IIt has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. While this is admittedly an oversimplification, if we rely solely on definitions, much of NBA franchises are so crazy. The theory that teams are just the sum of their parts – and therefore the more famous and talented the parts, the better the team – has been disproven time and time again. Sure, having a superstar or two is incredibly helpful (and maybe even necessary) to reaching the greatest heights of NBA success, but it’s no more All-Stars-the-merrier proposition. One need look no further than the smoldering heap of rubble that was the hope of a Big Three championship in Brooklyn, or last year’s disastrous Los Angeles Lakers, for proof that more is not always After when it comes to superstar talent. And yet, despite his definitely unsatisfactory track record, teams seem to try this method time and time again.
The most recent example of this confirmed madness is found in the frozen tundra of Minneapolis. The Minnesota Timberwolves have been, to say the least, a historically disappointing franchise. Going into the 2021-22 season, in fact, Wolves held the bewildering crown of being the most losing franchise of all time in North American sports, pushing the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the dubious distinction. Expectations for the team, at the time, were about as low as it gets, which made the story all the more enjoyable as the suddenly gelling Timberwolves piled up unlikely wins – and, obviously, enjoyed the hell of themselves – leading to one of the team’s only two playoff appearances since the heyday of Kevin Garnett in 2004. Wolves’ first 2021 draft pick Anthony Edwards, seemed to be particularly thriving, with a new coach in Chris Finch and a roster that, while lacking in defense, facilitated his growth and gave him the space to do what he does best, including dunk people within an inch of their lives.
Their other The first draft pick on the roster, Karl-Anthony Towns, also had a stellar regular season last year (tempered by a disappointing playoffs showing), resulting in a third All-Star Game appearance, even becoming the third big man to win the three-point contest. All in all, even considering they lost a hard-fought series to Memphis (in a sometimes jaw-dropping fashion), it was hard not to consider the season a smash hit. On top of that, after years of calling Glen Taylor – the franchise’s almost universally unpopular steward – Timberwolves fans had gotten their wish: a gradual changing of the guard to a new led ownership group. by Marc Lore and an embattled MLB superstar. Alex Rodriguez who started shortly before the start of the 2022 season. All around, the future looked eminently bright in the land of 10,000 lakes.
Shortly after the Timberwolves were eliminated from the playoffs, at the end of the aforementioned first-round series with Memphis, the new ownership group made their first big chess move: coaxing general manager Tim Connelly away from his longtime position with the Denver Nuggets. The hiring marked the start of what was to be an aggressive off-season for the team. They were perhaps a little high on their own store of good vibes: the whiff of success they’d mixed with the excitement of a new owner propelled them into a summer of decision-making that seemed to rest both on a “win-now” mentality and belief that rising superstar Edwards was ready to be the number one offensive option.
What happened next was the result, it seems in retrospect, of an error in judgement, compounded by several other parallel errors. To break them down one by one: The first mistake seems to be the assumption that Edwards’ electrifying playoff debut came despite, and not in part because of, his supporting cast – of which several key members were shipped off in Utah in the possible exchange for Rudy Gobert, including Patrick Beverley, who literally cried with joy when he qualified for the playoffs. The second, that Edwards was set to be The Guy – 28 sets of evidence so far seems to imply that perhaps the 21-year-old could have used another year of development. The third, the hubris that a passing year was so promising it warranted a bold “upgrade” (in quotes in light of results so far) to the list. The final, and indeed most devastating mistake, brings us back to the madness component: the heavy bet that swapping several key players for a big-name superstar was bound to improve the team, despite questions about fit, and , as we already established, years of evidence to the contrary.
This superstar trade came with a historic price: to acquire Gobert, Wolves parted ways with four first-round picks (three of them unprotected), one trade pick, promising young talent Jarred Vanderbilt, Beverley , Malik Beasley, Leandro Bolmero and their 2022 draft pick in Walker Kessler. It’s quite a mortgage for a player who, yes, was named Defensive Player of the Year three times with as many All-Star selections, but who, in eight years in the league, has never reached the finals. conference, and who has been criticized for his poor performance in the playoffs (even on the defensive end on which he made his name in the regular season).
Early feedback on the bet hasn’t been great. The preseason hype about the new superteam bid has sparked talk in the league about a surefire playoff berth, and maybe even a chance to finish near the top of the Western Conference. But after Wednesday’s loss to the LA Clippers, the Timberwolves are two games under .500 with a 13-15 record, and the natives (fans) are growing restless. The team seemed scrappy, often nonchalant, and downright lacking in the galvanic chemistry that propelled them into their Cinderella story last year.
Something of a departure from the “Minnesota Nice” trope, these fans aren’t shy about expressing their displeasure with the team’s performance, prompting several players to acknowledge the epidemic of boos at home games to the press – though the contrast in their responses feels telling. Edwards seemed look inside in response to the boos, saying after a loss to the San Antonio Spurs at the start of the season: “We get booed at home, it’s crazy. We have to find each other… but the fans are not mistaken. We look bad. Gobert took a less introspective approach, speaking to fans at Jon Krawczynski about a month later after a home loss to the Heat drew more mockery from the crowd: “There’s no team in NBA history that’s only had good times, so if you’re not going to support us through the tough times, stay home.
Many losses occurred even before Towns sprained his calf at the end of November (expected to miss a month or more). Chemistry and fit issues – and, by extension, effort and intensity issues – have clearly plagued the team all season, and Towns’ injury is, in some ways, the least of them. their problems. I asked head coach Chris Finch after a particularly demoralizing home loss to Golden State what he thought of the state of the team’s chemistry, and he didn’t mince words. “I don’t think we have good chemistry right now,” he admitted. “I think we’re trying to figure it out. But I just think every night we don’t really know how it’s all going to fit together.
For a team that seemed to have the time of their lives last year, it’s pretty tough and, quite frankly, depressing as hell to see them genuinely joyless just one season later. It’s especially troubling with Edwards, because years of development like these can have such a profound impact on the trajectory of an emerging superstar. And the agonizing mess is all the more frustrating because it was entirely avoidable, had the team just taken a more patient approach, valued the actors who gave them their identities, and paid more attention to the staff alchemy instead of shiny new toys and broad strokes. Because as much as NBA owners and general managers like to believe otherwise, successful teams aren’t math: they’re science. Chemistry, to be exact. And double, triple, quadruple on the contrary? Well, that’s just madness.