A look back at the most disappointing season in franchise history.
I can't believe I'm writing this. It's only been eighty-one games. Yet I'm writing my eulogy for this Timberwolves season that is for all intents and purposes, dead. There's still one remaining game this evening against the San Antonio Spurs. It was a date I had circled months ago as one that might determine who gets the top seed in the West for the 2005 playoffs. But in the light of present circumstances, it's a game that has been rendered meaningless, except for the fact that its conclusion will finally lower the curtain on the biggest disappointment in this franchise's history. So in reality, this season is still alive. But it's fate is sealed, and after forty-eight more minutes of basketball the life-support is getting unplugged.
Many would say that the season was over as of Sunday's loss to the Sonics. Some were calling it quits after the inexcusable loss to Atlanta a week earlier. Perhaps it was the heartless fall to the Grizzlies which gave Memphis the tie-breaker that really did them in. Others point to the losses to the expansion Bobcats and suspension-riddled Pacers that ultimately set the stage for the collapse. And if you really want to get down to it, perhaps this year was doomed all the way back in the pre-season when personal agendas took precedence over the teams title aspirations.
But whatever the cause, it's the result that ultimately matters. This team's best shot at a championship has fallen unbelievably short. The playoffs will begin on Saturday, and for the first time in nine years, the Minnesota Timberwolves will not be a part of them. And as the games begin, all that the Timberwolves faithful will have to do is look back on a season with far more disappointments than delights and look forward to a future with far more questions than answers.
To an outsider, and maybe even a few on the inside, it must seem like someone was playing a cruel joke on us all. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. This season was supposed to end with a trophy, not ping pong balls. It seems so strange now after suffering through month after month of mediocrity, but it wasn't that long ago that all of us believed we were in for the best season of our lives. Missing the playoffs was never a thought. Being where we are now wasn't even a possibility. How can it be that after all those years of suffering and disappointment, that we get rewarded with having our finest moment turn into our most shameful? Maybe it has all just been a cruel joke.
But maybe, just maybe, this has all been a blessing.
I won't lie to you and tell you that I've enjoyed this season. I won't try to hide the fact that it is going to absolutely kill me this weekend to know that there are sixteen teams beginning a quest for a title, and we're not one of them. But I'm also not going to ignore the fact that this season, above all others, has been the most personally rewarding. They say what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. Well I'm still alive, and this season has made me stronger. You don't find out what you're made of when you're on the top of the mountain. You find out what you're made of when you're thrown into the valley and have enough inside of you to claw and scratch and scrape your back up. True fans aren't made when the confetti's falling and the trophy is raised. True fans are made in the valley.
I think it's safe to say that we've spent the past eighty-one games in the cold, black heart of the valley. And over the course of these season we've been able to look within ourselves and find things out that we could have never discovered on top of the Western Conference. What does this team mean to me? How far am I willing to go for them? Is this really all worth it? Those are the questions. Here are my answers.
I picked this team because they were the worst in the league. I picked them because I believed that if something wasn't difficult, then it wasn't worth doing. I picked them because I believed that if you give something your all, and you hold on and don't give up, it's all going to work out in the end. Those are the reasons why I picked this team. And as the years have passed, this team has become less and less about basketball, and more and more about who I am. This team is about clinging to hope, fighting through adversity, and giving that little bit more when everything you have has been drained out of you. That's what this team means to me.
This has not been a happy season. In the pre-Garnett days, the Wolves were almost never on TV. There wasn't a Timberwolves.com. I followed this team through newspaper box scores. I didn't know half the players faces, just the names. And because of that, Flip Saunders was the only coach I've really ever known. This season didn't just cost him his job. It cost him his opportunity to be a part of that day when this team finally does capture that title. When we're all celebrating our finest moment, he won't be there. That moment will never be as sweet as it could have been, and we'll have this season to blame. But that didn't make me give up.
The trading deadline came and went without the Timberwolves making a move. Even though the team was drowning, management refused to throw them a lifesaver. It was a decision to embrace mediocrity, not just this season, but potentially for years to come. All-Stars swapped jerseys for two cents on the dollar that day, and we were forced to sit and watch our struggling team stay stagnant. But that wouldn't make me give up either.
I wouldn't give up when we fell out of the playoff picture. I wouldn't give up when the teams ahead were pulling farther and farther away. I wouldn't give up when this team rolled over for the Denver Nuggets and broke my heart with their most painful loss ever. I wouldn't give up. Not even the next night when they tanked a game to the bottom-feeding Atlanta Hawks. And certainly not when they needed to win their final five games and have Memphis lose their final six just to stay alive. So how far am I willing to go for this team ? It's simple - as far as it takes.
There have been so many bad moments this season. But there have also been some good. I've seen many of our lesser known players shine because of their courage and determination. I've been able to see the passion and drive inside Kevin Garnett in new ways, and come to respect him even more. We "win" more than fans of any other team each year, just because we get to watch him every night. I've made new friends and gotten closer to some old ones because of this season. You can't measure that stuff by a title.
I said in an earlier article that it isn't really about where we end up in all of this. It's about the journey that we got to take along the way. And for those of you who will complete this long and difficult journey tonight, for those of you who embraced this team when everyone else turned their back, for those of you who shined in the midst of adversity, for those of you who never gave up, you can look back on this season and know that it was all worth it. You can say that this season was "My Team. My Time."