It might not be the Wolves' time - but the time for the Wolves is now
Three games after Karl-Anthony Towns’s return to the Timberwolves lineup, one thing is clear: it’s time for the Wolves to win something.
Note that this is a far cry from saying that this is the Wolves’ time to shine, or that the Wolves are going to win something - only that there’s an urgency for this particular team to achieve, because suddenly it seems like this might be as good as things are going to get.
After missing virtually the entire season with a calf strain, Towns’s return has helped to propel Minnesota to perhaps its best stretch of the year. The Wolves followed up a road victory against the surging Knicks with a clutch home win against Atlanta, and have started a West Coast road trip by beating Golden State and Sacramento on back-to-back nights.
It’s far from their first mini-surge this year; it’s the third time Minnesota has won four in a row. But with the entire team reasonably healthy for the first time after Minnesota moved on from D’Angelo Russell and brought in Mike Conley, there’s actual optimism that this surge might be sustainable.
And with just six games to go in the regular season, it’s also clear that this might be the best chance to win that the Wolves are going to have.
Conley has been a huge addition for Minnesota, a point guard that doesn’t need to shoot, perhaps the key figure in finally solving the puzzle of how the Wolves can get the best out of their Triple Towers of Towns, Rudy Gobert, and Naz Reid. He also seems to have finally smoothed out the volatility in the Wolves’ veteran leadership, providing a voice less spiky than Patrick Beverly or Gobert or Towns.
But Conley is 35 years old. Gobert is on the verge of 31, and seven-footers with 20,000-plus NBA minutes tend to age quickly. Reid has blossomed into one of the most coveted young players in the league, in the final year of his small-dollar contract, and Minnesota won’t be able to keep him unless Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez decide to find out just how luxurious it feels to pay the luxury tax.
Conley and Gobert might be at their ceilings, for the remainder of their careers. Towns’ injury woes this year felt like a preview of the future, not an aberration. You can go on and on down the lineup - all might be either at the top of their games, or in their final seasons in Minnesota.
The only exceptions might be Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels. Neither has yet reached his peak, but both are still having excellent seasons.
Put them all together, and you have a team that might never be better than it is right now.
Which is not to say that they’ll actually win anything! This entire season, the Timberwolves have been impossible to predict. Every time they lost to the worst teams in the league, or provided yet another collection of boneheaded lowlights at the end of a close game, or failed entirely to show up in the second half of a back-to-back, we all wrote them off as a lost cause. And every time they were written off, that was their cue to show up and pound one of the better teams in the NBA, or rip off a three-game winning streak, or otherwise rewrite the narrative.
For example, this four-game winning streak was preceded by a game in Chicago in which their attempt at a game-winning shot turned into a double dribble by Anderson, a fifth-grade basketball outcome if there ever was one.
So if this sudden gush of optimism is followed by them getting blown out in Phoenix on Wednesday, or if they contrive to lose to Portland on Sunday, we can’t say that we weren’t warned by past experience.
But whatever the truth about Minnesota is, it does feel like this might be the best team that they can conceivably assemble, in the near future. They have zero draft capital, thanks to the Gobert trade, and Reid’s departure seems inevitable, and a huge chunk of the rest of their rotation is probably not going to improve significantly from where they’re at right now.
It doesn’t mean that the Wolves are Finals-bound, or even close. But for a fanbase that’s gone 19 years without seeing the Wolves win so much as a single playoff series, or even make the playoffs in consecutive seasons, the line between success or failure is not “championship or bust”, to quote Towns.
Even winning one playoff series would qualify as success, for this franchise. And for the Wolves, it suddenly feels like this may be their best chance.