The Minnesota Timberwolves are like......
....your favorite artists' solo album/side project that didn't go well.
Remember those KISS solo albums? Did you know that Marlon Jackson released a solo album? There are many examples, but I will stick with two with which I am intimately familiar.
In 2001, at the height of Maxwell, Erykah Badu, and the Soulquarians, A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip decided to sing or talk-sing and try to be a socially conscious Dwele. He recorded Kamaal/The Abstract in 2001, and it was planned for release in 2002. Arista Records doubted the album's commercial potential and shelved the release. At the time, some people thought it was a travesty. Questlove even bought up a bunch of used and promo copies at Amoeba Records. The album was officially released in 2009, and the general public did not miss much. Kamaal/The Abstract is a collection of beats, choppy rhymes, and random guitar and flute solos. Originally, I liked two songs on the album, "Barely in Love" and "Even If It Is So." I have not listened to any songs on this album in four years. As bad as Kamaal/The Abstract was, there was one album that was worse.
Digable Planet's Ishmael Butler created his band, Cherrywine, and released Bright Black in 2003. I heard a few songs on the recommendation of friends. Living in Salt Lake City in the mid-millennium and craving some soulful urban music, I decided to give the album a thorough listen. I picked up the CD at a library in SLC (a very underrated library system), and found the album nearly unlistenable with the exception of the wah-wah guitars and the intro to "So Glad for Baby." While Kamaal/The Abstract had smooth and warm undertones, Bright Black was loud and harsh and incoherent. It was the classic good idea but horrendous execution. Butler's voice sounds annoying riding over generic beats and guitar chords that do not mesh. If you want cynical but thoughtful soul/funk with coded social commentary in the early millennium, stick with early N.E.R.D. or Cody Chesnutt's The Headphone Masterpiece.
If an artist recorded a side project or a solo album, it usually meant that the person achieved some artistic and commercial success as a member of a band. As someone with success in the music business, you can probably find talented (even though unknown) musicians to play on your album, and offer some songwriting and production help. Hence, in theory, the results should always be good. In reality, this is not the case. The Timberwolves are these albums by your favorite artists. There maybe a few a good plays, good games, and hell, maybe a few statistically good seasons from a few players in this current edition of the Timberwolves. But the work as a whole album, collectively, stinks. I like some of the talent on this team. have high hopes for some of their young players, but as a whole, this unit simply don't fit. And as you know, if it doesn't fit, you must acquit. Before we acquit, let's take a look at this roster, which was probably built to replicate Rick Adelman savvy motion offense and passing game from his days with the Sacramento Kings. This is probably a good plan in theory, when you have a offensive anchor in Kevin Love and a great passer in Ricky Rubio. However, as we know, Love is temporary and more often than not -- gone.
Let's look at most of this roster, even the injured parts. Rubio is a point guard who can't shoot and is a good defender, even though I still think Chris Paul or John Wall are better defenders. Rubio can pass like Bob Cousy, and he shoots like him too. With the extension given to Kemba Walker and Ricky Rubio, I guess it is trendy now to sign point guards who can't shoot to big long term contracts. Some people will excuse Walker's contract by arguing that he is clutch or "he has heart" or the b.s., "he is a leader." For Rubio, the argument is he is a great passer, a good defender, and players love playing with him. With Rubio as the point guard, his teammates will get their stats and you will have some jaw dropping moments, but the team probably will not make the Playoffs.
No one knows how good Andrew Wiggins can be. He could be a superstar or he could be a third option that is an above average defender. Zach LaVine could be the next Gerald Green, but who knows if that is the Suns' era Gerald Green or the Celtics' era Gerald Green. It would be a great problem to have if he can turn into Russell Westbrook as some projected, then they can trade Rubio if he improves and have the ridiculous backcourt of LaVine and Wiggins when the Spurs headed by Kawhi Leonard contend for their 10th title. Anthony Bennett will be a very good NBA player. I'm just not sure if he is a cross between Carl Landry and Patrick Patterson, or a legitimate NBA starter.
The rest of the roster are good role players, some overrated and some underrated, but somehow they do not belong together on this roster. You could see these role players succeeding on another team. Thaddeus Young is a solid pro, a good third option or glue guy. Mo Williams is a good back up point guard, who could solidify a contender's bench. Nikola Pekovic is below average defensively, but can put points on the board. Kevin Martin is an elite shooter and very efficient scorer who could be a difference maker on a Playoff team. I'm not sure how much athleticism Chase Budinger has left after a few injuries, but he is a decent modern shooter/slasher off the bench. Shabazz Muhammad's game is straight out of the late 1980s, but his weird mid-range scoring and occasional forays to the line would be a welcomed addition on offensive starved teams like the Hornets or Pacers. Corey Brewer is a bit overrated defensively, but he would be a great energy guy off the bench who can occasionally catch fire for no reason. Gorgui Dieng is a great third big man for a contender, and even Robbie Hummel is almost as good as Jon Leuer. Unlike the Sixers and a few of the Pistons, the players on the Timberwolves roster belong in the NBA, and they are not washed up or 12th men like some of the Lakers' rotation. The Timberwolves have guys who can play. They just won't play that effectively together on this roster
Just like those mediocre to horrible solo/side project albums by your favorite artists, the Timberwolves will give you entertaining and sublime moments or even games, just do not expect a half a season or a whole season (or album) of consistent, enjoyable, and coherent working art.
Favorite Obscure Player (FOP)
Former Clipper Troy Hudson had his best years with the Timberwolves in 2002-2003, and earned a six-year, $37 million contract. Hudson was a scoring point guard, who was an excellent albeit inefficient shot creator. I grew up in the same region as Hudson, and have been following his career since high school where he took his team to the State Championship game. Hudson was very Iverson-like during his days at Southern Illinois University and probably did the best thing for himself and the coaches he drove crazy by turning pro. I would like to think that if Hudson and Sam Cassell were healthy, the Timberwolves would have killed the Lakers, especially the aging Gary Payton and the annoying Derek Fisher in the Western Conference Finals in 2004. But then again, we would not have gotten to see the beautiful sight of the Lakers getting their lunch handed to them by the Detroit Pistons. Hudson battled injuries after he signed his multi-year contract and his career mercifully ended in Golden State in 2008. He is now doing what professional athletes do when they cannot become entrepreneurs or talking heads after retirement. Troy Hudson is now a born again Christian and a motivational speaker.
Favorite Moment in Timberwolves History
"I've got my family to feed."
Latrell Fontaine Sprewell, turned down a 3 year, 21 million extension in 2005 with this brilliant explanation of his reasoning. He never appeared in an NBA game again. I am still waiting for someone to offer me 7 million a year for my services.
Timberwolves' Watchability Essay
After watching the Rubio-Martin-Pekovic less Timberwolves' 120-119 win over the Lakers, the Wolves are quite an entertaining. Even shorthanded, the team is stacked with skilled offensive players who are, at worse, league average three point shooters. The fact that the team is horrible defensively (ranked near the bottom in points allowed per game) also helps the entertainment value. Wiggins and LaVine, the self proclaimed "Bounce Brothers," are a highlight reel waiting to happen in every game. If one is a fan of nuance and subtlety, which in this case may or may not win games, then Rubio is your man. Watching a passing savant who can't shoot is like watching a tennis player with a great forehand and no backhand or a boxer who is skilled but can't punch a hole through a paper bag. It is always intriguing to watch an athlete with a major weakness succeed in a sport. Lastly, tune in just to see that random Corey Brewer game when he goes off for 30 or 51 points (yes, 51points), has 4 steals, and 6 dunks, and you think he should be your team starting small forward before you come to your senses a week later.
Paul Tee's Prognosis
An entertaining League pass team. As addressed above, this is an entertaining team to watch. However, the team is probably two Bruno Caboclos away from Playoff contention. If the core is led by Pekovic and Rubio, this team is going nowhere. If LaVine develop into a modified version of Westbrook, and Wiggins can be a two-way threat on both sides similar to Kawhi Leonard or Paul George; then the future is a shade brighter. Both players are far from finished products, and Rubio might be 30 by the time they reach their potential. I do not have enough networking juice to be an NBA GM, but this is what I would do with this team. Keep Rubio and Pekovic to keep the team semi-competitive. It is almost redundant to say this about teams not named the Lakers in the West, but I do think Minnesota would be a contender for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. In the West, they are bottom feeders. Rubio will bring in interest, and Pekovic is a functional center. When (or if) Rubio improves, deal him to a team needing a point guard with box office potential, and grab a star or two near stars (because the transcendent stars and the next tier of superstars will never go to Minnesota) and build them around Wiggins and LaVine, or hope to draft a 2010s version of Kevin Garnett.