Good afternoon, Mr. Rosas.
I’m writing to you early Tuesday morning, after the Minnesota Timberwolves — our Minnesota Timberwolves — lost yet another disappointing game, their fifteenth time doing so this season. As we enter the second full month of what has been an unprecedented season (due mostly to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic), the team that we all love (and the team that you push all the buttons for) has now lost as many games (15) as the Memphis Grizzlies have played (15).
Let me take a quick step back here — expectations entering the 2020-2021 season were rather low, at least for me personally. The lethal ingredients of no NBA Summer League, an expedited training camp, and the inability to regularly practice as often as a head coach would prefer all combined — in my opinion — to create a toxic concoction that would ultimately hinder the overall expectations for such a young roster.
But... here’s the problem. At 5-15, the Minnesota Timberwolves — our Minnesota Timberwolves — are somehow failing to meet even the most mundane set of expectations, and it’s becoming a serious issue for everyone involved.
I’m sure you know this by now, but when you took over this franchise back on May 1, 2019, you were handed the keys to the NBA franchise with the worst all-time winning percentage in NBA history (and if I’m not mistaken, the worst all-time winning percentage of all active franchises in the four major sports). Again, the bar of expectations was practically below sea level.
Fast forward to today, and despite a bevy of orchestrated transactions — some big, some small — the Timberwolves remain the least successful franchise in the NBA. It should be mentioned — as Britt Robson pointed out in his fantastic article on The Athletic this morning — that a myriad of unseen dominos have fallen since you took over back in 2019 that has removed the ability of this team to play one, normal 82-game schedule. As Britt described in his piece, despite taking over as POBO over 21 months ago, the Wolves just concluded their 82nd official game of the “Rosas Regime” last Friday. In other words, things have not gone remotely as planned, and that’s understandable.
However, in the same breath, you do call the shots here. The team you’ve currently assembled — which contains only two remaining players from the past regime — is ranked 29th in TS%, 29th in eFG%, and 30th in overall net rating. Moreover, they also are 24th in free throw rate, 29th in 3P%, 30th in OREB%, 30th in DREB%, and — this is the big one — 29th in the NBA standings.
Again, from a fan’s perspective — from my perspective — it’s important to cleanse one’s palate every now and then and remember that most of this (hell, maybe ALL of it) is directly tied to the fact that Karl-Anthony Towns has played in less than a handful of games this season. You yourself have said on countless occasions that KAT is the “single most important member of this franchise” and to be honest — I fully agree.
But who do you think right now is the second most important member? Is it Ryan Saunders? Is it D’Angelo Russell? Both were handpicked by you to run the Minnesota Timberwolves — our Minnesota Timberwolves — both on and off the court, and despite a list of similar excuses as outlined above, these two have ultimately failed (thus far) to elevate this franchise from it’s permanent residence in the cellar of the Western Conference.
Without speaking for the entire group, I can say this — Minnesota sports fans are built for this type of losing and failure. We’ve been doing it for as long as many of us can remember. The fans who do remain — as it pertains specifically to the Wolves — are basketball purists through and through. Our expectations do not mirror those of a Lakers fan or a Celtics fan, we are simply content (or at least I am) with a level of sustained mediocrity that every once in a while provides a clear illustration of what “could be” if we just hold on to the sinking ship a little bit longer.
But what “could be” is becoming harder and harder to navigate as this season rolls on. Star players are underperforming. Young players are failing to develop. Even beloved players — i.e. Ricky Rubio — are finding their return to the city they once called home more insufferable than when they first arrived here many years ago (and that’s saying something).
Today — the 2nd of February — not only signals the annual celebration of Groundhog Day, but it also coincides with the local tradition of pivoting from basketballs to ping-pong balls. Dating back to 2004, the Timberwolves have “celebrated” this North American tradition with a winning record just four times in the last seventeen years. The unearthing of a simple mammal usually signals two undeniable truths — six additional weeks (or more) of insufferable winter temps, and the inevitable acceptance of yet another losing season as we begin to peg our hopes and dreams once again on players still focused on textbooks, not playbooks.
However, even that “joy” has been neutered this season because of the lasting ramifications of the Andrew Wiggins trade (the same low-key, soft-spoken Andrew Wiggins who went out of his way recently to applaud the “winning culture” of his new employer).
As Britt pointed out in his article, we are less than one week away from the first anniversary of the Wiggins-for-Russell swap, and while the biggest move of your Timberwolves tenure looks increasingly distressing by the day, the palate cleanser once again is that the player you hoped to pair with Russell — Karl-Anthony Towns — has only suited up alongside his good friend five total games. Maybe there is reason for optimism after all.
Speaking of friendships — one thing this franchise has done a phenomenal job of since you took over in 2019 is catering to the overall happiness of its players. Custom smoothies for the frontcourt? Got it. Team adventures to tropical islands? Already booked. Pre-approved days off for the team’s highest-paid players? Say no more!
But as I yet again set out to search for tangible remnants amongst the ashes, one does begin to wonder— at what point does the overall happiness of this (rapidly dwindling) fan base get accounted for as well?
Fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves — our Minnesota Timberwolves — have been afforded very few reasons over the years to continue to instill confidence and faith in this organization (not to mention our time and disposable income, as well). But when you arrived on the scene a mere 21 months ago, things truly felt different.
A few weeks back, you told Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, “I love that our fans are starting to have expectations for us. I love that they’re tuned in... I’d rather have that than fans that don’t care or it just doesn’t matter to them. That lets us know that they’re paying attention and they’re watching and we’ve got to earn their trust.”
Like other realms of life — not just in sports — the concept of “trust” is a two-way street. Much like building a “sustainable model for a winning team,” building trust involves time, risk, transparency, and sometimes even vulnerability.
Those who have gotten to know me and understand my relationship with this franchise can vouch for one specific thing — my optimism. Losses accumulate, frustration grows, and hope disintegrates, but despite it all, I try to look at things through rose-tinted glasses (or maybe they’re beer goggles, I don’t know).
Maybe a coaching change is on the horizon. Maybe this team will begin to be more transparent with how they report injuries. Maybe another out-of-nowhere transaction will revitalize not only this specific roster, but the fan base as well. Maybe the on-court product will become significantly more watchable when Karl returns (at least for the small number of us that magically can access the games right now on TV).
Regardless, something has to change. Something needs to change. Because as it currently stands today, the state of the Minnesota Timberwolves — our Minnesota Timberwolves — appears increasingly discouraging and it’s becoming harder and harder for fans like myself to unequivocally trust the Prosas.