The rebuilding Minnesota Timberwolves are in the middle of a disappointing season record-wise, but the fans have plenty to look forward to in the coming years if future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett is to be believed.
Garnett, who started his legendary career with the franchise in 1995, offered his support for the team, interim head coach Sam Mitchell and the young players on the roster following shootaround for Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, per Kyle Ratke of the Timberwolves' site on NBA.com.
Mitchell took over as the interim coach in September when it was announced Flip Saunders had cancer. Saunders died in October, which put even more responsibility on Mitchell’s shoulders as someone assuming a leadership role for a team full of young players under difficult circumstances.
Garnett endorsed Mitchell and the team’s future, per Ratke:
I think it needs to be said and understood that I am endorsing not only our coaches, but Sam Mitchell and the coaching staff; this organization. More importantly I am excited about our future, I am excited about our young players. I feel like we’re getting better. From these last probably 10-15 games, we’ve gotten better.
Minnesota is 1-6 in its last seven games, but it is not realistically competing for an NBA title this season. The process of building a sustainable foundation with youngsters such as Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine (who are all 20 years old) is far more important than wins and losses in 2015-16.
Garnett suggested Mitchell has the respect of those youngsters as well, per Ratke: “Not only do I endorse Sam Mitchell, but the other players do, too. We believe in not just him, but the system and what we’re trying to do here. I think everyone needs to understand that.”
Wiggins (20.4), Towns (16.6) and LaVine (12.7) are the three leading scorers on the team and the primary reasons for optimism in Minnesota. Wiggins looks like a budding superstar on a consistent basis, Towns has the makeup to be an elite interior defender (1.8 blocks a night as a 7’0” rookie) and LaVine turned heads with his athleticism when he won last season’s dunk contest.
Garnett said all three of them are hard workers looking to improve, per Ratke:
(Wiggins is) working his butt off. Also, KAT, Karl has been working his tail off. Zach’s been working. You can see the guys really want to be really, really good and put the work in. That’s what is important. When you watch people getting better, you want to see the work be put in and hope the results come out of it.
Garnett offered even more encouragement along those lines, per Ratke:
You have to understand that Day One, I’ve been here, first day, you see progression in how guys are getting the schemes; their IQ levels. Rhythm, not just in the offense and how someone is putting the ball in the basket, but how guys communicate with each other. The chemistry throughout the guys. When you’re watching your team progress, those are the things you are looking for.
That type of communication and understanding on the court between teammates is often the next step for a young franchise brimming with talent. Garnett has been in the league for 20 years and has a championship ring, so it means more to hear praise regarding chemistry and teamwork from someone with his resume.
He is also attempting to help that progression, per Ratke: “I’m teaching these guys how to communicate with each other, how to come in and get your work in. … Transformation and what we’re trying to build here is something for the future and these are the first steps of that.”
Those first steps have been apparent at times this season. Yes, Minnesota is only 14-35 and nine games behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff picture (as of Tuesday), but it only won 16 games the entire 2014-15 campaign.
Minnesota will almost assuredly win more than 16 games this season, and that improvement will only continue as Wiggins and company reach their full potentials when they hit their primes. The Timberwolves will likely also add a couple more promising draft picks to their core (that also includes 25-year-old Ricky Rubio and 26-year-old Gorgui Dieng) before they are ready to compete for a title.
For now, it is all about building a foundation, and Garnett approves of the way the initial steps have unfolded.