Timberwolves

Was This Year's Team the Best Wolves Team Of All Time?

Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Things have mostly been bad for the Minnesota Timberwolves since their inaugural season in 1989-90. We don’t have to re-hash all of it here, but between ownership disputes, the Joe Smith accord, and David Kahn, there hasn’t been much to cheer for on the court. In 35 seasons, the Timberwolves have gotten out of the first round of the NBA Playoffs twice, resulting in an appearance in the Western Conference Finals, first in 2004 and again this season.

Seven teams have made fewer Conference Finals than the Wolves since 1990, so all is not lost for a franchise that just crashed out of the Western Conference Finals, losing to the Dallas Mavericks in five games. For 20 years, the 2004 squad stood as far and away as the best team in Timberwolves history. However, the 2024 Wolves are pushing to be the new standard bearer as the greatest Timberwolves team of all time.

A quick review of the 2004 Timberwolves. They won 58 games behind Kevin Garnett‘s MVP season, strong showings from new additions Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, and a supporting cast including Wally Szczerbiak, Troy Hudson, Michael Olowokandi, Trenton Hassell, Fred Hoiberg, Gary Trent, and Mark Madsen.

They had the league’s fifth-best offense and sixth-best defense on their way to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Timberwolves made the playoffs for the eighth season in a row. However, this season was different than the previous seven consecutive first-round exits. The Wolves dispatched the Denver Nuggets in Round 1 for the first playoff series in franchise history. Then they defeated the Chris Webber-led Sacramento Kings in seven games in Round 2, setting up a showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

It was a hard-fought six-game series. However, an injury to second-team All-NBA selection Sam Cassell handed the keys of Minnesota’s offense to Darrick Martin, which proved too big of a blow for the Wolves to overcome. The Lakers went to the Finals, where they lost to the Detroit Pistons.

The what-if of the then-lone Wolves conference finals run mixed with the ill-timed Cassell injury has been hanging over the heads of Wolves fans for 20 years. Since that fateful Game 6, the Wolves immediately regressed the following year. They missed the playoffs three straight times before finally trading Garnett to the Boston Celtics. But the basketball gods shone their light on the Timberwolves for that one glorious season, who wouldn’t return to the stage for a generation.

Well, the Wolves are back 20 years later. They are fueled by Anthony Edwards, a rising star who could become the face of the NBA. He’s flanked by fellow All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns, Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, Sixth Man of the Year Naz Reid, Mike Conley, Jaden McDaniels, Kyle Anderson, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. These Wolves won 56 games and led the Western Conference for most of the season before dropping to the third seed when the playoffs began.

These Wolves carried the league’s best defense throughout the season while nursing the 17th-best offense. They swept the Phoenix Suns in Round 1. Then they took down the defending champion Nuggets in seven games in Round 2 before running out of gas in the Western Conference Finals against the Mavericks. So which team that got to five and six games in the WCF, respectively, is the best Wolves team of all time?

It’s tough to say the 2024 Wolves are better as I’m writing this just after the Game 5 debacle, but the margins are razor-thin. This year’s team was third in the NBA in net rating and three-point shooting. The 2004 Wolves were fourth in net rating and fifth in three-point shooting (on 11 attempts a game). That season ended thanks to the Kobe BryantShaquille O’Neal Lakers, while the 2024 Wolves lost to the Luka Doncic/Kyrie Irving Mavericks.

The 2004 Wolves had the league MVP in Kevin Garnett, a second-team All-NBA point guard in Cassell, and an elite third-scoring threat in Sprewell. The 2024 Wolves were led by second-team All-NBA 22-year-old Anthony Edwards, an All-Star, a DPOY, a 6MOTY, and the best teammate in the league. Flip Saunders and Chris Finch are a wash in the coaching department, so how do we choose the greatest team in franchise history?

For all the 2024 Timberwolves did to restore faith in the franchise, it’s hard to pick against the team with the league MVP and the best player in franchise history leading the way. The 2004 Wolves were a little more top-heavy and didn’t have highly skilled guys like Naz Reid coming off the bench. However, Kevin Garnett is one of the best players in NBA history and was at the peak of his powers in 2004.

Ant will get there one day, but the fourth-year shooting guard is still improving with a band of really good players behind him. It’s possible, probable even, that KAT and Rudy will go down as better players in NBA history than Cassell and Sprewell. Still, for one magical year, KG, a 34-year-old point guard playing the best basketball of his career, and a 33-year-old small forward lit the basketball world on fire and got as close as the Wolves have ever come to bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy to Minnesota.

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Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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