Kicking off the 2015-16 season, the Minnesota Timberwolves posted a pair of victories against Western Conference foes. Throw in the fifteen games the Timberwolves played in November, and the team managed to record an 8-9 record, which following a “turrible” 16-win season the year before, led many to believe that change was, in fact, taking place in Minnesota.
Following the unfortunate events that unfolded with the passing of Flip Saunders, a grace period for the team to gather themselves was easily justifiable. Even in their losses, the team remained competitive, with only three double-digit losses (Miami 96-84, GSW 129-116, Detroit 96-86).
While the team still found themselves within reach of victory late in their eleven December games to date, with only two losses by ten points (Boston 113-99, Denver 112-100), they have struggled to walk away successfully, winning only three of their matches. All of those were against teams that will no doubt fail to qualify for the playoffs. After a decent start to the year, add to the fact that the Timberwolves are only five games away from matching last year’s win total, and they are only two games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The question now is: Is Sam Mitchell the best man for the Timberwolves future?
As the interim head coach of the Wolves, Mitchell has been questioned by many about his offensive and defensive strategies and his substitution patterns. His critics point to his aggressive, old-school approach and at the same time fielded opinions about his lax attitude towards his young, inexperienced team, knowing that the school of hard knocks isn’t necessarily going to help the growth of the team.
Looking down the road, will Mitchell last the season in Minnesota? Are hopes that the team can make a run at the playoffs with the level of youth, athleticism, talent and experience the team possesses too high? Some fans and media are wondering if the strong start was just a reflection of the emotional ride from the loss of Saunders, and now the team has crashed?
Could the Timberwolves once again attempt to pry Minnesota native Dave Joerger from the Memphis Grizzlies as they did in 2014? Would Luke Walton want to take on one of the most impressive group of young talent should Steve Kerr return as bench boss of the Golden State Warriors, with the goal of proving that his rookie head coaching stint wasn’t just right place/right time?
Could Mark Jackson turn the Wolves into contenders just as he did the Warriors before being outed for Kerr? Sure they don’t have the same long range firepower, but the Wolves would provide Jackson with a different type of offensive output, one that runs the transition and has a inside presence.
Should the Timberwolves look to a first time head coach, they may look no further than former point guard Sam Cassell, who teamed with Kevin Garnett to lead the team to their last playoff appearance. Currently sitting beside Doc Rivers as a member of the LA Clippers coaching staff, Cassell made it adamant during his playing career of his interest in leading a team from the sidelines.
Cassell, who spent time in Washington as an assistant, has a history of working with young players, including John Wall and Bradley Beal, something that could appeal and benefit Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine.
One off-the-charts prospect that could excite Timberwolves fans is David Vanterpool, currently an assistant with the Portland Trailblazers. Known for his work with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Vanterpool has a wealth of experience as a young coach, spending time in Russia, Oklahoma City (director of player personnel) and with the Canadian National team (which brings familiarity with Wiggins).
Can Mitchell be blamed for the Timberwolves current underachieving state after such a successful start? Some may say that his style leads more towards the veteran talent, more so than the young blood, as evident by his desire to find minutes for Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Martin over the pups either at key moments or late in the game when the experience would do them well. Others can rightfully point fingers at the kids and say that it is time for them to step up and toughen up, both physically and emotionally.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have one of the most complete rosters at all five positions and is well built for the future. What the team has to be wary of is if the losses continue to mount this season, will all their young talent look elsewhere for success in the future?
Should they bring in another coach next year, it will be Wiggins’ and LaVine’s third coach in three years and Towns’ second, not really the sense of stability the young club is in need of.