When the Minnesota Timberwolves welcomed the return of Kevin Garnett during a season of transition, Flip Saunders and Co. began building the foundation for brighter times ahead.
And that was just the beginning. Now with the additions of points guard Andre Miller and small forward Tayshaun Prince, Saunders and his Timberwolves are channeling their past in an effort to advance the future.
This isn’t just a collection of random, seasoned players. While Garnett’s connection to the franchise is obvious and will extend long beyond his post-playing days, Miller and Prince — although signed late in the offseason — will be the latest tutors in what will amount to a season-long teaching program. While KG will have a voice that spreads across the locker room and extends the boundaries of positions alone, his tutoring of No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns will be the most important lesson plan of the season. Garnett was drafted the same season Towns was born, so there will be no early dismissals in this particular classroom.
Down the hall will be Mr. Miller and his crop of pupils. While Ricky Rubio has been somewhat overlooked due to a variety of factors since the post-Kevin Love era, he’s still going to be a huge part of any turnaround that happens. Rubio isn’t going to suddenly transform into Stephen Curry and become a marksman from anywhere on the floor, but he doesn’t have to morph into something he’s not. Miller, a career 21.7 percent shooter from distance, can attest to that well.
Still just 24 years old, Rubio is just entering his prime as a basketball player. Considering he’s had professional experience dating back to his mid-teenage years abroad, Rubio’s context for the game is an impressive strength that many of his peers don’t have. Miller can help Rubio see the game from a different perspective, help develop his already impressive passing skills and assist him with decision-making — three key areas that’ll allow Rubio to thrive in the NBA. With last season’s lotto pick Zach LaVine as well as 2015 first-rounder Tyus Jones in the fold, Miller is going to have his hands full in his new role.
With Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad developing as the future on the wing, Tayshaun Prince was brought into the fold for the Timberwolves to finish their roster. While Prince may take a few spot minutes from the youngsters here and there, it’d be a mistake to envision him being a staple of the rotation. Wiggins, the future of this franchise along with Towns, will heed lessons from the veteran on how to pick his spots defensively. Muhammad, a gifted scorer who sorely needs to improve at the other end of the floor, will learn how to impact the game without having the ball in his hands.
Most importantly, these key players who will shape Minnesota’s future, will be able to learn from qualified teachers. It’s not a head coach who has to drill these lessons. It’s not a player development coach who has to spend extra time with the kids on the side attempting to speak their basketball language. It’s from those who’ve been there and done that at the highest level — and that counts for a lot more than most would like to give credit.
The Timberwolves are embarking on a massive undertaking with their rebuild, but the blueprint for success is there. With Towns, Wiggins and Rubio supported by players like Gorgui Dieng and Muhammad, it’s clear that Minnesota won’t be in the cellar for as long as some other rebuilding projects. And with teachers like Garnett, Miller and Prince now on the roster to help further establish a culture of professionalism, the kids will grow up to be men in no time. In a league where maturity is a must, Minnesota is making a sound investment.
While the off-court chemistry isn’t often talked about when simply evaluating talent in a vacuum, it’s an indisputable part of the equation when building a sustainable winner. And with Garnett’s intense, fiery displeasure for losing, you can bet that he’ll lead the charge in making sure that there is a steady charge toward progress at every turn.
In the brilliance of moving from one Kevin to another, the Timberwolves are using past success to breed future winning.