DENVER – There were mixed emotions in the Timberwolves’ locker room after their final loss of the season to the Nuggets on Wednesday night. There was happiness that a trying season was now over, but also some sadness that it all finally came to an end.
“It is emotional,” interim coach Ryan Saunders said. “We don’t like playing only 82 games. That’s where the first emotion comes from. The second emotion comes from … the battle tonight with everything. The way our guys fought [Wednesday], that’s been indicative of our season.”
But effort isn’t enough in the NBA, and the Western Conference was too tough for the Wolves to traverse on effort alone. Some players said it was among the most difficult seasons they have encountered, a season that started with Jimmy Butler making a trade request and not practicing with the team for much of training camp to Tom Thibodeau’s firing and a bunch of injuries in between.
“I would say it was definitely up there,” guard Tyus Jones said. “There was a lot of different variables, things that happened throughout the year.”
Added Andrew Wiggins: “It’s up there for sure.”
There’s more uncertainty to come before it gets better. First, owner Glen Taylor (who also owns the Star Tribune) will hire a new president of basketball operations, and that person will help decide if General Manager Scott Layden and/or Saunders are back next season.
When that’s settled, the roster has some questions. Will the new president seek a high-degree-of-difficulty trade of Wiggins and his max contract? What will happen with prospective unrestricted free agents Anthony Tolliver, Luol Deng, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson and restricted free agent Jones? The Wolves are expecting Jeff Teague to pick up his $19 million player option for next season, but is he long for Minnesota even if he does exercise that option to return?
These questions need answers, but that was on few minds inside that locker room at Pepsi Center. For Gorgui Dieng, the end of the season came with some sadness.
“This is our livelihood,” Dieng said. “If you take basketball out of our lives, there’s nothing left. That’s what we do 24/7. That’s what made us who we are. It’s not fun to watch all the people play at home. We take this as motivation in trying to get better this summer so this time around next year we’ll be getting ready, thinking about where we need to play.”
But Dieng wasn’t pessimistic about the future of this team.
“We can only go up from here,” Dieng said. We’re getting better, staying more together and I think this summer is a big summer for all of us.”
Wiggins said the end of the season was “hard to believe.”
“It was just like, ‘Wow it’s really over,’ ” Wiggins said. “Every year the season seems to go quicker and quicker.”
The 2018-19 season for the Wolves had camaraderie off the court once the dust settled after Butler’s trade but disappointment on the court. The Wolves never were together and fully healthy for a prolonged stretch of the season. Perhaps that changes next season.
But one thing about this season for the Wolves — it was never boring.