What does one make of the Timberwolves anymore? First promising, then pitiable, they have quietly become an afterthought, stumbling through the stretch run as a nearly faceless coterie of injuries, max contracts, veterans at the ends of their careers and an interim head coach.
Who are they? Where are they going? If you know, the phone lines are open.
The Timberwolves beat a playoff team on Monday, holding off the eighth-place Los Angeles Clippers late for a 130-120 victory at Target Center. Minnesota played well, had seven players score in double figures and scored 74 points in the paint. It was entertaining but didn’t resonate, didn’t feel like part of something bigger and better.
It doesn’t have to, of course, but after making the playoffs for the first time in 14 years last spring, and with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins on max contracts, it should.
It’s a long way from Jimmy Butler, headed back to the playoffs with Philadelphia while his former team goes out with a whimper. Where there was once a plan, there is chaos. Where there was a hierarchy, there is a vacuum. Worse yet, there is almost no way to know what exactly the Timberwolves have on their hands.
Minnesota was on a bit of a tear after trading Butler for Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Jerryd Bayless in November, a nice haul considering the Wolves didn’t have a ton of leverage and Butler likely won’t re-sign with Philadelphia. With a couple of new working parts under contract beyond the season, the team seemed to regain some momentum.
Here was a chance to see if the new guys were part of the solution, and if interim coach Ryan Saunders could push the right buttons. But because so little has gone right this season, injuries torched that plan, too.
Covington, the team’s best defender, has missed 21 games because of a bone bruise, and the team’s top point guards — Jeff Teague, Tyus Jones and Derrick Rose — all went down at once. That’s four players in a nine-man rotation. Rose and Teague returned this week, but Covington and Jones were still out Monday.
Wiggins was sidelined by an illness, unnecessary in absentia.
When Josh Okogie left the game briefly after banging his hip in the fourth quarter, Isaiah Canaan — playing on the second of two 10-day contracts — was asked to take off his sweats and play the last five minutes. That Canaan will not be here beyond this season is one of the few sure things about this team.
Towns had a typically solid game with a team-high 24 points and 10 rebounds, but the Wolves don’t win Monday without Rose (22 points), Taj Gibson (14) and Luol Deng (12). All on expiring contracts, will any of them be here next season?
General manager Scott Layden, part of the Thibodeau package, could be playing out his string here, as well. Saunders seems a decent bet to stay, especially considering he is like family to owner Glen Taylor, and that Thibodeau is still owed $16 million the next two seasons.
And let’s not forget Wiggins, whose four-year, $147 million contract might be the biggest problem this team faces. Averaging 17.8 points and 4.8 rebounds, the once enigmatic swing man has settled into being in the way.
Headed somewhere as late as September, the Timberwolves have rather quickly become a jumble of unknowns. They don’t know what they have, who will coach them and who will be in charge of cleaning up the mess created by the dear departed.
It’s difficult to make plans with that kind of uncertainty, but the Wolves have no choice.