The NBA recently released its national television schedule for the opening week of the 2018-19 regular season as well as its lineup of the five Christmas day games on ESPN and three Martin Luther King Jr. Day games on TNT and the Minnesota Timberwolves are nowhere to be seen.
In fact, the Timberwolves have only 13 nationally televised games all season as opposed to 25 a year ago. Perhaps during the insufferable Kevin Love 38-win seasons just a short while ago, 13 prime-time games might have been a pleasant surprise. But last year the Wolves seemed to have an unfamiliar buzz surrounding them. The national media seemed to take notice, and there were intelligent, national conversations taking place about the new Jimmy Butler-led Timberwolves.
Fast forward through a season of ups and downs where they occupied the three seed in a tough Western Conference for most of the season until a devastating knee injury to Butler, a couple of All-Star and All-NBA nods to Big KAT and Jimmy Buckets, a playoff berth, and ultimately, a thorough ass-kicking handed to them by the Houston Rockets. And even though the Wolves did end the regular season as the eight seed, they were consistently the third best team in the West with a healthy Butler last season.
Usually when you have a team like that with some young stars (KAT, and to a lesser degree–Wiggins–okay wayyyy lesser degree) who still have lot’s of improving to do, an established All-NBA guy, and a competent supporting cast, and who made that all-important leap into the playoffs, they are often labeled as “dark horse” or “sleeper” championship contenders. (Think the Portland Trail Blazers like three years ago.) Yet for whatever reason, the narrative surrounding the Wolves organization by many big-name “NBA guys” (the Collin Cowherds, the bevy of ESPN analysts, the Chris Broussards’ or Bill Simmons’ of the world, etc.) is not one of intrigue or upside; but instead, there is no conversation being had at all.
This isn’t anything new to Timberwolves fans either. Not getting national media attention in Minnesota is like seeing a lake. Or a white person. However going from a playoff team that lost no one, drafted well, got almost no production from Andrew Wiggins, and addressed their most significant flaws in free agency to not even getting mentioned in the playoff picture seems…. perplexing. (Haha see what I did there. Because it’s like the title!)
From articles I’ve read and what I’ve heard from “experts,” most are picking the Wolves to finish somewhere in that 6-10 range in the Western Conference this coming season with the majority being in the 9-10 range– which lands them out of the playoffs.
So you mean to tell me that the Blazers got better over the summer? How? All that imaginary cap space? Yeah, how’s Evan Turner treating you guys? The Pelicans lose Demarcus Cousins but think the laughably left-handed Julius Randle is the answer to their prayers? That dude is so left-handed, he makes Marvin Bagley look ambidextrous. Does resigning Will Barton and getting a broken-down Isaiah Thomas fix all of Denver’s defensive issues? What’s that Denver? You’ve decided not to play D at all this season? Good luck with that. And yes, LA got LeBron; but yes, Rondo, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley, and Lance Stephenson (aka the “meme squad”) are all going to have to play meaningful NBA minutes. That’s an absolute joke.
I’m not saying it won’t be another extremely competitive Western Conference– particularly the Northwest division. Denver, Portland, OKC, and Utah are all potential playoff teams. It’s far and away the best division in basketball. But that’s not what this article is about. Every Western Conference team has a tough schedule. This article is about perception, and the media has shifted their narrative about the Wolves for one key reason: their playoff seeding last year.
Imagine this: Jimmy Butler doesn’t have his knee injury and the Timberwolves easily get the three seed (which if you scoff at this, you don’t know basketball). They would have played the Demarcus-less Pelicans in the first round. A team they swept in the regular season with Cousins. Then they would have played the Warriors in the second round probably resulting in a sweep or a miraculous 4-1 series loss. Don’t you think the narrative would have been different if the Wolves didn’t play either the Rockets or Warriors, who were far and away the two best teams in the association last year, in the first round? NO swept the Blazers, and they are now looked at as some emerging team. Same can be said about Utah.
Perhaps these “experts” weren’t trying to slight the Timberwolves at all? Maybe they just genuinely forgot they existed. Because to be fair, it’s a lot more fun to talk about LeBron in LA or Russ and PG staying together without Melo holding them down as a broken-down third wheel than it is to talk about why Andrew Wiggins can’t play hard every night. Whatever the reason, by season’s end the entire world will know the strength of the Wolfpack! And their howls will make teams quiver at the piercing sound of their howl. Okay, that was dramatic, but they’ll be good…. just watch.