It’s the new calendar year. A pretty meaningless date for us NBA fans who only acknowledge one form of a “year”, July through June.
When that “new year” started for Minnesota Timberwolves fans, however, the tone was, well, much more positive than it is now. The July version of ourselves were excited about what a 50-win team would do for fans, and had the blissful ignorance of not watching 3.5 of months of mostly garbage basketball that would have us entering 2023 blindfolded and kicked to the side of the road.
Believe we have a players only meeting going on here for the Wolves. Game ended 45 minutes ago and the locker room still has not opened to the media.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) January 1, 2023
The Players-Only Meeting and D’Angelo Russell
I can tackle the bad before the good, but these two things are intertwined for me.
The Wolves have had issues all season long taking the game seriously and rebounding the basketball, two things that are overtly common in D’Angelo Russell’s game since the minute he came to Minnesota. It was more acceptable previously because the circumstances were never dire or desperate, plus having Russell has largely been a lot of fun!
I’ve been a Russell defender for awhile, mainly because of his profile as a big NBA name elevating an ailing franchise and, dating back to last year, contributing to winning basketball with the aid of hustle players like Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt covering his negatives in those areas for most of the season.
Russell didn’t grab a rebound all night and his transition defense was as bad as it’s been all season. He came out firing with 13 of his 25 points in the first quarter, but was 1-for-6 in the fourth. The shot selection in that final period was galling, including a pull-up 3 while they were down five with 2:15 to play. Cory Joseph took the ball right at Russell on the other end for a layup that essentially ended any hopes of a comeback.
What Jon didn’t add about that pull-up three down five in the fourth was that is was a 3 on 2 fast break that had Edwards streaking to the basket wide open. Simple math says that cuts the game to a possession, and had the Wolves had five players on the court that cared, that’s an easy game to pull out.
But one didn’t care in particular. And it was the moment I officially became out on Russell moving forward with this team. He’s had some awesome moments with this franchise. The team wouldn’t have made the playoffs without him last season. But without the Pat Bevs and Vandos to cover up for his lackadaisical approach on a nightly basis, these tendencies are infectious, and he’s paid like someone whose infectious tendencies should swing the team in the opposite direction.
D'Angelo Russell retweeted a cryptic Fred VanVleet quote tweet about betting on yourself and has unfollowed the Timberwolves on Instagram. pic.twitter.com/41QnV2M8lU— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) January 4, 2023
This team isn’t about Russell. It hasn’t been since he got here in 2020. And I would guess that play in the fourth quarter was the breaking point that caused a lot of focus in the players only meeting to be on him. Either that or him being absent for the next game and the Wolves all of the sudden gang rebounding, playing hard and beating the Denver Nuggets — the top seed in the West — is a complete fluke. Even in the game against the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday evening, some of the seemingly unbreakable tendencies came through.
With Edwards completely opening up his game and being on the cusp of a nightly triple-double threat that drives winning, if your game impedes his progress, it’s time to step off the train.
I’ll have more closer to the deadline on options for Russell. But that had to be said.
Wolves minority governor Alex Rodriguez recently posted this photo from his modest home in the middle of a blackout snowstorm in the Twin Cities.
These are the types of things that separate Minnesotans from Hollywood, the contenders from the pretenders, the men from the boys. Ignore the snow plow sticks in the background and the blatant tire tracks behind him from the snow service he has. A perfect setup for a masterclass...
Look like u haven’t even started https://t.co/iEMa7CwVwI— Patrick Beverley (@patbev21) January 4, 2023
Sorry A-Rod, it will take a little bit more than a shoveling picture to win me over after all of the postseason baseball heartache you have given me...