At 10:30 tonight I'll turn on NBA League Pass and watch the Timberwolves play the Lakers in LA. Judging by the respective starts for each team, the game will likely be over by 11:10, though it won't officially end for another two hours. The Lakers enter the game 7-0 and have played only two close games as they aim for a third straight title.
The Timberwolves enter the game 1-6, yet it all seems so much worse than that. In their last five games, the Wolves lost to Memphis by 20, to Miami by 32, to Orlando by 42, to Atlanta by 10 (!), and to previously winless Houston by 26. They've become the professional equivalent of a Division II team that's served up as a sacrifice for a Division I team early in the season. Playing the Wolves has to hurt their opponents' ranking in the BCS standings. The outcomes of their games aren't quite as predetermined as a Generals-Globetrotters game, but at this point Washington might be favored by 5 in a head-to-head matchup at the Target Center.
After tonight's game, Kurt Rambis might just stay back in LA, serving as a volunteer assistant under Phil Jackson, trying to forget his tenure with the Timberwolves while the franchise attempts to forget its time under him. Not that it's Rambis's fault. In his first stint as a head coach, with the Lakers in 1999, he had to deal with a young Kobe Bryant and an old Dennis Rodman and San Antonio easily swept LA in the playoffs, which led to Phil Jackson's hiring, Rambis's retreat from the bench, his return to the bench as an assistant and his ascension to Timberwolves head coach. Now he deals with a mismatched roster that has plenty of point guards, none of whom are Stephen Curry, and plenty of small forwards, none of whom possess a consistent jump shot. The good news? They're well on their way to a high draft pick in 2010, which they can use to take a...small forward or point guard.
It's a tough start to a long season. Even for the franchise of Roth, Brooks, Rider, and Lohaus, this is a low point. Remember when fans grew apathetic with the franchise because they only won 50 games each year and kept getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs? Those teams now look like Jordan's Bulls in comparison. But has it ever been this bad, this early for the Timberwolves?
Last year the team also started 1-6, which eventually turned into a 1-15 record. But those six losses didn't resemble the six from this season. The Wolves lost by 3 to the Clippers and by 2 to the Celtics, with an 8-point defeat against Phoenix sprinkled in. Nothing like this season's debacle. The Wolves also began the 2009 season 1-6 (as you'll see, it's a pattern). Yet one loss came in double overtime to the powerful Spurs and another came in overtime against Golden State. They also had a three-point defeat against Oklahoma City. Again, nothing like this season.
The Timberwolves of 2008 also lost six of their first seven games, on their way to a 1-10 beginning. Only two of those first six losses were by double-digits.
After that you have to go back to the 1995-96 season, Garnett's rookie year, to find a Wolves team that started 1-6. But that slow start included an overtime loss to Vancouver and a six-point loss to Portland. Toronto beat the Wolves by 18 and Houston by 22, but no one beat them by 30. Or 40.
The 1995 season? There we go.
Denver 130, Wolves 108
Houston 115, Wolves 85
Detroit 126, Wolves 112
Lakers 122, Wolves 99
Bulls 112, Wolves 100
Celtics 114, Wolves 101
The Wolves lost their first six games that year before defeating Golden State by two. They went on to lose their next seven to drop to 1-13, just to prove the first seven games weren't an aberration. Not a single defeat by less than 12 points to start that season. At least this year's squad opened with a 1-point loss to Sacramento. That Wolves team did scrape together 21 victories, a number the current team will struggle to reach. Credit the leadership of top scorer JR Rider for the turnaround.
Even the worst team in franchise history - the 1992 squad, which went 15-67 under the beleaguered Jimmy Rodgers - had a three-point defeat and a pair of five-point losses in their 1-6 start. For those wondering, Tony Campbell led the team in scoring that year, followed by Pooh Richardson and Tyrone Corbin. Randy Breuer, Tod Murphy, Mark Randall, Luc Longley and Felton Spencer all manned the frontcourt that year for Minnesota, and suddenly the Darko Era doesn't seem so bad.
So is this year's start the worst ever for a franchise that's all-too familiar with on-court fiascoes? Possibly. That 1995 season was ugly. At this point it's like comparing and contrasting natural disasters. What's worse, a hurricane or a tornado? An earthquake or a tsunami? Things are bad for the Timberwolves. And tonight in LA, they're going to get worse.
There might be only one way out of the mess: Fire Childress.