Wolves History 101: A New Attack
After the 1991-92 season, Jack McCloskey was named general manager of the Timberwolves. For 13 years he had held the same position with the Detroit Pistons, helping to build that franchise into two-time NBA champions. He had a reputation as a savvy judge of college talent, and he was quick to pull the trigger on a transaction — he made 43 trades in his 13 years at Detroit. McCloskey, who had played briefly in the NBA himself, had been a successful high school and college coach and had coached the Portland Trail Blazers for two years early in that team's history.
With the third overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft (the highest pick in franchise history), Minnesota selected Duke center Christian Laettner, the third consecutive pivotman to join the team via the draft. The 6-11, 235-pound Laettner had been the consensus College Player of the Year during his senior season at Duke. He was the first player ever to start in four Final Fours, and he had led the Blue Devils to consecutive NCAA titles in 1991 and 1992. He was the all-time NCAA Tournament career scoring leader with 407 points.
McCloskey made another big move when he traded Pooh Richardson and Sam Mitchell to the Indiana Pacers during the summer for Chuck Person and Micheal Williams. The Timberwolves started the 1992-93 season with six new faces in the lineup and managed a 4-7 record in November. Person led the team in scoring (20.0 ppg) and rebounding (8.5 rpg) for the month.
Laettner's NBA career got off to a good start as he averaged 19.5 points and 8.1 rebounds through the first month. Guard Doug West was a skilled shooter; Williams was both a playmaker and a scorer; and veteran forward Thurl Bailey provided steady play off the bench. When Bailey sat out a December 19 game against Golden State with a bruised foot, it ended his string of 451 consecutive games, the second-longest streak among active NBA players.
Unfortunately, December arrived without mercy for Minnesota — the team fell to 1-12 for the month. The Timberwolves also suffered what was then the worst defeat in franchise history, a 37-point pasting on Dec. 5 at the hands of the Seattle SuperSonics.
On Jan. 11, the Timberwolves made a coaching change, naming Sidney Lowe interim head coach, replacing Jimmy Rodgers. Lowe had played for seven years in the NBA, bouncing from Indiana to Detroit, Atlanta, and Charlotte (interrupted by four seasons in the CBA) before finishing his career with the original Timberwolves squad. After retiring, he had worked as a television analyst and, beginning in 1991, as an assistant coach for Minnesota. Then the youngest head coach in the NBA at age 33, Lowe led the Wolves to a 13-40 record the rest of the year, for a season total of 19-63.
The team improved under Lowe but still struggled. In a 121-114 win over Sacramento on Feb. 18, the Timberwolves sank a then club-record 40 free throws, including an individual single-game team mark of 18 by Laettner. A three-game winning streak in March looked like a sign that Minnesota was beginning to be competitive. With the team seemingly headed in the right direction, Lowe was elevated from interim coach to head coach on March 24, 1993.
As a cruel gift to their new leader, the Wolves lost 12 games in a row to start April, the second-longest dry spell in team history. However, even during those hard times, there were positive moments. The first came when Micheal Williams broke Calvin Murphy's 12-year-old NBA record for consecutive free throws made. Williams' streak began on March 24 and included a 16-for-16 game on April 7 against Indiana, as well as 11 straight on the second-to-last day of the season. He surpassed Murphy's mark in the final game of the year, when he sank 10 charity tosses against Utah to end with 84 consecutive free throws. The streak continued into the next season and reached 97 consecutive free throws before he missed on Nov. 9, 1993.
Williams's .907 free throw percentage for the season set a Wolves franchise record, easily topping the previous best set by Doug West. Williams ranked fourth in the NBA in free-throw percentage, sixth in assists (8.7 apg), and eighth in steals (2.17 per game).
Laettner set what was then a club single-season rebounding mark with 708 boards (8.7 rpg). Person established a new franchise record by hitting 118 three-point field goals, more than doubling Pooh Richardson's old mark of 53 in 1991-92. Doug West, the lone holdover from the original Timberwolves roster, led the team in scoring at 19.3 points per game, with Laettner (18.2 ppg), Person (16.8), and Williams (15.1) right behind him. At season's end, Laettner was selected to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
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