The most cautionary of all the cautionary Timberwolves tales might be a game most of you have long-forgotten but for some reason sticks with me to this day.
On Jan. 30, 2006 the Wolves played their first home game after a blockbuster deal that sent Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi to the Celtics for Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Marcus Banks and Justin Reed (along with other assorted draft picks).
The game happened to be against Boston, and it was the overall Wolves debut for Banks, had missed two road games (Wolves split them) after the trade.
Minnesota was languishing just below .500 at the time at 20-22. This trade was the latest attempt to surround Kevin Garnett with a new core of players he could work with, and on that night everything clicked. All the new guys shined, particularly Banks (20 points and a ton of quickness) in a 110-85 victory that pulled Minnesota within a game of .500.
I was convinced at the time the Wolves had found lightning in a bottle. So, too, was Garnett. After the game he said this, per the Star Tribune archives: “A new team breathing new air. We have a lot of potential. It’s up to not only the coaching staff but ourselves to develop that potential. We have a real special thing here.”
A real special thing.
The Wolves proceeded to go 5-17 in their next 22 games. The season ended with the absurd double-overtime loss to the Grizzlies in which Garnett sat out and Mark Madsen heaved seven three-pointers (making none). Final record: 33-49. Garnett was traded a season later after a 32-50 finish. The slow descent into awfulness had begun.
So listen: I’m not here to ruin anyone’s good time. I watched the Wolves’ 107-100 victory over the Pelicans on Wednesday in the debuts of Robert Covington and Dario Saric, and I genuinely enjoyed a Wolves game for the first time all season. They shared the ball (particularly in a wonderful stretch of the late first/early second quarter) and closed the game with a flurry after the Pelicans regrouped.
Covington and Saric are going to help. The Wolves are absolutely a better team now than they were 18 months ago before they acquired Jimmy Butler, and yes I’d rather have Covington and Saric than Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. If you could promise me Lauri Markkanen isn’t going to be a star or invent a time machine to redo the Justin Patton pick (or at least not let him get injured), I’d feel better but as it stands I’m OK with the net result of Butler in/Butler out.
We’ll need a much larger sample size than one game to decide if they’re somehow better now than they were last season with Butler — 47 wins is a high bar — but you can at least see how the pieces fit together.
Andrew Wiggins was energized at shooting guard in the post-Butler world. Karl-Anthony Towns delivered a monster two-way game. Covington is worthy of his first-team All-NBA defense status. Saric is a great fit for the modern NBA.
The Wolves are 6-9. They seem like they have a chance to crawl back to .500 and beyond, but then again so did that Wolves team 13 seasons ago.
It’s OK to enjoy the games while still keeping things in perspective. It sure beats whatever that alternative on-court product was at the start of the year.