The Wolves have had a fantastic off-season. From the highway robbery that brought them Mike Miller and Kevin Love to their 'it can't do us any harm' trade for Rodney Carney, the Wolves have, for the most part (cough...Mario Chalmers...cough), made the right moves.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the FO's new approach is the apparent non-McHaleness of their approach and execution. Earlier in the year, Papa Glen told the Star Tribune that the Wolves had adopted a new culture in the FO; a culture that favored multiple opinions over the single iron fist of the Iron Ranger:
For six weeks, the team's sizable front office has been going full tilt in hopes of making the right decision with the third overall pick. Taylor has tried to create a system that strives for consensus but at the same time makes sure everyone is heard. And that's a lot of listening, when you consider that group includes a VP of basketball operations (Kevin McHale), a GM (Jim Stack), two assistant GMs (Fred Hoiberg and Rob Babcock), coaches and top scouts.
"Everybody is used to coming to the meetings, to the written reports," Taylor said. "I want everyone's opinion. Not like it was, when everybody would give it to Kevin and Kevin would give me a summation. Now what goes to Kevin goes to me, goes to everybody. Everybody sees it."
Granted, this is a team that sees a marketing gimmick in just about anything that moves, but the proof is in the pudding and the new collective approach appears to have generated a plan in both player selection (they identified the BPA with each of their picks) and long term planning (they are building a team with a clear structure and direction). This is a welcome development...especially when the Iron Ranger gets a hold of Grandpa Sports for long enough to remind you of the way things were:
Kevin McHale, vice president of the Timberwolves, said, "We should be much better. I think last year we went through a growth period trying to figure out what we had here. We had a bunch of new players -- but as much as that, I think [Randy] Foye being hurt for the first half of the season really put us back. I think after Randy came back, we were 17-21 or something like that coming down the stretch. For a lot of these guys, familiarity is going to make us much, much better."
Look, I know the guy is a Hall of Fame player. I know he is probably the greatest player in Minnesota history. That being said, the guy has one of the most simplistic and ridiculous ways of viewing basketball imaginable. It's a sentiment I've expressed here before:
McHale's entire basketball outlook is encased in the amber of the 86 Celts. As far as he's concerned, basketball reached its pinnacle on the parquet floor in Boston 22 years ago and it's been downhill ever since.
In McHale's world, the Wolves just need to allow their young players to grow together in order to produce more wins. Whether or not the Wolves actually improved or played a better style of ball upon Foye's The Guy Who McHale Traded Brandon Roy For's return isn't even part of the discussion. We broke down the question of in-season improvement at the end of the year:
Getting back to the main point of this post, it's pretty hard to say that the Wolves improved when they ended the season with such a terrible defensive performance. While it was nice to see them end the season by getting 100ppg in the last 2 months, they also gave up 103 and 110 respectively. That's not improvement. That's going the other direction. Outside of the 1st 2 horrible months, the Wolves went 18-34 while scoring 97 ppg and giving up 102.85. Since Foye came back you can add about 3 points to each average. And therein lies the big problem: there wasn't any real improvement; just an addition of a (relatively) important player who is better on offense than he is on defense.
As a team, the Wolves most certainly did not improve throughout the year. Foye simply came back and played well enough for them to knock off a few more wins against the likes of the Clips and Grizz. Pace, DPace, FTM/FTA, DFTM/DFTA, eFG%, DeFG%...the list goes on and on; the Wolves had a series of important numbers that remained consistent throughout the year. Outside of a slight uptick in eFG% after the ASB (which can be tied to a single player more than actual team play), they were the same team they were at the beginning of the year + Foye. They had the same issues, played the same style, had the same deficiencies, and so on and so forth. I'm not sure if you can call this improvement.
The most disturbing thing about McHale's approach to GM'ing has been that his statements/decisions have always made more sense as marketing talking points than they have as positive actions for the squad. If I'm a Wolves employee and I'm calling potential season ticket holders, I'm pulling a page from the McHale playbook and I'm telling the guy/gal on the other end of the line that Randy Foye missed a bunch of games last year and it's a given that the team will improve if he plays a full slate of games. However, if I'm coaching the Wolves, I'm thinking to myself "What the hell?" Especially when the big guy with the ugly sweaters has essentially told the world that .500 is the goal. We took a look at that claim a while back:
In order to get to an even .500 (which is just below McHale's lofty projection), the Wolves would have to increase their winning percentage by an amazing 23.2%. As you can see, McHale's high hopes are just an itty-bitty bit off of historical projections for expected changes in win %. Of course, for folks like McHale, improvement is probably all about the appearance of will and effort. I wouldn't expect any less from someone who supported the Mittster. I'd also like to believe that his statement has nothing to do with the fact that his good buddy Danny Ainge's squad just took part in a 42 game improvement, but I wouldn't put it past the Iron Ranger. I can just hear the gears working…”If Danny can do it…”
Needless to say, there aren't too many teams in the history of the league to sport such numbers right before a massive turnaround. The closest example I could find is the 97-98 Spurs…or, as the event is otherwise known as, When Duncan Came to Town. Barring the introduction of a historic, game changing rookie, there is nothing in the Wolves stats, roster or schedule to suggest that they are in any way, shape, or form capable of running off an additional 20 wins in the 2008-09 season. Unfortunately, as I have been saying for some time, the sudden appearance of Basketball Jesus appears to be a large part of the Blueprint. And then something magical happened...
Just to give you an idea of how rare a 20 game turnaround is, the 2003-04 Nuggets won 26 more games than the previous season, ending up with a 43-39 record. The reason why? They added Andre Miller, Carmelo Anthony, and Marcus Camby. This is the 8th greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history. (Jason Kidd and the Nets had an equal turnaround in the 2000-01 season.) The 72 win Bulls are also on this list, improving by 25 games from the year before.
The most tragic part of Witt's Unfortunate Predicament (aside from the fact that it requires a historical turn-around) is this:
The best part about all of this is that if the Wolves improve to a relatively impressive 33-35 wins, they will likely forfeit their top 2009 Draft selection to the LA Clippers. Translation: According to the team's own words, either they need McHale's craziness to be true or they need to remain in the NBA's cellar for the Let's Build It Blueprint to actually work. Their boobery is so advanced that it almost doubles back on itself in an attempt to make its way out of the rabbit hole.
Again, McHale's approach works well when you're trying to sell tickets over the phone...not so much when you're trying to win basketball games. Maybe they should move him over to marketing.
Anywho, the point of this little post (aside from taking up some space in the dead air of August NBA action) is to remind everyone of how thankful they should be that the old sheriff has been replaced by a group of people who actually seem to be capable of making competent basketball decisions. The Wolves have shown remarkable efficiency and smarts with their recent FO actions. Their decisions are in stark relief to the way things used to get done in the days when the Iron Ranger roamed the offices of 600 First Avenue without a leash.