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Once More Unto the Breach: Amid Uncertainty, We’re Still Here

My yearly thank you to everyone who helps make this place what it is.

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Just about every year since I’ve been put in charge of our little corner of the internet, I’ve written a piece about the Wolves and Canis Hoopus at the start of the new season. You can see past iterations: 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017. (I’m not sure what happened in 2014; I must have been in a particularly bad mood.)

My purpose every year is two-fold: To share my thoughts about the season ahead, but more importantly to thank everyone who contributes to making this place what it is for me, and I think for others: An online home. A place we come to feel a part of a community with shared interests and a feeling of belonging.

This has been a particularly difficult summer and fall for Wolves fans: The Jimmy Butler fiasco, Tom Thibodeau’s intransigence (#FireThibs) and Glen Taylor’s dithering are peak Wolves dysfunction, something that rears its ugly head just as we’re sure, like Charlie Brown, we’re finally gonna kick that football.

I wrote last year encouraging us to remember to enjoy the season:

My fervent hope is that everyone reading this takes pleasure in this season, which will undoubtedly have its ups and downs. Whether the Wolves ever reach the ultimate goal of a championship or not, it really is the journey that matters. If this season goes how I expect it to go, it should be one of the most enjoyable we ever have. There are expectations, but not outsized ones. There are flaws, but nobody expects flawlessness.

I am sure that long-time Warriors fans have thrilled to their dominance, to their titles. But I wonder if that first season out of the wilderness, back in 2012-13, when they won 47 games and made the playoffs for the first time in six years, wasn’t just as satisfying for them.

There were of course things we enjoyed last season: Winning 47 games and making the playoffs was something we hadn’t experienced in 14 years. But in truth I think most of us felt it was more of a slog and less of a joy than we expected.

There were reasons for this: That Warriors team I referenced, or the early-decade Thunder are another good example-improved on the backs of young players emerging in the league. There was clearly something more to look forward to.

The Wolves, on the other hand, were something different. The hope was that Butler and other veterans like Taj Gibson would help facilitate the further emergence of Karl-Anthony Towns and perhaps Andrew Wiggins (though I had little hope for Wiggins.) While Towns made the All-Star game and was 3rd team All-NBA, it didn’t really happen like that. Butler took over the team with Thibs’ approval, the Wolves virtually ignored one of the most efficient scorers in the league in crunch time, and of course Thibs’ himself, with his schemes and his demeanor exacted a large joy tax. Meanwhile, it was fairly clear throughout the season, even as they were having some long-awaited success, that there was a lot of conflict and unhappiness in the locker room.

We enter this season with an unprecedented air of uncertainty. Three weeks ago it seemed impossible that Jimmy Butler would suit up for the Wolves ever again. His trade request that Taylor seemed determined to honor was followed by missing almost all of training camp. He returned to blow things up and force a move, but that didn’t work, so he and Taylor struck a bizarre bargain that seems destined to backfire. For the moment he’s back in the fold.

Meanwhile, incredibly, Thibs remains, thanks to the power of inertia and money in Glen Taylor’s decision making. While he does, it feels as if the future of the Wolves is on hold. This is largely because Thibs has shown little interest in appropriately developing the central pieces of that future. Towns is a shocking talent that should be getting used to being the focal point of the offense, but is too often ignored. Tyus Jones has the makings of a smart, tough facilitator at the point, but gets far too few minutes, especially with the starters, to develop that comfort level. If you still have hope of Andrew Wiggins becoming an impact player in the NBA, you must be frustrated by how often he disappeared under the glare of Butler’s ball dominance.

The youngsters are not blameless. Wiggins needs to assert himself without being force-fed as he was early in his career under Flip Saunders and Sam Mitchell. Towns needs to figure out how to impact the game defensively. That said, Thibs’ schemes are not helping them, and as long as he’s on the sidelines, it’s hard to see that changing.

All of which is to say I have no idea how things will play out this season, but as long as we’re in this holding pattern, waiting for changes that seem inevitable, it’s hard to fully invest in enjoying the season. I suppose it will look somewhat similar to last year as long as Butler and Thibs are the dominant forces in the organization. They are both stubborn men who aren’t going to change their approach.

Maybe I’m wrong, and things do change. Maybe Towns becomes the two-way force we’ve been waiting for and simply takes over the team. Maybe Wiggins, evidence to the contrary, bullies his way into the conversation. Eventually Butler will be traded (I think,) and we’ll have a new roster construction to examine and debate.

At any rate, given the uncertainty, I’m not gung ho about the upcoming season, and I won’t try to convince you to be either. But as always, there are things to be thankful for, and things to enjoy. We still have Karl-Anthony Towns to watch (for the next six years! Hopefully!) There will be 82 nights of Timberwolves basketball, which is mostly a good thing. As always, there is the crazy factor. If nothing else, let’s embrace the chaos.

Most importantly, we have this place, and we have each other. If you remember or bothered to re-read my past entries for this column, you know how important Canis is to me, and as I’ve heard, to many of you as well. It makes me proud that we have carved out this community surrounding a mostly terrible basketball team. A place where we commune together about so many topics, and a place that still, nearly a decade after I found it and began commenting, is a place that brings me comfort and happiness.

For that I have all the writers, readers, and commenters to thank. And so I do: Thank you for participating, for reading, for writing. We’ve been though awful seasons plenty of times before, and whatever happens this year, good, bad, or nuts, we’ll be here to talk and laugh about it. In a world beset by uncertainty, I am always thankful that this place exists, and I was lucky enough to find it.

I hope you feel a little of that as well.

Once more unto the breach, friends.