One of the things that has bugged me the most in the David Kahn era is the importance placed (at least publicly) on long, athletic players. For long time readers of this site, this might come as something of a surprise. After all, I have made it well known that there is nothing more I would like to see than a team of crazy athletic 6'6"-6'9" players run up and down the court with reckless abandon. Where my imaginary dream team starts to fade away is that I also have a strong pull towards players that are efficient and, you know, good. Efficiency matters. Ending possessions in a positive manner matters. Long and athletic is fun to think about and it's sure a blast on NBA Jam, but it is really kind of baffling to think that a team with almost zero upper level talent is thinking about player types instead of player proficiency.
On the other end of that spectrum is the weird insistence that the Wolves are going to play a specific type of basketball. Again, this might come as something of a surprise to our long-time readers, but while I would choose to watch an up-tempo team rather than a slow one, I'd much rather pay for a ticket to a team that can actually play professional basketball. When was the last time you heard of a 15 win franchise being a "system team"?
If any group of people were to understand the importance of going to war with the players you have and not the players you want to have, it should be Minnesota sports fans. The words "kick ass offense" should be permanently seared on the brains of anyone who has listened to KFAN or flipped open a newspaper in the Twin Cities. Systems are fun to talk about but when you can land top flight talent, you do so and run (or pass) with it without complaining about how people change plays, don't hustle, whatever. Get the best players you possibly can and adjust accordingly.
The Memphis Grizzlies are supposed to be a rebuilding peer of the Minnesota Timberwolves. While they may have been in similar straights a year or two ago, that parity no longer exists. The Griz have better players, coaching, and, amazingly, a superior front office. Last year, Lionel Hollins gave his best players (otherwise known to the viewing public as "starters") huge minutes while building cohesion behind the scenes. Wolves fans get to watch Kurt Rambis deliver heavy-handed public teaching lessons to his players while yanking their minutes all over the place.
In 09/10, the Griz were one of the league's most improved teams in the league. Check out the numbers from last year's 40-win team compared to the 08 version:
PTS/G: 102.5 (7th of 30) ▪ Opp PTS/G: 104.0 (24th of 30)
SRS: -1.38 (17th of 30) ▪ Pace: 93.6 (10th of 30)
Off Rtg: 108.3 (13th of 30) ▪ Def Rtg: 109.9 (19th of 30)
Expected W-L: 37-45 (17th of 30)
The year before they won 24:
PTS/G: 93.9 (29th of 30) ▪ Opp PTS/G: 99.3 (14th of 30)
SRS: -5.22 (26th of 30) ▪ Pace: 90.1 (20th of 30)
Off Rtg: 103.5 (28th of 30) ▪ Def Rtg: 109.5 (21st of 30)
Expected W-L: 26-56 (26th of 30)
They are so far above and beyond Our Beloved Puppies it's not even funny.
Last night, Kurt Rambis' team was completely unprepared to play in the 3rd f'ing contest of the year. Think about that: The guy is resorting to mind games and public displays of minute-yanking 2-3 games into the season. His team thinks so highly of its viewing public that they couldn't be bothered to shake off the cobwebs in the 3rd--I repeat, the 3rd--game of the year. Rambis' response? Mike Beasley gets benched a few seconds into the 2nd half...and for what? For playing like the rest of the team? This is embarrassing and it's only going to get worse. Who knew that Rambis was just a West Coast Randy Wittman?
Basketball isn't rocket science. You draft the best players that you can, you sign the best players you can, and you get a coach who understands young, modern players while being able to adjust to whatever type of goods his GM brings to the table. Kurt Rambis is a fry cook. He knows how to make burgers and fries. This team needs a chef, especially if its POBO is going to bring home some goofy-ass ingredients.
The response to all of this is clear: This team is all-in on Ricky Rubio. They're trying to build a team filled with a bunch of guys who can hit 3s and be the "oop" end of what they hope to be Ricky's ally-fest. As a long time fan of this team, I'm still not sure what to think about this. On one hand, I get what they are doing. On the other hand, I'm getting closer and closer to apathy. Why can't we just have a normal front office? Why can't we just get a guy who doesn't talk about working hard (how about working smart?) and systems, who, instead, just goes out and gets the BPA and a coach that plays politics with his players in practice rather than on the court?
Oh well. As I mentioned in the comments of the game thread, I'm tired of talking about what could have been with this team. I'm just as burned out hoping for what could be. All of it is a long shot with a bunch of people who are unable to live in the present themselves.
As for the game, there really isn't a whole lot to be positive about. Anthony Tolliver and Corey Brewer provided some nice energy off of the bench and Wes Johnson shows flashes of being more than I thought he would be. Outside of that, this team didn't show up to play and it is only fitting that this is the only game in the NBA this season that will not have at least a single TV crew. For the Wolves, it's best that their few remaining fans were kept as far away from this stink bomb as possible.
My only hope for this season is that this team is filled with guys who have never played together before and who simply need some time. I'm genuinely excited to see how Wes Johnson plays if and when he can get healthy. Luke Ridnour looks to be like an awesome pick up. The problem here is that this optimism will be hard to maintain if they continue to put up games like this. Apathy is the enemy.
Wrapping this thing up, how fun was it to watch Rudy Gay? I love seeing basketball played at its highest level and Rudy Gay treated us to that against the Wolves. He was absolutely lights out. Ball handling, shooting, *mind-bending) athleticism, length...you name it, he had it on full display against our woefully over-matched Wolves. It remains to be seen whether or not he can be the type of player to match his contract, but last night was a masterful display of basketball. A joy to watch.