The Timberwolves held their media day on Thursday. They missed an opportunity to unveil an apt motto for this season:
"Let's try this again, for the first time."
To the national media and the nation's NBA fans, as well as pessimistic Timberwolves followers, the 2023-2024 season is doomed to be an encore to a failure. A year ago, the Wolves were celebrating their trade for Rudy Gobert and their fans were as excited as they had been since Kevin Garnett was in his prime, and then reality struck. In Wolvesdom, reality is also known as the season.
This will be the second and possibly decisive year of the Gobert experiment, and perhaps only the Wolves themselves and some of their more optimistic fans see this as anything more than a looming disaster, a continuation of the Wolves' depressing history.
There are rational reasons to believe this season will be different.
Yes, the Wolves will again try to shoehorn Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert into the same offense. That doesn't mean the elements that led to frustration last year will still be in place.
Here's what is or will be different for a team being mistaken as the same old Timberwolves:
Towns is healthy
You can say the Gobert-Towns experiment failed last year, but it never really had a chance. Towns got sick before training camp, was hospitalized and lost almost 20 pounds off an already-lean frame. He later strained his calf, and wound up playing in only 29 games.
We don't know whether the experiment worked because it has barely begun.
Towns last summer welcomed playing with Gobert. Anthony Edwards said all the right things. D'Angelo Russell never created the impression that he wanted to play with a hulking center who had trouble catching passes.
Russell is a better shooter and scorer than Mike Conley, and he is bigger, but the trade that brought Conley in as Russell's replacement will give Gobert a much better chance of being a winning player for the Timberwolves. Conley knows how to play with Gobert, and he values him, whereas Russell seemed to view Gobert as an annoyance.
"Honestly, I left the last playoff series wondering how good we could've been," Conley said, referring to the Wolves' injuries. "Just a lot of excitement heading into this season because we've got those same guys and we've added a few guys."
NAW > Prince
Nickeil Alexander-Walker emerged, late in the season and in the playoffs, as an ideal "3-and-D" player. This year he'll assume the role of the departed Taurean Prince. Prince was valuable. Alexander-Walker was one of the reasons the Wolves played the eventual champion Nuggets as well as anyone in the playoffs.
Thursday, Wolves President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly said Alexander-Walker could develop into an all-NBA defensive player.
Ant more of a man
Asked to name the team's most improved player, Connelly wound up choosing Alexander-Walker, but his first reaction was Anthony Edwards.
Edwards is the Wolves' best player. He has a chance to be one of the best players in the league. He seemed to grow exponentially while becoming the acknowledged leader of Team USA in the World Cup. He's ready to make the leap from star to superstar, and from talented youngster to team leader.
From 2004 through 2021, the Wolves played in one playoff series, losing to the Rockets as Jimmy Butler packed his bags and insulted his soon-to-be-former teammates.
When the Wolves made their one playoff run, in 2004, their roster was untenable, which played out when Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell blew up the team the following Fall.
Edwards and Towns have a chance this year to make the playoffs for a third consecutive year, with the most complete roster in franchise history. That doesn't guarantee success, but it's a pretty good precursor.
Learning from mistakes
If Wolves coach Chris Finch made a mistake last year, it was force-feeding Gobert in his offense. Now he knows Gobert exists to play defense and grab rebounds, and that the key to his offense will be finding the right, and right amount, of shots for Edwards and Towns.
Predictions of a Wolves breakthrough last year might not have been wrong, merely premature.