Simons Says...

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012

Good to see you again! We’re back for pro basketball’s version of a serious wind sprint, a 66-game run. A dash that I believe will highlight a bright future for this Timberwolves team and deliver fans the hope for which they were looking during the off season.

And what a difference a year makes. Last winter at this time, we were buried under more than 3 feet of snow. We were experiencing a deep freeze that not only enveloped us outside but also our basketball team and fan base. A year later (and a belated Happy New Year to you), things ARE different.

The wait may have taken a toll on some fans. But hard work and a fresh start seems to have won some, if not many, back. I’m getting e-mails from fans who admit an about-face especially those who are watching or even better, getting a first hand look with an early season game, they see the players, coaches and franchise staff who’ve jumped back into it with an energy that’s making the experience enjoyable.

Jeremy writes, “I’ve been a season ticket holder for years, even holding on when I wanted to let go and this is the first time in years that people are calling me for tickets. Not the other way around.” Crazy as it might seem, he’s right. Jeremy, I’m seeing that as well. It’s crazy. Just months ago, in the grips of the lockout, fans feared the worst and naysayers predicted gloom and doom and a game that would never recover.

While the lockout may have been frustrating for all involved, the hometown Wolves have turned out to be a situation that offers real hope but it has now created storylines that we eagerly watching every day and I believe this shortened season is going turn out to be very compelling.

Just days ago, the Wolves ended the first of two back-to-back-to-back games. Fans might love all this basketball but for those doing the heavy lifting, it is difficult for those teams in its grip. And yes, even the teams (like the Wolves) with those young legs.

Make no mistake, players are loving this. Martell Webster and Wayne Ellington just visited with us at GameON! and Ellington made a strong point about the work stoppage, the return of games and working to erase a “losing environment.”

“As much as the fans get frustrated and angry, we players hated the past couple of years more than them (fans),” Ellington said. “We, our team, are made up of players who all come from winning backgrounds and losing was something we weren’t use to. We don’t ever want to get used to it.”

Ellington went on to tell me, “There is just a different feel now. From the time we arrive, Coach (Rick) Adelman and his staff have a system that gets us all involved. We know where we stand. What we need to work on. We are a team that’s growing together and there’s a positive vibe in this place.”

In a phrase, the tools are now on the table for this team to make something happen. Let’s start by giving David Kahn a shout out for his work. His patience. His dilligence and direction while taking a lot of criticism and sticking to his game plan. You know, looking back, so many “experts” were not only calling for Kahn’s head, they were also convinced that Kahn had to trade the rights to Ricky Rubio for players who would contribute “now.” The whole premise was that Rubio would never come to Minnesota. For one, I’m one who’s relieved Kahn rejected the notion that Rubio couldn’t or wouldn’t be convinced to make Minnesota his hoop home. I’m glad those trips to Europe paid off in building a new and solid foundation and a relationship of mutual trust between Rubio and this franchise. I’m also glad that Kahn has the courage of his convictions and he trusts all his moves to turn the Timberwolves into a winning franchise.

Teammates simply love having Rubio around now. I pinned down Martell on this year’s team, and specifically, the aura around Rubio.

“He’s real, no question about it,” Martell told me. “He knows where everyone is on the court, he’s a better shooter than the media gives him credit and he’s a great teammate. He practices as hard as he plays in games. To Ricky, it’s pass first, pass second, pass third and then shoot the ball. He’s legit.”

That’s refreshing news to Wolves fans. It too is one of the reasons that the NBA’s return and specifically, the Timberwolves, have stirred it up and created a noticeable buzz. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the NBA’s Christmas day pack of games did so well with viewers. The L.A. Clippers acquisition of Chris Paul is must see TV, Miami’s Big-3 are back and even more exciting this season as they look to rebound from that NBA Finals loss to Dallas. For good reason, fans are pumped. Tickets are selling. That glimmer of hope that’s been missing for the past few seasons is here. It gets down to seeing a team that is playing good basketball, showing passion on the court that fans can feel and giving fans a reason to spend their money. And yes, offering hope.

Have you caught a game in person yet? A GameON! viewer summed up the now experience at Target Center with the new look Wolves. Arthur from Blaine said, “I took my daughter to her first game and it was amazing! The game was great, the Wolves run to catch the Bulls was worth the price of admission and most importantly, my little girl left saying Ricky Rubio was her favorite.”

And that’s why the wait on Rubio was worth it. And Arthur’s not alone in experiencing that. As the season stretches on, I will look back at a few games to measure the team’s growth. Did you see what I did in the opener against Oklahoma City? Rubio’s reel started here for me: second quarter at 9:19, a remarkable pass to Wesley Johnson.

Shortly after I spotted Coach Adelman working over (and over and over) the referees, still second quarter @ 5:55, a ridiculous pass through the legs to Anthony Randolph for a basket. Rubio’s one arm lobs to massive dunks, his no look flicks over the shoulder, the sweet side-to-side skip pass for an open three. Just a small sampling but it served as the entrée to the possibilities ahead. The Spanish sensation is making everyone around him better. THAT is what a point guard is supposed to do and it’s another reason the buzz is about this team.

So, enjoy the season ahead. Enjoy watching this team become an emerging and promising squad just as Oklahoma City (it actually started when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were drafted in Seattle), just as Portland and just as Chicago all have done. Enjoy watching this team build and then hold leads and end those long losing streaks to teams. Enjoy the contributions of newcomers like JJ Barea, the team’s No. 1 pick Derrick Williams and yes, of course, No. 9. Enjoy watching the savvy and experienced hand of coach Rick Adelman and his all star cast of assistant coaches. He’s got the touch. Adelman brought his blueprint for success here to Minnesota. And by the way, I love watching Adelman work the sidelines and holding the ref’s accountable. He’s in every game. He doesn’t check out. He commands the attention of his players and has their respect. Adelman is confident, quiet and respected. Adelman runs with the NBA’s coaching elite and already, he has his team in a better place than anytime in recent memory.

So, fans, welcome back! SimonsSays there are signs of hope. And that’s all anyone can ask. Because a little hope goes a long way.

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