The day after a loss to the somewhat-revitalized yet still lousy Philadelphia 76ers, the Minnesota Timberwolves instead of holding practice held a meeting wherein Interim coach Sam Mitchell brought players together at center court for 90 minutes of what can only be described as talk and soul searching. During that time, as Jon Krawczynski of the AP writes, each player was given the opportunity to offer his view on what wasn’t working and what had to change going forward.
“It’s probably the best practice of the year, for us,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “Especially more like a therapeutic session, allowing us even more to come together as a team and as a family.”
Towns and company responded by dropping six-consecutive matchups before snapping what became a nine-game losing skid with a 30-point victory over the Phoenix Suns. All things considered the Wolves, having remembered what it feels like to win, headed out of town for back-to-back road meetings; first with the New Orleans Pelicans, and then the Dallas Mavericks, in reasonably good spirits. But they quickly learned inspiration on its own cannot fuel success. The Wolves after leading by as many as 17-points lost to New Orleans by 15, 114-99. They followed that collapse up by doing more-or-less of the same against 24-hours later, losing by 12 to Dallas, 106-94. Nevertheless, the Wolves appeared to be playing better than they had throughout early-January. And, on Jan. 23, all of that hustlin’ paid off in the form of a win over the Memphis Grizzlies. The Wolves had Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday to prepare for Wednesday’s showdown on the road, against Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland proved too strong, too experienced. Despite competing until the bitter end behind encouraging performances from Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine, the Wolves dropped yet another close game. For the first time in NBA history three teammates, each under the age of 21, all scored at least 20 points. (Towns, Wiggins, LaVine.) Needless to say, they probably would have rather won the game.
Is a win over Memphis, and not being totally embarrassed on national television by Cleveland — after losing hold of what could have been back-to-back victories, first against New Orleans and then against Dallas — enough to argue that the Wolves are trending in the right direction? Maybe, but no way is enough to spare Mitchell from criticisms, warranted and unwarranted alike, that have become commonplace on the twittersphere and throughout comment sections across the web.
More fuel for conversation regarding the Wolves Interim coach surfaced yesterday, Tuesday, Jan. 26, in a column written by Jon Krawczynski of the AP. Krawczynski illuminates multiple reasons for concern while summarizing the season so far with an emphasis on Mitchell. You should really read it. Click this link. Below is the tidbit I found particularly interesting.
But nearly half the roster of 15 players privately expressed concerns to The Associated Press about [Interim coach Sam] Mitchell that centered on three basic tenets: His outdated offensive system, his tendency to platoon his rotations and a lack of personal accountability for the struggles. The players spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to publicly criticize their head coach.
Why, 26-days removed from a so-called therapeutic bonding session, has nearly half of the Wolves roster privately expressed concerns about Mitchell by way of a news/media outlet, exactly? Merit aside, should such tenets have surfaced a few weeks ago, during the 90-minute meeting, when Mitchell afforded players an opportunity to address questions, comments, concerns, etc.?
Meanwhile, in probably related tweets…
Very non-Minnesota-media to go after a story like that, that potentially divides locker room. Definitely interesting to follow.
— Punch-Drunk Wolves (@PDWolves) January 27, 2016
What the Wolves must do now is put the past behind them — which, in this scenario, is assuredly easier said than done. Keep in mind that this is the same group of highly compensated individuals left to deal with what impact the death of Flip Saunders will ultimately have on the franchise, for years to come. Saunders left his fingerprints all over the organization, most notably in that he somehow acquired (by way of either free agency, the draft, or by trade) each of the 15-players on the roster. He appointed Milt Newton, General Manager, and assembled basically everyone involved in basketball operations. On Sep. 11, 2014, Timberwolves Chief Executive Officer, Rob Moor, explained to the media contingent gathered inside Mayo Clinic Square that Mitchell and Newton were handpicked by Saunders exactly for this reason.
Perhaps the old-school coach in Mitchell evolves into the purveyor of knowledge and wisdom players, especially young players, so desperately need upon arriving in the NBA. Or, perhaps he does not. Perhaps Mitchell is not entirely at fault, either. That is, perhaps Mitchell has all this time abided by specific instructions passed down by ownership, or elsewhere within the front-office.
Perhaps Glenn Taylor would prefer no critical pieces, such as the trio of Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine, end up becoming damaged goods. Taylor did, after all, mention something along the lines of how he would continue to play it safe. And it is difficult to fault him for taking the entire year to assess the situation — a fragile one, at that.
But if ownership, front-office executives, coaches, players and fans share something in common, it is that none of them like to lose.