After a tumultuous 2020-21 season, the Minnesota Timberwolves are taking a “good vibes only” approach to this summer. Anthony Edwards purified himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka and may or may not have become Steph Curry in the process. Jaden McDaniels and Jaylen Nowell just dominated Summer League. New owners Mark Lore and Alex Rodriguez rode in like cowboys to save the team. Malik Beasley got out of jail. And Karl-Anthony Towns is the kid who wrote “have a kick-ass summer” in everyone’s yearbook and meant it.
It feels like halfway through the first season of Ted Lasso when Danny Rojas joins the team and brings uncontrollable energy to the clubhouse, yelling “football is life” like it’s his catchphrase or something. It’s a lot of fun and you think the team has turned a corner, but SPOILER ALERT, the expectations were overblown and AFC Richmond gets relegated anyways. If we accept the fact that TV is the true mirror to our lives, then it might suggest rough waters ahead for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season, expectations be damned.
It’s easy to get sucked into the positives when comparing this team to last year’s squad. Towns is healthy and removed from the worst year of his life on and off the court. He and D’Angelo Russell actually played together last year — and rather well down the stretch. Minnesota finished the season 11-9 in games they played together in the final weeks of the season. Edwards is a budding superstar who averaged 23.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game once Chris Finch took over. Jaden McDaniels looks like Mikal Bridges’ taller, younger brother. Leandro Bolmaro is coming, and now Patrick Beverley is in the mix to set the defensive edge.
It’s all very exciting. But Wolves fans have been here in the past, so before we fly off the handle telling our friends how they should easily beat out the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks for the sixth seed in the West, it’s time to temper expectations because, as Ted Lasso finds out, “It’s the hope that kills you.”
Don’t be fooled by the Instagram stories, or the light-hearted interviews, or the hyperbole being thrown around. The Wolves are bringing back all the main pieces of one of the worst teams in the NBA. It’s been 17 years since this team has been relevant, so Wolves fans should be a hesitant to believe any hype.
We must take every positive story we’ve seen this summer with a truckload of salt if we don’t want to get burned again. According to Chris Finch, Towns and Russell are motivated and ready to lead this team to the playoffs. That’s great. Every team should have that mindset. But we have to see it first to believe that it can actually happen. The truth is, in six seasons Towns has never been the leader of a team that’s even sniffed the playoffs, and Russell is on his fourth team at the age of 25. We’ll need to see more than a .500 record in a 20-game sample size before we believe they can get it done.
For everything that Anthony Edwards did right last season, it’s hard to remember that he struggled mightily out of the gate and just turned 20 years old two weeks ago. Before Chris Finch came along, Edwards was one of the worst players in the league. He averaged 14.3 points per game on just 37.5% shooting in his first 31 games under Ryan Saunders. Edwards should get a pass for his slow start. Because of COVID-19, he was drafted by the Wolves just a month before suiting up in his first NBA game. Having no offseason and a barely-existent training camp took its toll on the No. 1 pick. That’s a lot for a teenager to handle.
Ant seems to be thriving this offseason, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s going to pick up right where he left off. Development is non-linear. He’s not going to turn into Donovan Mitchell or Dwyane Wade over one summer just because he did a backflip off a pontoon and hit a few half-court shots in a row. We need to see that he can consistently knock down threes and not fall asleep on defense before it’s plausible that he can be one of the best players on a playoff team. He has the tools, but let’s give him time to develop before we’re trying to place him in the starting lineup of the All-Star Game.
The Western Conference may be more vulnerable than usual with injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Jamal Murray, the general failure to improve by Portland and Dallas, and however you feel about the Russell Westbrook trade. That doesn’t mean that the Wolves are shoo-ins to be this year’s Phoenix Suns and vault into the playoff picture. Let’s start small and work our way up. The NBA deciding to keep the play-in tournament this season is a blessing for the Wolves. They have the talent to overtake the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento Kings, and Houston Rockets to battle the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs for the ninth and 10th spots in the play-in game. But let’s not jump the gun and pencil them in the top-eight just yet; there’s a long road ahead.
It’s the lean time in the NBA calendar. The only thing happening is players going on vacation. It’s the time of the year where 26 of the 30 fanbases start to puff out their chest and make the case for their team to make the biggest improvement during the coming season. If we’ve learned anything as Timberwolves fans over the last two decades, it’s that maybe we should wait and see if our team is actually good before we get our hopes up. Faith in your favorite team is a beautiful thing — but it’s the hope that kills you.