During the 2017 offseason, the Timberwolves were the talk of the NBA. After hiring a proven coach in Tom Thibodeau during the 2016 offseason, the team traded for perennial all-star Jimmy Butler on draft night in 2017. Additionally, the Wolves signed free agent point guard Jeff Teague and brought in veteran forward Taj Gibson.
The team’s most prized possession, however, was Karl Anthony Towns, entering his third season and seen as a future league MVP. For a team once synonymous with mediocrity – also failing to make the playoffs in over a decade – Wolves fans finally had reason for excitement. Many saw the Timberwolves as a potential contender in the loaded Western Conference. But after barely sneaking into the playoffs last season as an 8-seed, the Timberwolves were eliminated by the Houston Rockets.
To make things worse, the team’s chemistry foiled. Butler began to question the commitment and effort of some of his teammates.
After sitting out the summer away from the team, Butler requested a trade. He was eventually dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers in November after a 4-9 start. The Wolves acquired Robert Covington and Dario Saric in the trade, but these players didn’t come close to what the team gave up in acquiring Butler. After the trade, fans began to question their head coach, as there was little improvement since his hiring. Then, on Jan. 6, with the Timberwolves sitting outside the playoffs at 19-21, the axe fell on Thibodeau, who posted a record of 97-107 in his two and a half seasons with the Wolves.
“The Wolves still have a chance to hop in the playoff push and return to relevance.” – David Rupp ’20
Now – less than two years later – the Wolves have returned to irrelevancy.
To fill the head coach vacancy, the team promoted 32-year-old assistant coach Ryan Saunders, the son of the late former Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders. Since Saunders’ elevation to head coach, the team has posted a record of 8-9. Sitting at 27-30 with 25 games remaining, the Timberwolves currently sit four games behind the Los Angeles Clippers, who hold the final playoff spot. However, the Lebron James-led Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings also sit between the Wolves and the last playoff spot. Passing those teams will be no easy task.
If the Wolves are to revive their season, they will need to get healthy. Point guards Tyus Jones and Jeff Teague have struggled to stay on the court. Furthermore, former league MVP Derrick Rose and the team’s best defender Robert Covington have recently missed games from various injuries. These injuries have forced the Wolves to start washed-up veterans in Jerryd Bayless and Luol Deng. Additionally, former Rookie of the Year and number one overall pick Andrew Wiggins will have to pick up his play as he has become seemingly invisible while on the court.
Fortunately, there is still good news – looking ahead at a manageable upcoming schedule, the Wolves certainly have a chance to gain ground in the playoff race and return to relevance.