A little over a week ago, the Wolves were sitting dead-last in the NBA standings at an abysmal 5-34. Morale amongst their fans had hit an all-time low as the players looked completely lost and had managed to win only one of their last fourteen games. To say things were bad would be the understatement of the century. If not for the apparent Top 4 draft pick the fans had coming in June, things would have been borderline apocalyptical.
Ten days later, the Minnesota Timberwolves are still dead-last in the standings, but a mini-tear has improved their record to 9-36. While those who cheer for the Spurs may consider the team's latest 4-2 stint to be smallest of accomplishments, those of us on the spacious Minnesota badnwagon couldn't be happier. Seemingly overnight, a massive change took place inside the Wolves' locker room. The team, which had been struggling to a historic degree, managed to overtake the Warriors by one on the road and followed it up with a ten-point victory over Western Conference-leading Phoenix. They then nearly shocked the world during an emotional one-point loss against Kevin Garnett's NBA-leading Celtics. The Timberwolves followed that gutsy performance with an incredible come-from-behind victory over New Jersey in which they trailed by seven with under two minutes to play. While last night's defeat at the hands of the Bulls left much to be desired, the Wolves managed to avenge the loss with a gritty effort tonight in the second game of the back-to-back series. After averaging a win about once every two weeks over the first half of the season, this sudden string of victories has injected new life into the organization. Because for the first time in a very long time, Timberwolves fans finally have reason to hope.
It may just be a flicker, the tiniest flash of light admist one of the darkest eras in franchise history, but hope has indeed arrived in Minnesota. It has embodied itself in the person of Al Jefferson, whose recent 39 and 40-point games proved to Wolves fans that they hadn't gotten taken in the KG deal. A player with Jefferson's ability to completely dominate a basketball game is something that the Timberwolves have only had once, in Sam Cassell. However, unlike "Sam I Am", "Big Al" isn't going to get disgruntled after one season and stop trying. No, Jefferson is young, happy to be a T-Wolf, and only going to get better.
Another plus for the T-Wolves has been the recent return of Randy Foye. For the past three months, fans have had to endure watching Brandon Roy tear it up during his sophomore effort and lead the Blazers into post-season territory. Knowing that the Wolves had originally drafted Roy and subsequently packaged him for a player who had yet to get out of his Armani suit this year, was a very tough pill to swallow. With Randy finally back on the court, the massive gap between Foye and the man he was traded for should begin to narrow. This can't help but improve the overall psyche of the Timberwolves nation, as well as the team's performance on the court.
The breakout of the Wolves' top star and the return of their No. 2 option are the major reasons why the paper bags have come off the heads of Minnesota fans. However, other players have also manged to step things up and contribute in the recent weeks. Corey Brewer finally looks like a player who deserved to be the sixth overall pick. He's gone from throwing up a constant barrage of bricks to being a reliable shooter. I'm truly amazed at the level of progress he's made over the first half of his rook season. Instead of cringing when I watch him release the ball, I now expect it to go in. Ryan Gomes, a role-player who many considered to be a trade throw-in, has blossomed into a major contributor both on the scoreboard and the glass. His expiring deal has gone from being a way to cut salary this summer, to a potential liability, as the front office may have to pony up a decent amount of cash to keep him in a Timberwolves uniform. Although this may cause some tricky negotiations at the season's end, it's never a bad thing for fans when players earn their way into a higher tax bracket.
All in all, it appears that the Timberwolves have found 4-5 players this season who can be designated as "keepers" on their journey towards a title. This young core, along with the financial flexibility that will come from the plethora of expiring contracts this season and the next are reason enough to get Wolves fans to crack a smile. However, when you add to them the team's upcoming draft pick (which may no longer be "guaranteed" Top 4 for long, but should be good nonetheless), as well as the future draft picks owed to them by Miami and Boston, it becomes clear that the Timberwolves may be at the very start of something special. All it's going to take is one good draft selection, or one good trade to set this team up as a title contender in the not-so-distant future. Until then, the few, the proud, the Timberwolves faithful will continue to wait, eagerly anticipating the day that flicker of hope transforms into a supernova.