Wessel: No more excuses, Wolves need to be competitive every night
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Something strange is happening in the always-eventful Minnesota sports scene.
There is a legitimate buzz around the always-hopeless Timberwolves.
Nearly 16,000 people showed up to a preseason game. Their home opener will likely be a sellout for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
It's a deserved buzz, too. Why shouldn't fans get excited?
Ricky Rubio is finally here from Spain after a two-year game of wait-and-see that had national columnists predicting the floppy-haired YouTube sensation would never play in the snowy Twin Cities.
Rick Adelman was hired as head coach after fans suffered through two seasons of Kurt Rambis' confusing offense, refusal to adapt and late-game decisions that would cause fourth-grade hoopster with Rec Specs to scratch his head.
The Wolves added Derrick Williams to their young, talented nucleus. Early reviews of the No. 2 overall pick from Arizona have been positive and people inside the organization think he has chops to be a real star.
Kevin Love is a year older, 25 pounds lighter and motivated to cash in on a maximum contract. The All-Star also did a lot of maturing in the extended offseason and is looking to embrace the role of leader he at times shied away from earlier in his career.
I could keep going.
But with this newfound buzz and excitement comes something else the Wolves aren't used to: expectations.
They no longer have the numerous excuses David Kahn and the rest of the organization have hidden behind while the team continually rotted in mediocrity or worse.
Rambis refused to adapt his offense to his players and insisted on playing the triangle? Well, now you have the No. 8 winningest coach in league history, who has a proven history of not attempting to jam a square peg into a round hole.
You have a massive asset tied up in Barcelona? Rubio is here and his jersey is the hottest thing since people got into fistfights over the last Randy Moss jersey in 1998.
The team is too young, can't compete and needs a veteran presence in the locker room? You added J.J. Barea and Brad Miller and everybody else is a year older.
In the Twitter-era, the attention span of most fans is shorter than a TV timeout and they will be expecting results from Kahn's seemingly endless rebuilding project.
I am not saying they need to make the playoffs in order for this 66-game season to be considered a success. The Wolves have talent and can score points, but they still don't play much defense and are unproven.
They do need to win games. A lot more than they did a year ago.
More important, they need to be competitive every night.
Under Rambis, you could bank on the Wolves sleepwalking through a game like they are trying to get it over in time to make it to Sneaky Pete's before 2-for-1s ended.
Remember, there is no lottery pick to play for this season, so the yearly tradition of throwing games to acquire ping-pong balls won't be happening. In the gift that keeps on giving, Kevin McHale included the pick in the Marko Jaric/Sam Cassel trade in 2005 and it's time for Wolves to finally pay the piper. Fans will have to keep their Mark Madsen jerseys in the closet come April.
There is no sense in tanking. The Wolves will be playing to the end, trying to string together wins. If they can, they have an opportunity to rekindle flames with fans who still have fond memories of playoff games less than a decade ago.
They are, in essence, the only game in town.
The Minnesota Wild and their Team of 18,000 who fill Xcel Energy Center proved they are just that -- the only ones who care. They had the best record in the NHL before their recent slide and nobody seemed to put down their coffee to take notice.
The Minnesota Twins are catching heat for reducing the payroll after a 99-loss season. Fan favorite Michael Cuddyer is gone and Joe Mauer is about as popular as a loud fart during Christmas dinner.
The Minnesota Vikings are putting the finishing touches on a historically bad season and Adrian Peterson just blew out a knee. By winning on Saturday, they infuriated a fan base that was crossing its fingers for Andrew Luck.
The floor belongs to the Wolves, and all eyes will be on them when they open their season on Monday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. If they were ever to become relevant, now is the time.
The excuses have run out. The expectations are here. It will be interesting to see if they can live up to them.