NBA Conspiracy Theories: Timberwolves Tanking?


I’m just going to say it: I think our Timberwolves are tanking. I don’t have any hard evidence; it’s just something I believe to be true. And I must admit that I’m pretty happy about it, too. No, I’m not holiday humbugging, I’m being totally serious.

We weren’t always tanking, though. I believe Flip Saunders meant it when he said our Wolves were “building” and not reeeee-building.

But then Ricky Rubio got injured.

Everything shifted the moment Ricky destroyed his ankle. After learning that Rubio would be on the shelf for months, Flip realized that that our Wolves had no chance at staying in contention.

Listen, I’m not about to sit here and say that Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic’s injuries aren’t real injuries. What I will say, however, is that I think the Wolves aren’t nearly as injured as we’re being led to believe.

Without Rubio, the Wolves can’t win. He’s the magic unicorn that makes it all go. Flip and boss man Glen Taylor understand that, and they know that Martin and Pekovic aren’t enough to get us over the hump without him. So while Ricky sits, they sit as well, enjoying the rest and hopefully not too many holiday cookies. (Seriously, Pek better not return as the second coming of the Cookie Monster. Then again….)

Mo Williams and Ronny Turiaf are in the same boat. They were brought in to contribute to a winning culture, not to babysit. If Mo’s back is hurting, then there’s no point in putting him out there; If Ronny’s knee is bothering him, why not just get surgery? It’s better than throwing them to the baby Wolves.

So we’re losing. A lot. Right now the team is 5-18 and headed for a top-five pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Our loss to the Lakers at home last night says a lot about our current place on the Western Conference totem pole. In case you didn’t know: we’re the worst team record-wise this side of the Mississippi…okay, I don’t actually know if that’s true because my map skills are weak like baby kittens and the Eastern Conference. I’ll Google it later.

If my tanking conspiracy is real then the following is the real plan being exercised by the organization:

A) Keep Ricky and the vets out as long as possible, so that B) Wiggins, LaVine, Muhammad, Bennett, and Dieng can earn their scars and their nicknames in the hopes that C) the Wolves will lose enough games NOW to position themselves for a franchise-saving rim protector in next year’s draft (see: Karl-Anthony Towns). Through their trials they will hopefully D) get good enough to help the team achieve when Ricky and the vets are back so that E) Wolves fans will have some mother-chucking HOPE going into the 2015 season.

Some wise guy once said, “In the NBA, you’re either selling wins, or you’re selling hope.” Flip and Company were trying to sell winning, but after the magician went down they had to switch midstream and go for the hope angle instead. And strangely enough, it’s worked.

Well, it hasn’t


worked.  It’s not like fans are flocking to the Target Center to check out the action. After ten years of frustration, ineptitude, betrayal, and losing, fans aren’t going to crap their pants just because Anthony Bennett hit a twenty-one footer good for two points. Or maybe they will…

And yet despite this being the umpteenth re-build since the Kevin Garnett trade, there seems to be a certain amount of forgiveness coming from Wolves Nation. Maybe it’s the holiday season, or maybe it’s just the “Minnesota nice” thing. OR MAYBE it’s because as a tribe we know that the hope is actually real this time, not just something being sold to us by the Timberwolves marketing people.

Advanced stat geeks will tell you that Wiggins isn’t the next Kobe and that LaVine is more bust and less boom. Based on the numbers, they’re absolutely right.  But I don’t want to hear about it.

Call my dismissal of the numbers ignorant, or old school, or just flat out disgraceful to the modern game. That’s fine. I’m going to go with the patented Bill Simmons eye-test, and off of that I say that there’s plenty of reason for cheer this Timberwolves holiday season, despite what the numbers might tell you.

This “developmental” period has certainly been frustrating, but it’s shown me that the Wolves have four young keepers in Wiggins, LaVine, Muhammad, and Dieng, and a possible fifth in Anthony Bennett. I’ve seen Wiggins show that he wants to be a go-to scorer, and that Muhammad has an iron will, and that Zach is going to eventually figure it all out.

I like our guys. I like that they’re being forced to grow up through their mistakes. And I like that we’re losing games because I truly believe we’re one defensive big away from having the core needed to succeed in a big way in the future.

Let’s say Rubio, Martin, and Pekovic come back as full-time starters one month from now, and let’s also say that in the stretch of 14 games from now ‘til then we go 3-11. We’d be 8-29, 21 games under .500, with 45 games left to play.  From there, even if our Wolves were able to win half the games for the rest of the season (unlikely), we’d still only end up with a record of something around 30-52.

30-52 isn’t typically number-one-pick territory, but it should be a perfect landing spot to put us in position to grab one of the several big man prospects that figure to be in the lottery.

While organizational tanking isn’t ideal, I like it for the Wolves in this instance. The first half of the season is all about tanking (and development), and the second half is about seeing what we really have with our entire roster. By the time the lottery rolls around we’ll know exactly who should stay and who should go, and with a little luck we might just land a top pick and the next big thing.

Three years down the road, a lineup of Rubio, LaVine, Wiggins, Muhammad, Bennett, Dieng and one of the Towns/Turner/Okafor group might not look so bad. In fact, it might look pretty great.

Here’s to keeping the hope machine up and running!

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