How important is an identity when it comes to the success of a team? Does a team need a skill or trait that sets them apart from the others in order to be a winning franchise? What is the identity of the Minnesota Timberwolves? These are questions I have been pondering as of late as I walk the four blocks from my apartment to school every day, and it is a fun mental exercise (at least to me) that helps take my mind off of classes.
The Golden State Warriors are known for their fast pace, analytically perfect offense and copious amounts of swag. The San Antonio Spurs are known for their defense that is more suffocating than the vacuum of space as well as their fundamental perfection. The Minnesota Timberwolves are known for...being young and individually talented, but unsuccessful in their pursuit of victory?
Aside from their young talent, the Wolves don't really boast anything that sets them apart from the rest of the league. Is having that trait, that identifying skill, necessary for success in a championship contending sense? Maybe, maybe not, but the Wolves find themselves in the unique position to be able to choose their identity, something very few teams have the opportunity to do.
The Warriors had this opportunity after drafting Steph Curry. Ultimately, they decided to build the team around Curry and place their focus on becoming an offensive blitzkrieg that rained 3's and ran their opponents into the ground. The Bulls had this opportunity when Tom Thibodeau was at the helm and they decided to focus their efforts on becoming one of the best defenses in the league annually.
However, this begs the question: who is more responsible for the identity of a team - the coach and his/her philosophy or the players? In other words, do the players conform to the coach or does the coach conform to the players? The reality is that most likely a little bit of both is going on and this is a discussion that is probably best saved for another day. But the team in Minnesota is lucky in that they are in a position in which they are comprised of an amalgam of young talent that could be molded in any number of ways. The Wolves' top three players (Ricky Rubio, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins) are skilled both offensively and defensively, so should a coach decide to become a top ten team in either area, it can happen. All the team needs is a coach to guide them towards an identity, maybe a few roster moves to shore up some holes, and a little time to ripen.
But finding the right coach and making the right moves can't occur without first finding the right general manager. Is current GM Milt Newton the right guy? Who knows; we aren't really sure how much Newton should be credited for the current state of the Wolves and how much should be given to the late Flip Saunders. What is important, though, is deciding if Newton is the right guy for the job and, if not, making a change sooner rather than later.
So really, the quest for an identity begins with the general manager and then trickles down to the coach and players (Eric touched on this in his piece from earlier this week that can be found here). As of right now, the Wolves are an amorphous blob of athleticism and potential, just waiting for the right collection of higher ups to help form them into something a little more ... morphus. It doesn't really matter at this point if that something is offensively or defensively oriented or some combination of the two, but was does matter is that an organizational infrastructure that will guide the team towards tangible success is created soon.