It is a bright sunny morning on Tuesday, March 7. In roughly 12 hours, the Minnesota Timberwolves would tip off against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Wolves have won three straight following an unprecedented West Coast sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, and Sacramento Kings.
I say unprecedented because as recently as a week ago, Minnesota was in a free fall. Three consecutive losses to a terrible trio of teams in the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets, and Stephen Curry-less Golden State Warriors put the state of the franchise in jeopardy. Trading for Mike Conley appeared as a trade completed solely to rationalize the Rudy Gobert acquisition. If Conley’s arrival didn’t shore up the problems, then the future of the team was as bleak as it has ever been.
That’s when I came up with the idea for this piece: Addressing the “price” of inconsistency. The primary consistency that the Timberwolves have known over the last two decades is failure. However, as the wind blows in a different direction these days, that failure is slowly being turned from success to optimism. This is a young and talented team that is encountering all the expected bumps in the road for an assembly not quite used to the sensation of success. Because of that unfamiliarity, the on-court product is inconsistent and maddening.
That puts Timberwolves fans in a unique position. In general, Minnesota sports fans are not equipped to handle success. Last year’s magical run to the playoffs, paired with the immense expectations that followed the Gobert trade, led many to believe that those challenging times were coming to a close.
Minnesota’s pain is a badge of honor. With that comes a healthy dose of pride in fandom amidst the turmoil. Part of that pride is now rooted in that this is a franchise that was, for once, headed in the right direction after doing things the “right way.” The right way is drafting and developing players, of course. The Gobert trade threw all of that down the drain, and the “win now” expectations are at an all-out war with the maddening inconsistency of this Timberwolves team.
Win a few games, drop a few games. Win a couple more, drop some easy sitters. Then win one, lose two heartbreakers. Players-only meeting. Start to win a bit more. Beat some great teams. Start to look flat and listless. Lose to some terrible teams. Rebound by again beating some good teams.
The rollercoaster this year has taken viewers to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. At those mountain tops we can see the vision of the Gobert trade panning out, Anthony Edwards continuing his ascent to two-way superstardom, and Karl-Anthony Towns entering the Target Center on a flying dragon as the team clinches a top-6 seed. However, in the valleys, we see Minnesota flirting with the play-in tournament, with prospective matchups against the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Golden State Warriors proving to be just too much championship pedigree to overcome.
To answer the above question: What is the price of inconsistency? For one, it is the mental toll that it takes on the fans watching this production, which ranges from clown show to The Battle of Helm’s Deep on any given night. Just a week ago, following that back-breaking three-game skid, I had serious doubts about whether or not I was going to renew my season tickets. Others in my season-ticket package were considering the same, and one eventually made the decision to drop it all together. Why spend the time and finances on a team that is going to consistently let you down more than it uplifts you?
That also brings the monetary aspect of inconsistency into play. The Timberwolves already had their issues getting fans in the doors and keeping them there. Last season saw a surprise resurgence in season-ticket renewals, and new fans were treated to a rousing game atmosphere that hasn’t been seen in Minnesota since the Kevin Garnett era. This year, that has changed. The home opener was unusually subdued, and the early throes of the season felt like the team was playing in a sober opera hall. If the games can’t consistently be fun and engaging, fans will lose interest in going, and the team will suffer financially for it.
Then again, the team can whisk away the two points above in a heartbeat. Winning truly cures everything. We wound up renewing our tickets after all. That West Coast road trip not only restored my personal faith in the team, but it could stand to give the Timberwolves the motivation it needs to get out there and make a legitimate run at a top-6 seed. The world is in Minnesota’s hands, and the onus is on them to get out and execute.
As I type this, Minnesota is set to tip off against Philadelphia. Will the team continue their winning streak and build upon the good faith it has been building up? Or, with James Harden sitting out, will the Wolves come out with a lack of energy and lose in embarrassing fashion? Now we know, and every fan will respond differently.