Dr. Chelanga's Timberwolves Fan Therapy Session: Dealing with Loss

Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo (USA TODAY Sports)

First, I want to be clear: I am not a real doctor.

Secondly, mental health is very serious. I recommend that anyone who has the means, seeks therapy, it’s changed my life. That being said, I’m happy to act as your conduit into the world of mental health through the lens of a Timberwolves fan.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, welcome to “Dr. Chelanga’s Timberwolves Fan Therapy Session.” Today, we’ll be talking about loss. When we deal with a loss of any sort, we develop what is called a “trauma response.” These responses go on to inform our future behaviors.

Loss (and losing lol) is something that Minnesota Timberwolves fans are very familiar with. Time and time again, we have been left to deal with a void in our hearts when we watch our star players leave. We’ve seen Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury, Kevin Love, and Jimmy Butler — perhaps the four most talented Timberwolves of all-time not named Towns — demand trades. Because of these traumas, when we see great talent on the team we are reminded of the loss we have faced. An emotional trigger is pulled and we find ourselves feeling dread and anxiety — maybe apathy. So rather than being happy that we get to watch a star player play for our city, we often turn toward that feeling and let it drive what we think is best for the team.

It is really hard to change the way you feel. Feelings come from deep within us, and we really have no control over them. The key here is to interrupt that line of thinking and set it on a different course. Control how you think about those feelings and over time, your response will change and your feelings will often follow. Let’s apply this concept to some basketball, eh?

“If the Wolves can’t make the playoffs in the next two years, Towns is out of here.”

That thought is coming from a feeling of past disappointments. So, rather than thinking about Towns’ departure, what if we thought about it like this:

“If the Wolves can’t make the playoffs in the next two years, Gersson Rosas will make moves to ensure that the team has valuable assets moving forward.”

Reframing the thought like this doesn’t ignore the fact that Towns might leave — it’s important to be realistic. But we don’t have to focus on the negative. Let’s remember that the Wolves have a whole new staff running the team. Rosas has already shown fans that he is creative and willing to be bold in his basketball decisions.

At the beginning of last season it was hard to come up with trades that made sense for the Wolves to move Andrew Wiggins. Not only did Rosas successfully move Wiggins, he also landed the Wolves an all-star in D’Angelo Russell along with two young talents, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez. Additionally, Rosas was able to acquire a first round pick in this year’s draft and James Johnson, whose expiring $16 million salary could be an important trade piece to get the Wolves some more talent.

All this is to say, we can accept the reality that Minnesota has failed it’s best players before and look positively into the future based on evidence that we have already seen.

Let’s try another example:

“With Towns and Russell, the Timberwolves’ defense will never be good enough for them to be a serious contender.”

I understand this thought. The underlying feeling that spawned this thought might be frustration. It’s really frustrating to watch Towns struggle defensively. The underlying feeling might be one of discouragement. We haven’t seen very much good defense by the Wolves in years.

Let’s see if we can change the way that we think about this feeling. I too, have my doubts about Towns and Russell’s defensive floor — or maybe I should call it a sub-basement. But, what if we think about it like this:

“With Towns and Russell, the Timberwolves offense will need to be very good for them to be serious contenders.”

Now we’re talking. Towns on his own has proven to be dynamic enough to raise the floor of the Timberwolves offense to rate in the top half of the league. Since Towns has joined the Wolves, their offense rating has ranked 12th, 10th, 4th, and 11th in his healthy seasons. Russell’s past two seasons have seen him post an offensive box plus/minus of 4.0 with The Nets and 3.5 with the Wolves and Warriors. If the Wolves are able to add more capable offensive talent, it’s not hard to see them potentially having a top-5 offense. If they can play hard on the defensive end, I don’t think their defense would have to be much better than average for them to contend.

We’ll do one more example:

“The Timberwolves suck at drafting so they are going to blow this pick.”

We’ve seen so many draft picks disappoint in the past 10 years. The shortlist includes Derrick Williams, Kris Dunn, Wesley Johnson, Johnny Flynn. Yikes. All of this is compounded by the fact that in 2009 the Wolves selected Ricky Rubio and Flynn ahead of Steph Curry who slid to the warriors. Similarly, in 2016 the Wolves opted for Dunn over the likes of Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray.

Trust me, I’m nervous about this pick too. I don’t know if I can handle another Derrick Williams. There is a deep distrust in Wolves management stemming from our experience during the terrible reign of David Kahn. We watched as Kahn made horrible move after horrible move and it left the fanbase feeling hopeless. There is a new regime in town and early returns show that Rosas is, at the very least, competent.

So let’s think about it this way:

“The Timberwolves have sucked at drafting, but Rosas has already shown an eye for scouting talent.”

Before coming to Minnesota, Rosas spent 16 years with the Houston Rockets. During his time in Houston, Rosas worked as Director of Scouting, Director of Player Personnel and General Manager for the Rockets G-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Vipers made the finals all four years he served in that capacity. The man knows how to find talent.

Last year the Wolves drafted Jarrett Culver, who struggled in his rookie season. However, he showed a lot of promise on the defensive end. Although his offensive game is severely flawed, he has a smoothness on that end of the floor that gives me confidence that he won’t be a total bust. Whether or not Culver pans out, I think the important thing here is that the Wolves drafted a wing. 3 and D wings are en vogue in the NBA right now. Everybody and their mamas are trying to acquire talent on the wing. Culver has the D part of the equation, now we just have to hope that he can fix his shot.

Add to the fact that Rosas was able to find Jordan McLaughlin and Naz Reid outside of the draft. Those two look like they could be important rotation players as the Wolves continue to fill out the roster around Towns and Russell.

This practice of reframing your thoughts takes time. Your wounds from all the loss we’ve faced won’t heal overnight. Hopefully, with some time you can find some peace and maybe even a little joy as a Timberwolves fan. Until our next session, be easy.

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