Showing some ‘fore’sight
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The golf season is finally here. As someone who likes to play but managed to get out on area courses exactly zero times last summer, the melting of the snow comes as good news. It gives me an opportunity to make a “spring resolution,” if you will – to get out and enjoy the outdoors while doing my level best to avoid humiliating myself in front of friends.
The coming of golf season is fun for me. It isn’t so much fun for Minnesota’s winter pro teams who find themselves on the course earlier than they had hoped.
We’ve reached a watershed moment. Two of the perennial whipping boys of Minnesota sports – former Wild general manager Doug Risebrough and Wolves coach Kevin McHale – are in the news.
One, obviously, is gone. The other might soon be.
The tone of the media coverage surrounding Risebrough’s dismissal by Wild owner Craig Leipold was a bit surprising, with one writer suggesting that Leipold had pulled the rug out from under Risebrough after only one season in charge.
Well, the numbers don’t lie. Minnesota has had only one coach and one general manager in its entire existence. Risebrough had multiple chances to get it right and didn’t. His coach left on his own terms, but Risebrough needed to be shown the door.
Too often we saw Risebrough’s teams fall short for lack of an impact player. Too often we saw trade deadlines that could have brought that impact player come and go. Afterwards, we figured out why – the farm system Risebrough stocked wasn’t good enough to allow him to trade for those impact players.
That would leave signing high-impact free agents, which happened only rarely. For every Owen Nolan, there was a Peter Forsberg, Marian Hossa or Olli Jokinen who wound up somewhere else either by signing or trade. Or there was a Brian Rolston or Pavol Demitra, who were allowed to leave. It just wasn’t getting any better.
So he had to go. That leaves McHale, who despite his heroics for the Minnesota Gophers and subsequent Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics, is now perhaps the most reviled man in Minnesota sports since Norm Green. Relieved of his managerial responsibilities at mid-season by owner
Glen Taylor, McHale took over for Randy Wittman as coach midway through the year and presided over the ending of an injury-riddled season.
Yes, the Wolves are awful. They were awful without the injured Al Jefferson and were marginal with him. Yet, another season of disappointment on the hardwood may finally lead to better days.
The trade of Kevin Garnett allowed the Wolves to stock up on expiring contracts and salary cap space, and subsequent moves have left the team rich in draft choices. Their own pick in the coming draft is fifth, at least until the NBA holds the inane ping-pong ball festival known as its draft lottery. The Wolves have never improved their draft position through the lottery and even though simple probability dictates that one year they might get lucky, no one at Target Center is holding their breath.
So what we have are two teams, both with a chance to reinvent themselves. It will be a harder task for the Wild, who were closer to competence over the last several seasons than the Wolves. Admittedly, the Wolves have nowhere to go but up, which is their particular challenge.
Leipold said when he bought the team that he wants to win now. That will mean hiring a general manager who isn’t afraid to take chances, and who will be able to sell a new look that will attract impact players. Then he has to hire a coach who will give him that new look.
The Wolves, if the coming draft is managed in a competent fashion, have the ability to rise quickly. They have draft choices and will have space under the salary cap. Basketball turnarounds can be dramatic – the rosters are smaller and as the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and even the Timberwolves themselves proved, you need three stars to put a contender on the court.
It can be done. Yet the right decisions have to be made in the coming weeks for both franchises. If the right decisions are in fact made, maybe the golf season will come a little later in years to come.