MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Even though David Kahn and Kurt Rambis took over the basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the summer of 2009, they prefer to call this season their first on the job.
That’s because the rebuilding plan they devised called for essentially not even competing in 2009-10, restructuring the roster with finances and the future, not victories and development, the main priorities.
Despite a clear upgrade in talent this season, the Timberwolves stagger into the All-Star break with the same amount of victories that the team that wasn’t meant to win had at this point last season. That’s not the kind of progress owner Glen Taylor was expecting when he signed off on the plan, and his patience is starting to wear thin.
Now everyone, from Kahn the team president to Rambis the coach to the players on the roster, know that victories will need to start coming more frequently over the final third of the season to prove that this latest rebuilding project is on the right track.
“It’s really important,” forward Michael Beasley said. “We’re pretty much in the last stretch. … It’s becoming too late, almost. We really have to try to put some wins together toward the end of the season to kind of feel good about ourselves and feel good about next season.”
Significant injuries to key players, including Beasley, point guard Jonny Flynn, swingman Martell Webster and center Darko Milicic, have coupled with the maddening inconsistency that comes with being the youngest team in the league to put the Timberwolves behind schedule in their rebuilding plan, Rambis said.
“It’s going to take patience,” Webster said. “Very, very, very painful patience.”
The team appeared to be gaining momentum earlier in the season, playing a more exciting and competitive brand of basketball than the team last year that finished 15-67 and tied a franchise record for fewest victories in a season. Close losses to the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Love’s historic 31-point, 31-rebound performance in a win over the Knicks brought a little bit of buzz back to Target Center.
All that energy and optimism appears to have dissipated. The Timberwolves are a paltry 5-18 in 2011, including five straight decisive losses at home that have once again turned the arena into a lifeless, half-empty place to come to work.
“Guys are sick and tired of losing, I can tell you that right now,” Rambis said. “They’re disappointed in how we’re playing. It’s been a difficult year, winning and losing wise, on everybody.”
The lone bright spot has been Love, who is putting together quite a season. He leads the league in rebounding, is scoring 21.1 points per game and is the first Timberwolves player to be named to the All-Star team since Kevin Garnett. Even for all his accomplishments, Love is still learning about being a leader, which along with a capable point guard, is the team’s biggest need.
“When you have young people who are trying to figure themselves out, it’s a very difficult process,” Rambis said. “In a lot of ways, it’s probably unfair to ask young people to be leaders. It’s the makeup of our team right now and it’s unfortunate.”
But it is the path that Kahn and Rambis decided to take in hopes of reviving one of the league’s most moribund franchises.
All parties involved continue to express confidence that things will get better, are getting better.
“We all knew it was going to be a learning process,” Beasley said. “We all knew it was going to be a long year. We all knew the year might not be as good as we wanted it to be. We’re all still together. We still work hard in practice, we’re still confident in who we are as players and who we are as a team.”
Practice never has been an issue, but effort in games has recently become one, especially at home. The Wolves have come out flat in four of their five home games this month, a noticeable lack of juice that has occurred right in front of Taylor’s face.
Taylor has said that he wants more wins, but he has yet to indicate that he would consider firing Kahn or Rambis. But if the similarities between this year and last year continue after the break, anything is possible.
Last year, the Timberwolves went 2-27 down the stretch.
“Everybody says it’s going to take some time,” Milicic said. “We’re going through that time right now and it’s painful.”
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