Wolves can use example Miller left behind

MINNEAPOLIS – With a revamped roster and a normal season looming, it’s easy to say that the Minnesota Timberwolves are starting fresh. For the most part, they are, with just seven players returning from last year’s team, but that doesn’t erase history.

That doesn’t make Kevin Love forget everything he’s been through in four losing seasons in Minnesota. It doesn’t negate last season’s April collapse, with its blown leads and blowouts, when the team won just one of 13 games. No matter how new this is, memories remain, both for the players who saw this firsthand in Minnesota last year and the ones who watched from around the league.

The easy response would be to say, ignore it. Pretend it didn’t happen. But that’s impossible. There will be reminders, in every game with too many turnovers and blown leads, and even if the Timberwolves begin to win, it will seem tenuous given their history. So instead of some futile quest to ignore, the Timberwolves should find something, anything, to latch onto from the end of last season.

That thing happened on April 26, in front of a folding chair and a wooden cubby in the Timberwolves’ locker room. The game was long over, a 131-102 loss to Denver that everyone wanted to forget as quickly as possible. In the middle of Rick Adelman’s postgame comments, he had minutes before slipped in perhaps the most biting complaint: “I hate to see him go out in a game like that because that’s not how he plays.”

He is Brad Miller. He is sitting in the Timberwolves’ locker room with a six-pack of beer and his tear ducts ready to rupture, dressed a little nicer than he would have been on any other night. By simply being Brad Miller, he is the best lesson the Timberwolves can learn, his words and actions that night perhaps the best takeaway from last season that this team could find.

After his final NBA game, Miller seemed his stoic self. He towered over everyone, begrudgingly accepting the spotlight he’d ducked for the past five months. He offered beers and made small talk.

Then he began to cry.

Brad Miller cried for the ending. He cried for the relationships he’d built, most notably with Adelman, who coached him in Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota. He cried in spite of every fiber of his personality telling him not to because he loved the game that much.

That, Timberwolves, is what you take away. You take that dedication and that love of the game and the team. You take that investment, which had been so intense and so long that it brought Miller, of all people, to tears. You take the emotions and relationships and you hope upon hope that basketball will be so good to you that someday it makes you cry those kind of tears.

The biggest criticism of the Timberwolves last season, especially late, was that they didn’t let things get far enough under their skin – or under it at all. Many players weren’t motivated by losses or even angry about them. And then there was Miller, crying after a season in which he’d been essentially a nonfactor, crying because it still meant so much.

Miller was with the Timberwolves at training camp in Mankato last week, working with Nikola Pekovic and the team’s other big men. There’s no doubt his impact was felt on the court, and even Love said he learned several tricks and how to break some bad habits from the retired veteran. But whatever basketball knowledge he provided, Miller’s presence has given as much beyond the game, no matter how quiet he might be.

So if there’s one thing these new Timberwolves can build off from last year, it’s that. It’s not anything that happened on the court – the talent is still there, the unsuccessful players gone – but rather the intangibles. That video of Miller choking on his sobs when asked what Adelman meant to him – “That’s what he means to me, right there. I’ll tell you that much.” – should be required viewing for players.

This team and basketball should mean that much to every one of them, and Miller might be the best role model to show the Timberwolves what true dedication means. Take that final moment, and there’s no need to forget every bit of last year’s disappointing end.

Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.