Column: Wolves' Success Hinges On "Swag"

Column: Wolves' Success Hinges On "Swag"

Last year at All-Star Weekend in Houston, the Knicks’ Kid Reporters were on hand and interviewed players throughout the weekend with topics ranging pretty much from A to Z. They were fantastic. But above all the entertainment value, one question stuck with me. They asked Kobe Bryant if he had “swag.”

“If defined by me,” Kobe answered, “then yes.”

Now if you haven’t already learned it during his career, Kobe has swag. Lots of it. And if there is one common thread that follows every great player and every great team, it’s that they believe they can beat anyone on any day at any time. They all have swag, and whether they trumpet it from the mountaintops like LeBron James or take a more subdued approach like Kevin Durant, they use it to their advantage to succeed.

I’m talking “Cool Runnings” swag—the “I see pride, I see power…who won’t take crap off of nobody” scene. Looking yourself in the mirror and proclaiming no one is going to beat you today.

On Wednesday night at Target Center, the Wolves lost a 117-110 matchup against Denver—a game the players and coaches alike unanimously agreed they should have won. And there was something they all alluded to postgame that was missing in that defeat and in some of the losses during their recent skid.

“We’ve got to get some type of swag or something,” forward Corey Brewer said. “When I was in Denver last year, we thought we were the greatest team ever, even if we wasn’t. That was the personalities over there. That’s why you see their bench talking, and I feel like we need to get an identity. We don’t have an identity yet. Once we get an identity and we know who we are, were’ going to be a good team.”

The Wolves have an abundance of offensive talent, and they’re going to score. Even in their defeats this year, by and large they’ve scored. The biggest issue has been and will continue to be stopping their opponents, and in the NBA defense is born out of belief and intensity. It is built on a sturdy foundation of swag.

They bounced back well last night in Dallas and picked up a much-needed road win against a Mavs team that was 8-1 at American Airlines Center. During that game, they looked like a team with the type of belief and intensity that Brewer was talking about after that Wednesday night loss. They were poised and hit their shots, but they also got the defensive stops in timely fashion that helped them create separation in the second and fourth quarters. The Mavs cut the Wolves’ lead to two with about six minutes to play, but Minnesota put together an 11-2 run that iced the game.

There’s a fine line between being a good team and one that produces on the court. Coach Rick Adelman talked about that on Sunday. He said you can read all you want about the Wolves being a good team, but as of right now they haven’t done anything. We’re currently through 18 games, and there is a lot of season left to be played.

There is no question these players believe in themselves and each other. You feel the locker room. For the Wolves, the key moving forward is being able to consistently translate that belief and that talent into an identity, a tangible swag.

When a team believes they’re the best team in the building every night, that’s a powerful thing.

The Wolves are working toward that.

“A lot of you guys might think we need to push the panic button, but we’re not even thinking that way,” forward Kevin Love said on Wednesday. “A couple things go our way tonight, we don’t make as many mistakes in Quarter 1-4, we win that game. We feel like we’re a better team than [the Nuggets], so time will tell. It’s on us.”

Guard J.J. Barea proudly showcases his swag on and off the court. He’s got the ring to back it up, and he’s been through enough NBA seasons to understand the type of mentality it takes to achieve success. Last night, he helped the Wolves go back into Dallas—where he won his championship ring in 2011—and take care of business. It takes a tough mentality—us versus the world—to win on the road in the NBA. Even though this Wolves team has gone through its ups and downs so far this year, you can see glimpses of what this team can become in wins like the one in Dallas last night.

Barea sees it, too. They’re working toward it every day.

“Everyone’s got to stay positive,” Barea said. “We know it’s a long season, so we’ll be fine.”

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