The Minnesota Timberwolves are relevant again. These words should look strange and foreign to you if you’ve followed the NBA at all in the past eight years. Ever since Kevin Garnett was shipped off to Boston in 2007 in a huge deal, Minnesota’s NBA squad has been uninteresting and painful to watch. The Timberwolves have failed to make the playoffs since the 2003-04 season, a depressing statistic made even worse by the fact that the team’s losing record in that time is so dismal. In the six seasons prior to this year, the T-Wolves have an atrocious record of 143-349. Fans have had little to cheer about in the franchise’s 22-year history, especially after the Garnett era. Even with the double-double monster Kevin Love in the paint, the T-Wolves were at the bottom of the West for the second consecutive year with a 17-65 record last year. So even though Minnesota technically still has a losing record at the moment (16-17), how have the lowly T-Wolves become relevant again?
The answer is Ricky Rubio. The Timberwolves have a history of poor management decisions over the years. They traded away the rights to players like Sam Cassell (in exchange for Marko Jaric and Lionel Chalmers. What do you mean you’ve never heard of them?) and Brandon Roy (for Randy Foye, who was taken out with a season-ending injury). Even trading former MVP Kevin Garnett in a massive deal that got them Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, two draft picks and cash considerations didn’t do enough to help the team in the short term or the long term. So when 2009 draft pick Ricky Rubio didn’t come overseas for two seasons, it looked like Minnesota’s infamously poor drafting had struck again. But luckily for the T-Wolves, Rubio was finally able to play in 2011. And the team hasn’t been the same since.
To be fair, Rubio’s number’s aren’t fantastic (11 ppg, 8 apg, and 4 rpg). And neither are the Timberwolves to be perfectly honest. But the fact that they’re in the playoff hunt and making highlights again, along with the fact that we’re even having this discussion speaks volumes about where this young team could be in a few years. Kevin Love, who is averaging 25 points and 14 rebounds a game, will always be the team’s powerhouse in the middle. But Rubio is the reason this team is actually competing this year. Rubio is a purebred point guard: facilitating the offense, setting up his teammates, getting steals and scoring when he needs to. His court vision is impeccable and his flashy passes make the Timberwolves an exciting team to watch for any basketball fan, let alone the diehard Minnesota fan base who have been waiting for a team to believe in. And Rubio does all of this with a giant smile on his face.
The emergence of Nikola Pekovic as a decent scorer and rebounder has certainly helped, along with Michael Beasley’s steady offensive contribution. The West is wide open this year, so it will take a collective effort from Minnesota’s role players to make a run for the playoffs, but even if they come up short this year, that’s okay. Just the fact that they’re in playoff contention matters to T-Wolves fans, even though you can certainly see why making the postseason this year would be a monumental deal. And while Minnesota still lacks what it needs at the small forward and shooting guard position (Wesley Johnson and Derrick Williams have been slightly disappointing and Luke Ridnour shouldn’t be the long-term answer here), the T-Wolves are building a young and talented core that solidifies an opinion that has long been seen as ridiculous: The Minnesota Timberwolves are worth watching again.