One thing that coaching has taught me is that no matter the talent level on the team, without chemistry, that team will fail.
Last year was the first time the Minnesota Timberwolves made the playoffs since 2004 where they were bounced by Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Minnesota fans were ecstatic when they heard the news that their franchise had traded for Jimmy Butler during the 2017 draft. With a lineup that was filled with talent such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, and Jimmy Buckets, the franchise seemed to be revived. This team, although they hadn’t played together for very long, looked as if it could make a deep playoff run. I was fortunate enough to watch them play in person against Charlotte early in the season and thought they had championship-level potential after watching them dominate that game. Playing in the extremely competitive Western Conference, however, proved to be a difficult task; a 47-win season landed the Wolves the eight seed and matched them against the one-seed, 65-win Houston Rockets. Had the Timberwolves played in the Eastern Conference, they would have been slotted as the six seed. The Rockets continued their dominance in the first round of the playoffs and won the series 4-1.
Minnesota fans considered the season very bittersweet. They were able to see their team make it to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, ending the longest playoff drought in the NBA, but fans, coaches and players alike all believed that they had the talent to go deeper into the playoffs. Optimism was high and fans were excited to see what this team could do as it built chemistry over the offseason and worked towards becoming a more cohesive unit.
As we all know, that didn’t happen. The locker room became more divided than ever, and Jimmy Butler was considered the antagonist. Feuds between Jimmy Butler against Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins became the focus of the team instead of playing basketball. There was arguing during practice that were on the verge of fights, trash talk off the court, and this promising group was quickly falling apart. I coach a junior high basketball team in a small town in Minnesota and will never coach in the NBA, but one thing that coaching has taught me is that no matter the talent level on the team, without chemistry, that team will fail.
Butler told the media “he would decide when he played in back-to-back games” due to “soreness”. Finally, enough was enough and they decided that they needed to make some moves; Minnesota was 4-9 before trading Jimmy Butler for Robert Covington, Darco Saric, and a 2022 second round pick. Minnesota’s first game without Butler was a 120-113 win against the Brooklyn Nets. In his first game playing for Minnesota, before even practicing with the team, Covington played 41 minutes in an impressive 107-100 win against the New Orleans Pelicans. The energy was different with him on the court; he pumped up his teammates, pumped up the crowd, and played tenacious defense during every possession. Before this new lineup, the Wolves had a -7.1 net rating. Since then, the team’s net rating has increased dramatically. As importantly as Robert Covington’s excellent play, Karl-Anthony Towns has seen a revival in his role as the focal point of the team. He’s seen an increase in scoring, rebounding, defensive efficiency, and most importantly, confidence and command of the team. The Wolves are 7-3 since the Butler trade with wins against teams such as Portland, San Antonio, and New Orleans. If they can continue playing like they have been in their last 10 games, I think they have a chance to make the playoffs in back-to-back years despite Jimmy Butler telling his team that they can’t win without him. As a T-Pups fan, I hope that they can prove him wrong.