it was the beginning of eight consecutive playoff appearances.
The 2013-14 Timberwolves, with Kevin Love and a cast of others, won 40 games. These days, the West is the NBA’s dominant conference (the Suns, at 48-34, couldn’t even get into the playoffs), and the Wolves missed the postseason by a long shot. It felt like the beginning of the end of a rebuilding project that never got off the ground, and it signaled the end of the Love Era in Minnesota.
We bring up the past not as a way to pick at old scabs but rather as a way to frame the Love Era. In a different league, the Wolves might have been an up-and-comer. Instead, they traded love and started over. In the big picture, though, we do wonder: Are they better off, regardless?
In the short-term, Minnesota goes from being a 40-win team to what will probably be a 28-to-30-win team. As constructed a year ago, and without much prospect for injecting new talent beyond trading Love, the Wolves’ ceiling with Love as their core player was probably what it was during KG’s time before Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell: 45-50 wins and a quick playoff exit.
That sounds pretty good when compared to what has happened the last decade, but it’s not the goal when constructing a team. The goal, of course, is to win a championship. The 2014-15 Wolves are further from that goal than the 2013-14 Wolves were. But, say, the 2016-17 Wolves with Love or with the current core?
An argument could be made that a core led by Wiggins and co. has a better chance to be special than a core with Love.
Maybe that’s crazy talk and wishful thinking. Or maybe the second-best player in franchise history forcing his way out will end up being one of the best things that ever happened to the Wolves.
With only the preseason finale standing between the Vikings and final roster cuts, head coach Mike Zimmer and his staff must make their final evaluation of a bunch of bubble boys Thursday night.
So what is he hoping to see from the Vikings players who are battling for jobs against the Titans?
“Instead of trying to play cautious, they play aggressive,” Zimmer said of the fringe players who typically stand out. “They’re going to fight for what they want to achieve. I think that part of it. I’ve seen a lot of guys come in there and they kind of spit the bit. They don’t really want to run that day. They’re more about not getting beat as opposed to beating the guy that they’re up against.”
Of course, some players who are still in limbo won’t get another chance to make an impression on Zimmer due to injuries. Outside linebackers Mike Mauti (foot) and Brandon Watts (leg), safety Jamarca Sanford (quad) and cornerback Jabari Price (arm/shoulder) will not play against the Titans.
Nor will nose tackle Linval Joseph (calf), right tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle) and outside linebacker Anthony Barr (sprained ankle), but those guys don’t have to worry about keeping their roster spots.
Wide receiver Rodney Smith (neck) and outside linebacker Gerald Hodges (knee) are also expected to sit out, though the fact that Hodges practiced today gives him hope that he might be able to go.
As for the quarterback plan, Zimmer was vague with us because he hadn’t yet told some players his plan for playing time. He left wiggle room that Matt Cassel could play, but said there is a “good chance” that Teddy Bridgewater will start before eventually giving way to Christian Ponder.
“If he does start the game, it’s good for us to see how he takes the beginning of the game,” Zimmer said of the rookie quarterback, who did not start any of the team’s first three preseason games.
One other comment piqued my interest in Zimmer’s powwow with reporters. When asked about cornerback Shaun Prater, he said he could see the Vikings shifting him to safety “down the road.”
“Prater, obviously he was with me before [in Cincinnati], but he’s a tough, feisty kid that can do a lot of jobs,” Zimmer said. “He can play nickel. He can play corner. I’m not too sure we shouldn’t look at him some at safety, just because of his temperament and he’s doing things a lot better now.”
With that praise for Prater, it sure seems like we can pencil him onto the team’s 53-man roster.