Ever since the Minnesota Timberwolves put up a rousing fight against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of last year’s playoffs, the basketball sickos in Minnesota have been buzzing. Glen Taylor is slowly but surely on his way out. They hired a top lead executive, traded future hypothetical assets for Rudy Gobert, and had a kick-ass summer. As the season approaches, Wolves fans are probably a little higher on the team’s ability to contend than the lamestream basketball media. High enough for me to tell my friends to take all their liquid assets and bet the Timberwolves to win the NBA Championship at +3500, according to Caesar’s Sportsbook. (Don’t listen to my gambling takes if you want to make money.)
But there’s one thing Wolves fans are all too familiar with that’s lingering in the back of our minds that could derail this promising NBA season. What if the Timberwolves suck? It sounds crazy with ascendant superstar Anthony Edwards, Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns coming off the best season of his career, and D’Angelo Russell, with Chris Finch leading the way. But what happens if the Wolves suck?
The Heatles predicted that they’d somehow turn into the ’50s and ’60s Boston Celtics and win eight or more championships. However, they began their first season together with a 9-8 record before ripping off 12 straight wins and losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. This Timberwolves team is not the Heatles, and the expectations are much lower. Still, who gets the blame if the Wolves stumble out of the gates and start the season below .500?
For the Heat, most people laid the blame squarely at the feet of the chosen one, LeBron James. After deciding to take his talents to South Beach on national television, the target was squarely on LeBron’s back. It was a mark he wore as a villain in the NBA for the next four years. The Timberwolves don’t have that type of superstar player. Towns and Gobert are a couple of All-NBA Third Teamers, and Ant hasn’t been anointed as the next chosen one quite yet. DLo, Jaden McDaniels, and the rest will fall into supporting roles this season.
Towns has always gotten a large slice of blame for the Wolves being terrible because he was the No. 1 pick in 2015. He was supposed to change the league. But now that he’s flanked by the best defensive player of our generation and the next Dwyane Wade, he’ll be able to fit into the offense better instead of being asked to carry the entire load.
Edwards is still too young to garner much blame for his play. He turned 21 last month and technically won’t even have been in the NBA for a full two calendar years until November. In those two years, Ant has shown flashes of potential superstardom and has become one of the most likable players in the NBA. Gobert received much of the blame for playoff failings in Utah because many teams attacked his inability to guard smaller, quicker players on the perimeter. But Gobert will bring a defensive tenacity that the Wolves haven’t seen since Kevin Garnett, so fans will likely be happy if the team plays competent defense.
No other player will have a big enough role to get much blame for a disappointing start to the season. McDaniels is still developing in his third season and will have plenty of space for some growing pains. Kyle Anderson is a ball-mover on offense who doesn’t score enough to be considered the root of any big-picture issues. The rest of the bench mob simply won’t play enough to affect the game in such a meaningful way that loses too many games for the Wolves.
In the past, coaches have been the scapegoats for bad Timberwolves teams. They fired Flip Saunders after a 25-26 start to the 2004-05 season after his run to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. Tom Thibodeau molded the team in his image as the head coach and lead executive. However, that image was not good. The team crumbled when his acolyte Jimmy Butler burned his mentor’s house down. Chris Finch’s approach is closer to Saunders’ than Thibodeau’s. He’ll take some heat if the Wolves suck for not finding the right way to play his stars together, but he won’t be the lead scapegoat. That title is set aside for the man who vaulted the Wolves from a scrappy up-and-coming team into the spotlight.
Yes, the man has only been with the team for four months. But if the Timberwolves falter, the architect of the potential contender will get and deserve the most blame. He’s the one who put all of the team’s future assets in a basket and shipped it to Salt Lake City for Gobert. The deal looks like a stroke of genius if the Wolves are good for the next half-decade. Then they’re only giving up a few first-round picks in the late 20s.
However, if the Wolves suck, those picks turn into highly valuable assets that Connelly would have traded away for nothing. You don’t have to look back very far to find a similar situation in franchise history. Just over two years ago, former POBO Gersson Rosas pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Andrew Wiggins and his max contract to Golden State for Russell. Had it been a straight-up one-for-one trade, you could chalk it up as a push. Unfortunately, Rosas attached Minnesota’s first-round pick in 2021, thinking that adding Russell would make the Timberwolves playoff contenders. Therefore, it would convey into a non-lottery pick. Alas, COVID, injuries, and a coaching change rocked the Wolves. They wound up sending the seventh overall pick to Golden State, who selected Jonathan Kuminga and then won a championship the following season.
Connelly has tied himself to Gobert for his entire tenure with the Wolves. Rosas ultimately took himself down before his trade could, but Connelly will forever be remembered for what happens with the Gobert trade. Gobert is a far better and more important player than DLo in turning a franchise around, but crazier things have happened.
For the first time in a generation, the notion of the Minnesota Timberwolves being terrible is actually a surprise. But as fans of Minnesota sports teams know, the dread of flaming out in spectacular ways never goes away. The Wolves should be good this season. But if they suck, Tim Connelly should get the most blame.