Identity matters, and the Minnesota Timberwolves are on their way

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 21: President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas and Head Coach Ryan Saunders of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 21: President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas and Head Coach Ryan Saunders of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves are in the midst of instilling a new attitude throughout the organization. As it turns out, identity matters.

History is a great teacher. The Minnesota Timberwolves could learn much about rebuilding a team by paying attention to the development of the Memphis Grizzlies’ “Grit and Grind” identity as the foundation for seven straight playoff appearances.

I moved to Memphis, Tennessee in January 2007. Memphis is a basketball hotbed, often considered one of the premier recruiting grounds among high school athletes.

At the time, higher division basketball was greatly lacking. The University of Memphis was on the rise behind high-flying point guard Derrick Rose. Coach John Calipari had led the Tigers to the No. 1 rank in men’s college basketball. Success had been on the Tigers’ horizon for some time. By 2007, the Tigers were way outpacing the Memphis Grizzlies in ticket sales.

The Grizzlies were another story all together. Their trajectory was downward-trending from being a lower-seeded playoff team to lottery darlings. The downward spiral of the Grizzlies began when star forward Pau Gasol was injured during the 2006 FIBA World Championships. Trying to keep pace with their previous seasons’ finishes, the Grizzlies would make a draft day trade that brought them forward Rudy Gay.

The team finished that season an NBA worst 22-60.

The following summer, the Grizzlies hoped to rebuild around Rudy Gay with 2007 lottery pick Mike Conley, Jr. That pick was followed by what appeared to be a very lopsided trade: Pau Gasol and a future second-round pick were sent to the Los Angeles Lakers for the rights to Marc Gasol (Pau’s brother), Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie and two future first-round picks.

Most league executives could not believe that the league offices allowed such a trade to be approved.

The Grizzlies would again finish near the bottom of the league standings. This earned them the right to draft Kevin Love, who was immediately traded for O.J. Mayo. The following summer Memphis signed Zach Randolph, who was coming off two tumultuous seasons with the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively.

Randolph embraced the attitude of the city. His style of play matched the heart of Memphis. That city, to this day, is a hardworking, blue-collar city loaded with its own unique culture of BBQ and Blues.

Randolph would go on to lead the Grizzlies to their best record in five years. He earned his first All-Star recognition that same year. The young Grizzlies core followed suit. The Grizzlies would add Tony Allen in free agency from the Celtics during the summer of 2010. By the end of the 2010-11 season, the Grizzlies’ “Grit and Grind” identity had taken shape. This led that organization to seven straight playoff appearances.

The Grizzlies rebuild began the same summer Kevin Garnett was traded away. The departure of the hardest-working man in Timberwolves history initiated an identity crisis that this team has struggled through for going on 12 years.

The Timberwolves have tried to rebuild around young talent. Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, and Derrick Williams among others never gave the Timberwolves the kind of building blocks needed to win.

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The “Timberbulls”, led by Tom Thibodeau, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler never got out of the gate, unless you count a first-round exit in five games as “getting out of the gate.” The Butler fiasco not only jettisoned promising talents like Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, but seemingly left lasting effects on this latest iteration of Timberwolves hopefuls, including Andrew Wiggins.

The Twin Cities deserve better. The Twin Cities, much like Memphis represent a mid-market area that has its own unique vibe. The Twin Cities are culturally diverse, economically driven, socially kind, hardworking and tough. The NBA season isn’t half as grueling as a Minnesota winter!

Minnesota needs a team that owns being Minnesotan. Coach Ryan Saunders knows too well the culture of this area. Adapting a driven, tough and hardworking identity is essential to this team’s success both on and off the court. Roster construction really makes no sense until the Timberwolves begin to own an identity that drives this team.

Signing players absent of a team identity is much like buying scratch-offs and hoping to fund that retirement account.

One player who sees the need to develop team identity is star center Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns recognizes the need to establish a better culture in order to for Timberwolves basketball to move forward.

The “Grit and Grind” Grizzlies used that identity to shape every draft pick and free agent signing over their most successful period in franchise history. “Grit and Grind” came alive through shrewd leadership in the front office and hard work on the court.

The Timberwolves have their leadership team in place with new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas and head coach Ryan Saunders. The time is now for Timberwolves basketball to be reborn. This 30th anniversary season has the opportunity to be the foundation for the best basketball yet to be played in Minnesota, but the team needs to discover itself again.

Next. The 15 greatest moments of Kevin Garnett's Wolves career. dark

Solve the identity crisis and watch this team rise through the Western Conference ranks!