MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Judging strictly on wins and losses, these Minnesota Timberwolves rank among the worst teams for a franchise with a long history of losing.
Entering the final game of the season on Wednesday night against Detroit, the Timberwolves (15-66) needed a victory to avoid tying the franchise record for fewest victories in a season. It’s a dubious distinction that coach Kurt Rambis attributed not to the players but rather the long-term vision he and new president David Kahn have for the team.
“The blame falls right here with David and myself,” Rambis said after the team’s final shootaround. “It’s not the players’ fault. It’s our fault. But we are going to move forward. In my mind, this is our launching point.”
Kahn and Rambis took over the basketball operations last summer. The Wolves haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, and their win total has steadily decreased from 58 in 2003-04 to just 46 total in the two years before this one.
Kahn reshaped the roster, with many moves geared toward freeing up salary cap space for the team to make a run this summer at what is expected to be a bumper free agent crop. All those personnel moves left the Timberwolves with one of the league’s youngest rosters. The lack of a true veteran leader plus new systems on both ends of the court “put the players in an extremely difficult environment to win ballgames,” Rambis said.
The Timberwolves have won just two games since Feb. 6 — not the kind of improvement that fans wanted to see. The team entered Wednesday night’s finale with just three more victories than the New Jersey Nets.
“Just not knowing each other and playing out there together, it’s tough,” forward Kevin Love said. “It’s great when you have a bunch of veteran guys out there who have played together for a while that can bring along the rookies and second, third-year guys. It seems like all of our guys are second, third, fourth-year guys. That was the toughest part.”
Even so, the team has avoided the locker-room volatility and infighting that often plagues losing teams, which Kahn credited to Rambis’ leadership.
“He handled it beautifully,” Kahn said. “He couldn’t have handled it better. He and the coaches deserve the credit for creating that kind of safe environment so the players could feel they could come back on a daily basis, apply themselves and work so that nobody was moaning about them or criticizing them.”
Kahn said work on next season begins Thursday. The Wolves will have three picks in the first round of the June draft and more than $12 million in cap space to use on the free agent market or in trades.
“We had to do what we did in order to launch ourselves with the capability of moving forward,” Rambis said.