On the Timberwolves’ brutal loss: Boiling points and future ramifications

PHILADELPHIA,PA - MARCH 24 : Andrew Wiggins. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA,PA - MARCH 24 : Andrew Wiggins. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves loss to Memphis on Monday was an absolute stinker. Were the reactions to it over-reactive, under-reactive, or just right?

Here are a few Timberwolves-related thoughts after that horrible, awful, hideous, disgusting, horrendous, nasty, ghastly, repulsive, upsetting, appalling, vile, horrid, revolting, sickening, filthy, nauseating, terrible, deplorable, dreadful, unsightly loss to a truly miserable Memphis Grizzlies team that is actively trying to lose games.

That’s a whole lot of negative adjectives, and I still don’t know if they do it justice.

The Memphis Grizzlies had not won a road game in the year 2018. They had actually only won one of their previous 24 games total. They are the current kings of tanking in a year where there are an unprecedented number of teams cliff-diving without a parachute to the bottom of the standings, and they just out-toughed and out-played the Wolves on their home court during the most must-win stretch of the past 14 years of the franchise.

Now, when something this inexplicable and frustrating happens, it tends to cause a flurry of anger and panic that leads to some knee-jerk takes (albeit, fairly justified) on the future of the team.

Some examples:

It seems as though most of the Wolves fanbase could concur with at least parts of all these sentiments. Let’s take a deeper dive into what the ramifications of these thoughts would actually entail.

Context of the situation

When Tom Thibodeau was hired to the tune of a pricey five-year contract in the spring of 2016, it came with a couple assumptions.

First, he would bring a previously unseen toughness and winning attitude to the entire Minnesota Timberwolves franchise with his hard-nosed and discipline oriented coaching style. Second, his year off after being let go by the Chicago Bulls was advertised by himself and the media as a sabbatical where he picked up on several tricks from some of the NBA’s best coaches such as Gregg Popovich, Quin Snyder and Steve Kerr.

These tricks included the importance of player rest, the emphasis of the 3-point shot, practice techniques and understanding strategies of how to handle NBA player personalities.

The issue, however, was that these pieces of advice seemed to all directly contradict the reputation that Thibodeau had built for himself throughout his first head coaching stint.

He was known for playing his starters and star players exorbitant minutes. His teams never placed a large emphasis on the 3-point shot. His lengthy and grueling practices had become folklore around the rest of the league. And his lack of connections with players outside of his Chicago bubble created a mystique that he couldn’t resist the temptation to get his old band of players back together.

Fast-forward to today and all of the supposed positives of hiring Thibodeau have either came up short of expectations, or been non-existent altogether. His lauded defensive schemes and attention to detail have brought the Wolves to the 26th-ranked defense in his first year and the 24th-ranked defense this year.

What about all of the tips he got from those smart coaches? After preaching the importance of the 3-point shot, the Wolves finished dead-last in attempts in each of the past two seasons.

Last year, Andrew Wiggins led the entire NBA in minutes played, and this season he is on the same path. Do you think that total minutes is a skewed stat since it takes into account durability which is actually a positive, and minutes per game is actually more telling? Well, last year Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns were all in the top six in the NBA in minutes per game, with this year’s leader being Jimmy Butler.

To cap it all off, the initial idea that Thibs would get all of his former Bulls back together started as a half-joke and has now turned into a full-blown obsession. He did a nice job initially resisting this temptation by avoiding the hefty (and ludicrous) contracts that Joakim Noah and Luol Deng received in his first offseason. But since then, this idea has more than came to fruition.

To Thibodeau’s credit, most of the moves he has made when it comes to his former disciples have turned out quite well. The Jimmy Butler trade was a homerun. The Taj Gibson signing, after much criticism at first, has proved to be worth every penny. Aaron Brooks was a risk-free addition for the end of the bench.

However, the most recent signing might be what pushed Wolves’ fans over the edge.

After a couple years of rumors about a reunion with Derrick Rose, Thibs finally pulled the trigger on what turned out to be a polarizing and divisive decision. Rose has had more than his fair share of both on-court and off-court issues that have plagued him and turned him from former league-MVP to fringe rotation player with personality questions. He also was the absolute furthest thing from a team need for the Wolves.

But, to be entirely fair from all angles, Rose spent his last two seasons with perhaps the most toxic franchises in the NBA: the Phil Jackson led Knicks, and the Isaiah Thomas infested Cavs. Also, the lone common denominator that was present for all of Rose’s triumphs and absent in all of his struggles is Tom Thibodeau. And, if viewing entirely objectively, Rose did have some good moments for the team before his recent ankle injury.

Nevertheless, when compounded by all of the other frustrations that fans have had with the current Timberwolves’ boss’s stubbornness, it was the cherry on top of a very maddening cake.

The tangled web

It was after this recent brutal Memphis loss that a lot of emotions over this previous section came to a head.

Certain Wolves-centric Twitter accounts called for the firing of Thibodeau altogether. Polls were made asking people to vote if missing the playoffs completely and getting an additional first-round draft pick would be better than being swept by the Rockets in the opening round. Questions over the Timberwolves future seemed to be murkier than ever.

But let’s just slow down a little bit here and be rational instead of rash.

Related Story: On the Timberwolves' post-All-Star break progress

The firing of Thibodeau would create what would likely be a negative domino effect on the entire Wolves franchise. First of all, it would set into motion yet another culture change for the young players. Second, and more importantly, letting go of Thibodeau would also almost assuredly mean saying goodbye to Jimmy Butler in next year’s free agency.

Also, yes, it is true that if the Timberwolves miss the playoffs they will not have to give up this year’s first-round pick owed to the Atlanta Hawks for the idiotic (sorry, Flip) Adreian Payne trade. However, that would just push the eventual unleashing of that pick to next year, also creating a situation where the team could not trade another first round pick until 2020 (confusing CBA rules) which might come into play if the Wolves are looking to upgrade their roster through a trade.

Finally, one bad game by the young cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins should not be enough to create full-blown panic as to if they will ever be able to lead their team in an intense game. It is their first ever time through this type of grueling stretch, and they deserve some time to take their lumps and learn as we move forward. Every great player in history had their share of difficult games in tough moments.

The point of this article is this: Yes, that was an embarrassing game that brought to light many of the issues that have plagued this team all season. Yes, Tom Thibodeau deserves a lot of the blame for his inability to get his teachings across to his young players and being frustratingly and consistently stubborn. Yes, it is a game that the Wolves couldn’t afford to lose in this crazy playoff chase.

But, let’s see how the rest of this season, and hopefully postseason, unfolds before we jump to high-stake conclusions about the direction this franchise should go.

Next: On the Timberwolves path to the playoffs...

It’s a long journey that still isn’t finished, and it would be a shame to throw away what has been the most successful season in the last 14 years because of short-term frustration over a terrible loss.