Continuity has long been an important trait of successful businesses, educational systems, and elite professional teams. Consistency is critical to ensure victory, yet the data tells me that’s not the reality when it comes to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In 2003-04, Minnesota only returned 27 percent of their players from the previous season; Kevin Garnett, Gary Trent, Wally Szczerbiak and Troy Hudson. During that season, Flip Saunders was coaching his eighth season and Kevin McHale was in his ninth season as General Manager for the Wolves.
Despite the roster turnover, continuity existed within the executive offices, coaching staff and they had a couple star players to build a base from.
Kevin McHale and company had their most active offseason which resulted in the following moves:
- Trading Anthony Peeler, Joe Smith to Milwaukee for Sam Cassell and Ervin Johnson.
- Signing Michael Olowokandi as a free agent
- As part of a 4-team trade, Twolves traded Marc Jackson to 76ers; Wolves also traded Terrell Brandon to the Atlanta Hawks; the Hawks traded Glenn Robinson and a 2006 2nd round pick (selected later) to Philadelphia; the Knicks traded Latrell Sprewell to Timberwolves; the 76ers traded Randy Holcomb and the 2007 1st round pick to the Hawks; and the 76ers traded Keith Van Horn to the Knicks – that’s the abbreviated version.
- Wolves signed free agents Fred Hoiberg, Mark Madsen and
- Quincy Lewis
- Keith McLeod
- Trenton Hassell all before the season started
- In December, they signed 280 pounder Oliver Miller to pound inside.
The season with the greatest change in player personnel resulted in 58-24 (.707) which was their best record to date. Wolves went on to win the Midwest Conference and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals going 2-4 in the series.
The Timberwolves had a payroll that was just shy of $83 million with Kevin Garnett making $28 million and Quincy Lewis closing out the bottom at $202,341 but still making enough to avoid working a part-time job packing groceries.
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The season that had the second most change was the Timberwolves 1992-93 season with only 34 percent of the players staying and resulting in a 19-63 record.
Jimmy Rodgers was in his second, and final, year as head coach. Trader Jack McClowsky was General Manager which resulted in the second to worst record in the Western Conference.
Trader Jack made many moves but the outcome didn’t produce positive results and not interesting enough to dedicate additional words explaining the changes.
Timberwolves entire player payroll just exceeded $12 million with Chuck Person making $2,156,000 as their highest paid player and Reggie Fox the lowest paid player at $11,000.
The 1999-2000 season was the complete opposite. Minnesota had their lowest roster turnover that year with 87 percent of their players returning and another trip to the playoffs.
The Timberwolves ended the season with a 50-32 recorder, Flip Saunders coaching, and Kevin McHale as General Manager finishing third in the Midwest Division and losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Portland Trail Blazers. That season the continuity helped, but not enough to go deep in the playoffs.
The Twolves salary was just over $42.5 million for the season with Kevin Garnett making just shy of $17 million. Trevor Winter filled out the bottom of the payroll at over $4,500 which was the most he ever made playing in the league because it was his first and last season.
The Wolves’ 2004-05 season also had great continuity, as 86 percent of their players remained the same. That season, they finished third in the Northwest Division with a 44-38 record and didn’t reach the playoffs.
The 2004-05 team was similar to the team that a year earlier reached the Western Conference Finals. KG was the MVP the previous season and Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell and the key players still anchoring the team, yet, continuity didn’t produce results.
Player payroll barely exceeded $70 million with Garnett making $16 million and Eddie Griffin just under $700,000 for the season.
Garnett sacrificed pay ($12 million annually) a year after winning the MVP trophy to ensure ownership and management could keep continuity and surround him with the best players.
Nevertheless, KG’s sacrifice didn’t save Saunders as Kevin McHale fired him and replaced him with Dwayne Casey the following season demonstrating continuity isn’t always enough to save a great coach.
Fast forward to this year, and Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden made significant moves this offseason by trading for Jimmy Butler and signing Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague and other changes resulted in a 51 percent turnover in their roster – tied for the eighth most player alterations in the league.
The Timberwolves roster change is similar to the Utah Jazz (53 percent) and not as significant as the Eastern Divison leading Boston Celtics (46 percent).
The Portland Trail Blazers (96 percent) and Denver Nuggets (86 percent) had the least amount of change and, yet they trail the Wolves in the standings.
Timberwolves have a 19-13 recorder which is 4th best in the Western Conference and at the top of Northwest Division and it appears that change has produced results.
Twolves players salary are just over $115 million this season with Jeff Teague making more than the entire 1992-93 team by seven million.
Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Gorgui Dieng, Taj Gibson, Andrew Wiggins, Cole Aldrich and Karl Anthony Towns salaries combined to just barely exceed the 2003-04 Twolves that reached the Western Conference Finals.
Weighing the pros and cons of standing still versus making changes appears to be a more important characteristic of leaders and organizations than continuity, at least when it comes to the Timberwolves. Yet, continuity shouldn’t be completely dismissed for its importance in success.
Prior to the 2003-2004 season (greatest player turnover), the Twolves lost in the first round of the playoffs for seven straight years and two-thirds of the roster stayed the same (on average) during that period of time.
It wasn’t until Kevin McHale had the courage and savviness to turnover most of the team that led the Twolves to go deep into the playoffs.
It was change, not continuity, that created some of the most treasured Twolves fan memories.
Similarly, Tom Thibodeau could have stayed the course with Flip Saunders legacy players and passive-aggressively blamed failure on the dead.
Instead, Thibs decided changes need to be made and he had the courage to say no (didn’t sign Shabazz Muhamed to long-term deal) and traded popular players because he understood the team needed more help to become champions.
Thibodeau knows if he failed to make the right decisons he’ll have plenty of critics calling him the villianious son and if he suceeds he’ll truly have a legacy worth remembering.
We are all counting on the Timberwovles changes to create the counitiuty of a champsionship caliber team for years to come.