OK, that was rough. The island natives are getting restless and if Our Beloved Puppies lose to the Cavs, I think they'll kill Piggy. Let's begin with a poem, courtesy of the Son of Gerald Green:
For it looks to be another game
Where our Wolves start out roaring and end up tamed
3 quarters of fun, the other team’s 4th quarter run
We have so many culprits to blame
Is it Kahn? Is it Rambis?
Is it a fanbase consumed with sadness?
Winning is for fans of other teams
Time to go make another Ginger and Beam
While this was perhaps the worst loss of the season, it was also something of a perfect encapsulation of why this team is where it's at, from the personnel to the system.
Let's start with the system. Over at Sekou Smith's Hangtime Blog Steve Aschburner commemorated the occasion of Kurt Rambis equaling Jimmy Rodger's all time Wolves coaching record of ineptitude with a Joakim Noah quote about the infamous Triangle:
Also Rambis has installed something resembling the triangle offense that he learned on the Lakers’ bench as an assistant to Phil Jackson with Tex Winter and there has been a pretty steep learning curve. Oh, and no Kobe Bryant to bail out broken possessions late in the shock clock, the wayMichael Jordan did for Jackson and Winter in Chicago.
"The Lakers run the triangle and Minnesota runs it," Bulls center Joakim Noah told me recently, "but the personnel is different, y’know." Yeah, we know.
The Triangle is not just a rarely-used offensive scheme, it's something of an ego management tool that allows role players to feel like they matter during an 82 game season when everybody in the building knows that guys like Kobe, MJ, Shaq, and Pippen can do what they want, when they want to. Teams without top end talent don't use it because their role players actually have to be counted on to make up for broken possessions and to deal with the pressure that arises in high-leverage situations.
For the Wolves, this dilemma plays itself out with a team that can perform reasonably well during portions of the game that are distinctly not high-leveraged. You can get away with your wings running to the corner and standing there waiting for kickouts during the first 30 or so minutes of the game. Not so much when it matters. Instead of asking players to run plays throughout the game that actually would be meaningful practice for the type of action that is useful in high-leverage situations, Kurt Rambis has his guys playing a type of ball that is almost completely alien to the entire damn league. Is it any wonder that this team folds late? Is it any wonder that they do not have a go-to set or a duo that can run a reasonable two-man game down the stretch? Hell, they don't even have a reasonable way to work the ball in and out.
The Wolves jumped out to an early lead because they shot an amazing 65% eFG for the better part of 3 quarters. That's it. When things started to tighten up they literally had no functional NBA system to fall back on. They ran the same plays and the shots simply didn't fall at a high enough rate to make up for the fact that they run an ego-management system without big enough egos (and talents) to make it all click. What I wouldn't give for Dwane Casey to be coaching this team.
On the personnel side, while this year's squad looks like it should be different than past versions of Wolfdom (hooray long and bouncy athletcism!), take a look at 2008's roster and compare it to this year's team. After all of the change we have seen over the past few years, we're still left looking at a squad that is a bunch of mid-level (at best) players surrounding two guys that matter. In 08 it was Big Al Jefferson and Kevin Love. This year it's Love and Michael Beasley. Does a rookie Wes Johnson really bring more than Mike Miller? is the Foye/Ollie/Carney perimeter trio really that much more/less productive than Flynn/Ridnour/Brewer? If you count yourself in the "this year has more potential" camp, do you really believe this coaching staff can make the most out of it with either player development or with the offensive and defensive schemes they run? 2 guys that matter surrounded by a bunch of interchangeable parts. Same as it ever was.
The personnel and system streams cross themselves in terrible ways when you look over at the Utah Jazz and Jerry Sloan (who passed Pat Reilly as the 3rd most winningest coach with his 1,211st career victory) and think about how it is possible that he is able to find a way to make it all work with Al Jefferson playing a pick and roll game next to a guy who is distinctly Kevin Love sized. Big Al even worked it on defense down the stretch, ending the game with 7 blocked shots.
- The Wolves had everything working for them in this game. For the first time since I don't know when the refs seem to be trying to give the good guys a victory, they shot the lights out, they got competent wing play, and so on and so forth. Yet, despite all of this, it became obvious to every person in the comment thread with about 8 minutes to go that they were going to lose.
- The good guys were unspeakably dumb down the stretch. Martell Webster used up all of his early-game good will by fouling a defensive rebounder after a missed shot, Luke Ridnour blew a fast break that would have put the team up by 7, Luke tried a quick-trigger three pointer when it was absolutely uncalled for, Webster fouled a guy on a dunk...the list goes on and on.
- For the first time in recent memory, Kurt Rambis actually designed an inbounds play that worked: a 3 point play for Webster. Unfortunately, he went back to this well when the game was on the line and after Michael Beasley had shown himself to get whatever he wanted against a 5-foul Milsap. For all of the talk about grooming Beasley to be an Alpha Wolf, he was used as a screen on the one play that mattered more than any other. That's almost as inexcusable as not calling a timeout the other night. I'm sure Kurt will come up with a story about how Phil Jackson thinks that sort of thing is totally cool.
- As poorly (and as stupidly) as he played down the stretch, it was kind of cool to see Webster play like he did for the better part of 3 1/2 quarters.
- Kurt Rambis is now 21-90 as the Wolves head coach.
- I think it's obvious that I'm not a big fan of David Kahn, but I think his biggest test going forward is to realize that Rambis isn't the right guy for the job and pull a Sam Presti by firing his version of PJ Carlesimo early enough for it to matter in the long run. If you really are all-in on Ricky Rubio (more on this below), you can't let this guy near another young point guard. If you keep Rambis for Rubio, you might as well hire Larry Brown and let him coach Darko and 11 rookies. This team isn't the best roster in the league but it also isn't worth only 6 wins. The chef is butchering the meal and it's ok to admit you were wrong about his talents as long as you do it before it's too late. That, to me, would be a sign of growth and hope for the POBO. Although, maybe POBO and the chef are tied at the hip and...well, something has to change. If they lose against Cleveland...
#5 ME (via Wile E. Coyote): How is the team planning to define success next year? From a fan perspective, if next year is not about trying to win games and put the most competitive rotation on the floor, I will not watch. I cannot stand another year of abstract player evaluation, zero accountability for wins, and a general tank-a-thon to yet another draft.
CW: We've got to compete for a playoff spot next year. That is success on the court and with the potential of Rubio the year after, and one more round of free agency, and lotto in the event that we don't make the playoffs; all that being said, I think we will compete for the playoffs next year at this time and if we do not, I will be very disappointed. With this comes expectations of attendance. I think we should be averaging 16k people again.