At 19-31, the Minnesota Timberwolves are better than exactly three teams in the Western Conference. After Wednesday night's loss to the Utah Jazz, they enter All-Star weekend with more wins than only the Phoenix Suns (17-36). They are ahead of the Sacramento Kings (19-35) and the New Orleans Hornets (19-34) by virtue of a better mark in the loss column. If the Eastern Conference is included in the conversation then the Timberwolves have a better mark than four more teams: the Charlotte Bobcats (12-40), Orlando Magic (15-37), Washington Wizards (15-36), and Cleveland Cavaliers (16-37).
Like years past, the Timberwolves will find themselves among that group of teams in the discussion for the NBA lottery. Unlike in years past, their path to that disappointment was not predictable. Under the eye of veteran head coach Rick Adelman the team re-structured from the top down. They parted with inconsistency, filled holes, and built a more balanced and sound roster. Perhaps it was not the kind of roster that contends for a championship, but it was certainly good enough to chase a playoff sport in the Western Conference.
Perhaps more than any player in recent history, Brandon Roy is associated with injury troubles. It seemed that his predictable knee troubles early on this season set the tone for the rash of injuries that ensued for the entire team. Not that it is Roy's fault, but his immediate departure from the starting lineup seemed to expose the volatility of the so-called foundation for a team that was already fighting for credibility.
After Roy, the two most damaging injuries were sustained by newly acquired Chase Budinger and superstar forward Kevin Love. In the preseason and during the first 8 games of the season, Budinger showed all-around ability, scoring points and playing solid defense. His ability to stretch the defense would presumably be another weapon for Ricky Rubio and another way to take the pressure off of Love. Once Budinger went down with a torn meniscus the Timberwolves lost a solid player on both ends of the floor.
It goes without saying that the Timberwolves were going to struggle to win this season without Kevin Love in the lineup. Having now broken his hand twice, it is not clear if Love will play at all for the rest of the season. Besides the disappointment of his injuries, Love has also distracted the team off the court by big-timing to the media about his displeasure with the organization. Once the face of hopefulness for Minnesota fans, Love's status with the franchise is now murky at best. All of this while the other face of the franchise, Ricky Rubio, was forced to ease his way back into action by a balky knee. By the time Rubio hit his stride and starting looking like himself on the floor, it was too late.
The off-season leading into 2012-2013 was supposed to bring stability. While no team will get a pass because of injury troubles, it goes without saying that a depleted roster derailed the hopes of the Timberwolves this season. The franchise and its fans will never truly know if the roster was good enough to make a playoff run. Now Minnesota faces instability once again. It faces a number of decisions as the trade deadline approaches and then a number of tough decisions after the season concludes. And yes, it faces the lottery once again.
For the Timberwolves, this season is the same disappointment in a different package.