by Myles Brown
Randy Wittman walked into the Wolves postgame press conference as though he expected the podium to be replaced with a guillotine. “Feels like Groundhog Day” he said. Apparently unable to kick last year’s nasty habit, Minnesota blew its fourth double-digit lead of the season Saturday night to Portland en route to their seventh consecutive loss. Wittman still made numerous references to “doing the little things” interspersed with cliched mumblings of effort and unity, but this time the message was in the delivery. He sounded like he was out of moves and he bore the look of a man resigned to his fate.
Though he’s far from being the tyrant that his mentor Bobby Knight was, Wittman has become increasingly short tempered this season. A player’s failure to properly rotate, box out or move the ball, amongst other little things, will almost immediately result in a seat on the bench as Al Jefferson and Rashad McCants can attest to. Postgame, Wittman admitted that he wasn’t sure if certain players weren’t merely interested in points, but it wouldn’t be surprising considering that Jefferson hasn’t shown a fondness for defense and McCants is in a contract year. That being said, the question begs asking: What is the difference between a player shamelessly going for stats in a contract year and a coach demonstratively disciplining him in an effort to save his own job? Both seem to be primarily interested in self-preservation. No?
More importantly, the survival instincts of both player and coach are particularly cancerous to team chemistry. 30 footers with 20 seconds on the shot clock are just as counterproductive to a team establishing any rhythm as a revolving door of rotations.
In what was deemed a turnaround year by management, the Wolves are off to an abysmal start with no relief in sight and another painful reminder of what could have been looming on the schedule as Kevin Garnett and his shiny new ring touch down in the Twin Cities next Friday. Undoubtedly, heads are going to roll and Wittman’s should be first if only for the reason that it takes one team to fire a coach and two teams to trade a player. Wittman was hailed as a taskmaster and a disciplnarian upon his arrival and he’s done just that. And little else.
Of course it’s not his fault that he was given a raw team comprised of players that run contrary to his defensive minded principles. But he was also given a team that has the potential to amaze offensively and hasn’t made the necessary adjustments. Portland’s gameplan from the jump was to double team Al Jefferson’s touches in the post and with good reason knowing his struggles in passing out of a trap. Granted, much responsibility lies with Al in improving this part of his game, but in the meantime why not experiment with some pick and rolls to possibly deter the defense? If Jefferson is to be doubled, wouldn’t it be better to have him at the elbow and facing the basket where he can survey the floor rather than trapped in a corner along the baseline attempting cross court passes?
It should be noted that Portland’s offense sputtered also, marked by a 14 point second quarter of 4-18 shooting. But even as their tired legs hoisted 20 footers that missed the mark and Minnesota built that double-digit lead, there was never a sense that the game was in hand for the home team. And when the time came, the Blazers judiciously attacked the basket, pressuring the Wolves small frontcourt with Ghostface Pryzbilla and Oden. Then there was Brandon Roy, who exhibited the patience and leadership that will make him an All Star, ending the night with a 4-6 4th alongside two assists that helped steal the lead and seal the game. Roy is that rare talent complemented by a humility that is missing in lesser players who try to take over games when they shouldn’t. CoughCoughMcCants!Foye!CoughCough. He didn’t force the issue all night and asserted himself with complete confidence when needed.
When the time comes for Wolves management to make decisions-and that time should be soon-they’re going to have to swallow their pride and admit mistakes. This is a small team that can’t defend. They can’t compensate by running because their franchise player is best suited in the half court. They don’t have much trade bait and they’re not a desirable destination for free agents. There isn’t one player available who could possibly strike an offensive balance that would effectively utilize the available talent. Kevin Garnett isn’t walking through that door, friends. Brandon Roy isn’t walking through that door. O.J. Mayo isn’t walking through that door.
But if the Minnesota Timberwolves are truly committed to rebuilding a winning atmosphere, there is one mistake that can still be corrected….