Fortunes Changing In Minnesota
The Minnesota Timberwolves tipped off their 2011-12 season Monday night in front of their home crowd and there was a buzz inside the Target Center which hasn’t been there for years. This was the official debut of Rick Adelman as the team’s head coach, as JJ Barea, Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio laced them up in a game that counts for the Wolves.
“Finally,” Rubio told HOOPSWORLD pregame. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time. When’s the NBA going to start? When’s the season? Finally on Christmas we could watch a lot of games and today we can finally play and see how it’s going to go this season and how we’re going to start. It’s good, it’s amazing, it’s finally here. The NBA season has come up and I’m excited to just start playing with my teammates, to start playing in the best league in the world and I’m ready.”
This is still a young team with a lot to learn, but if this singular game is any indication of the way they will play throughout the season, Adelman is doing his job incredibly well. Of course that was expected, as Adelman has always been able to find a way to get more out of his teams than critics have believed to be possible, making them focus on improving on their weaknesses in addition to playing to their strengths.
“We have fresh legs,” said Kevin Love after the game. “We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves throughout this condensed season. We look at it as we have fresh legs and we’re going to be able to push through it and every night we’re going to be able to compete. As long as we give ourselves a chance to win, we’re going to win a lot of ballgames this year.”
Indeed, the youthful legs should give the Timberwolves the ability to push through and fight each and every night. Competing, in itself, is progress, but it seems as if something all-together different is occurring: the Timberwolves are on the verge of being relevant again in the NBA landscape. They have young talent intriguing enough to excite fans as well as the coaches who work to develop their skills and, at the same time, free agents are actually choosing to come to Minnesota.
“It’s different,” Barea told HOOPSWORLD. “I’ve been with the same team for five years, so this is a new thing for me, but I’m excited. I’m happy where I’m at. These couple weeks with new teammates and new coaches, it was awesome. It was good and I’m just ready to get going. I think we still have to make progress taking care of the ball. If we take care of the ball, we’re going to be good. If we get better at that, if we play more with each other, we’ll take care of the ball more and we’ll be good.”
Timberwolves faithful were happy to see the hiring of Rick Adelman in the offseason and rightfully so. While he will not be with the team Tuesday night in Milwaukee, attending his mother-in-law’s funeral, he has already put his stamp all over this Timberwolves team. Media and fans may focus on Rubio’s amazing passes, Love’s rebounding, Beasley’s scoring or Williams’ dunks, the 2011-12 season is all about Adelman and his ability to get his new team to “buy in” to playing on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’re not about to repeat what happened last year,” Anthony Tolliver told HOOPSWORLD. “At the end of the day, we knew that coming into this season, we had someone that we could completely trust and we have to gain his trust as a team and learn how to win games. I mean, he’s done it a lot, so from our perspective, we knew that he would come in here and give us what we need to succeed. Now we have to go out and execute it.”
When you have young players who are best known for their offensive skills discussing the defensive end of the ball, as well as their willingness to take a step back on offense in order to focus on defense, you know you are getting through to them. You can expect lapses at times during games, but after a shortened training camp due to the lockout, it is clear Adelman has already planted the seed of proper play in the fertile minds of his young team.
“That’s what they’ve been saying to me in practices, saying they want me to defend the best offensive player, so I’m ready to take that role,” Wes Johnson told HOOPSWORLD. “I mean, it’s fun going up against the best in the league and trying to slow them down and make them take a lot of tough shots. It’s just paying attention to detail, watching a lot of film and really just focus on defense. I really need to communicate on defense, but not forget about the offensive side too. I’m really trying to pay attention to detail on defense.”
“Last year they had a lot of troubles in defense and I think since day one we start to defend harder to not let them score easy baskets and try to avoid the layups,” added Rubio to HOOPSWORLD. “We’re doing a good job trying to avoid those easy baskets and try not to lose the ball. One of the keys is our defense and on offense to not turn the ball over because we had a lot of turnovers and teams had easy baskets, layups, fast break and we want to avoid that.”
The Timberwolves knew they had a solid foundation last season with their young talent, but were able to add even more to the mix for this season. While it may still be a pastime of many to make jokes at the expense of Minnesota due to their recent history, those who continue to do so will find the jokes won’t come as easily anymore. Yes, there will be growing pains along the way and the Timberwolves still need to add a few important pieces to their mix, but they are further along than most outside of the Twin Cities realize. They are so confident in themselves—yet understand it is a long road even in this shortened season—they truly believe a playoff berth is a possibility.
“I think so if we stay healthy,” Barea told HOOPSWORLD. “I just want to be competing every game. I know they’re all going to be close games and we have to see how we do in the last couple minutes of every game. That’s going to decide if we win a lot of games or if we only win a couple games. The fourth quarter is going to be big for this young team, but I think there’s spots in the West this year. The teams that get a good start are going to be good.”
There is an exciting brand of basketball in Minnesota right now. There is solid talent, great athleticism and length, a coach they believe in and buy into and an immense desire and will to improve and represent their fans positively. Those are all indicators the Minnesota Timberwolves are on the right path.
“If we continue to grow together, being able to coexist, being a cohesive unit out there together, it’s only going to take baby steps each and every day,” said Love. “As long as we can keep inching our way, we’ll eventually turn that corner.”
Only time will tell how the new mix plays out in Minnesota, but it should be a much more enjoyable ride for Timberwolves fans from here on.