Waking up on Saturday morning, as someone who did not watch the Wolves on Friday night, nor paid attention to social media, it seemed as if the Wolves universe had imploded.
Most everyone is familiar with what happened. The Wolves, playing the Jazz, lost their second game in a row, tumbled down the Western Conference playoff race, had Karl-Anthony Towns ejected, Tom Thibodeau received a technical for verbally abusing Jae Crowder, and, the most divisive moment, was that Jeff Teague hip-checked Ricky Rubio on an ill-conceived foul that looked dangerous.
Then, for some reason, Jimmy Butler, who was at a Wolves viewing party downtown in Minneapolis, hopped on Twitter to throw some shade at Ricky Rubio, and then commented back to a fan who claimed that Rubio was more Minnesota than Butler, Teague, and Thibs.
Canis Hoopus has long been a website that prided itself on the self-appointed “intellectual” side of the Rubio debate during his time in Minnesota. Some fans thought that his lack of shooting essentially made Rubio worthless as a basketball player, while many of us, myself included, wrote copious amounts of material defending his worth. Having Jeff Teague, a player who has had an up-and-down year in replacing Rubio, commit a dangerous foul against Rubio, who many still hold a candle in their heart for, seemed a bridge too far.
Battle lines were drawn on message boards and on the Wolves Twitterverse. You were either with Jimmy and the Wolves or you might as well move to Utah. Thibs, Jimmy, Teague, the whole rebuild, seemed to be all in-question, as the Western Conference bloodbath seems to be overtaking the Wolves. The tension was high.
Of course, a few days later, none of this really matters.
I’m not going to defend the play from Teague, and I’m relatively sure that he would not himself upon watching a replay, but these things happen fast on the court. A shove to someone who is going full speed can send them tumbling in dangerous ways.
But for Butler, at some point, we should be happy that this is who he is. He, watching from a crowded sports bar with fans, likely did not have the full picture of what happened when he started tweeting. He was just defending his guy.
I often find it helpful, particularly when covering the Wolves, to question my own perspective and ability to be an “expert.” I, as I sometimes mention, write about the Wolves from Baltimore. I watch the games when I can, but I am not close to the team.
For the most part, all of us have the tiniest windows into what is actually going on. We try to make judgments from what we are presented, whether that is the game itself or the snippets we hear in interviews, but we truly know very little. We are not at practice, we are not there on the team’s travels, we do not break down film, we are not in the huddle, we are not in the locker room before the game, and we are not there after the game when the players and coaches actually speak to one another.
Instead, with this slight information, we dramatize the proceedings and treat each game as if it is the defining moment of the franchise. A funny thing to do is go to any NBA SB Nation page after a team loses. Coaches will be called to be fired. Veterans are washed and overpaid. Prospects will never make it and should be traded immediately. Sports fans would make great Chicken Littles.
We all experience the game and fandom in different ways and that’s totally acceptable, it’s why sports arguments are fun. However, I would just propose that perhaps we acknowledge that every team suffers through bad stretches. For the Wolves case, they basically will be finishing this season without Jimmy Butler. Against the Jazz, once KAT got ejected, that is essentially the game right there. Every team, especially top-heavy ones, will struggle without their two best players.
The Wolves, on the 2nd half of a road back-to-back, were always in trouble.
No, the schedule is not going to get easier. The Celtics, Warriors, Wizards, Spurs, Rockets, and Clippers are on deck. With a 1.5 game lead on the 8th seed and a 2 game lead on the 9th seed, nothing is certain.
But every team has problems. Even the fans of the best teams are convinced their demise is imminent.
Warriors fans think that Iggy and Shaun Livingston are washed and their bench will fade in the playoffs. Raptors fans have always hated Dwayne Casey’s rotations and failure to integrate more ball movement. Cavs fans have been calling from Tyronn Lue to be fired for most of the year. Portland was a blow-it-up candidate for a good portion of the season. Wizards fans think they might be better off without John Wall and don’t see a path forward to real contention. Denver might not be able to play defense and Paul Millsap has struggled coming back. The Spurs are dropping just as fast as the Wolves, have weird Kawhi things going on, and have no real assets. The Pelicans were supposed to trade Anthony Davis and blow it up. Everyone might leave the Thunder next year or they are going to have the highest tax bill ever and Westbrook might never be a good teammate.
The only teams that seem relatively happy are the Celtics, as their team’s riches are implausibly secure due to the Nets trade and landing Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, and the Rockets, whose newfound optimism could be quickly dashed by a dominant Warriors performance in the playoffs.
So, yes, the Timberwolves have warts, but so does almost every other team in the NBA. Thibodeau will never institute the system that many of us want him to. Jeff Teague will never be Ricky Rubio. The team will not take enough threes, sign enough wing players, properly evaluate assets, and make the right substitutions.
Our fantasy Wolves team will never exist. But that’s ok. There is a very real team that is pretty likely to make the playoffs this year. It has been fun to root for that team so far. Sure, we can criticize them along the way, but that should not diminish our enjoyment in their accomplishments nor our hope for their future.