Play ball: NBA back in action after lockout’s resolved

By Patrick Murphy

Beginning on July 1, the National Basketball Association went into the fourth lockout in its history. What exactly the lockout was, few knew. What mattered is that it meant no professional basketball until the players and owners could come to terms on a re-structuring of the league’s revenue sharing and salary cap structure. As an NBA fan (and Timberwolves fan in hiding), I was concerned when I first heard about the lockout, but as the NBA season doesn’t start until late October, I had no doubt that the players and owners would be able to pound out a deal in four months. Well, I was wrong. So, what went so terribly wrong in the months of negotiations between the players and ownership? Well, to be honest, I don’t know. Nor do I particularly care. I did about five minutes of research on the nitty-gritty details of the negotiations and was bored half to death. My one (run-on) sentence summary of the five-month negotiations goes like this: The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement expired after last season, and in order to renew it, the players and owners needed to compromise, both sides wanted more money and neither side wanted to budge, a little progress would be made, but then the negotiations would fall through. This process was repeated over and over for just short of five months. The moral of the story is that professional basketball players are extremely wealthy and owners of professional basketball teams are even wealthier. Both sides like money a lot. Neither side wanted to budge. If you asked me a week ago if I thought there was any conceivable way that the two sides would reach a breakthrough in time to salvage what was left of the season, I would have said, “Helllllll no!” And of course, I would have been wrong, as I usually am, because through some divine intervention, the two sides agreed to terms last Saturday, November 26. Now you may be wondering how the two sides finally reached an agreement after months of no progress. I too wondered this for about seven seconds, but then said to myself, “Wait, I don’t care which rich guys get more money! They’re all still going to be rich! What matters is that there’s going to be an NBA season at long last!” Technically, the players still need to ratify the agreement by signing some papers, but that’s just a formality at this point. The shortened, 66-game season is set to begin on December 25. As I previously had the tremendous strength to admit, I am a fan of the Minnesota Timberwolves (aka Timberpups), a semi-professional basketball club that is technically in the National Basketball Association. The last time I truly enjoyed an NBA season was the 2003-2004 season when the Timberwolves were the top-seed in the Western Conference, led by Kevin “The Big Ticket” Garnett, Sam “The Man” Cassell, and Latrell “The Choker” Sprewell. The T-Wolves lost in the Western Conference Finals, and as devastated as I was, I still have fond memories of that season. To see a team that had been terrible my entire life enjoy some real success was sweet. In the years since the 2003-2004 season, the Timberwolves have regressed into the Timberpups. The retirement of Cassell and Sprewell and more importantly, the trade of “KG” to the Boston Celtics doomed the franchise in the years following. Under the notoriously awful management of Kevin McHale, the team failed to draft and develop the young talent necessary to climb out of the cellar of the NBA standings. Coming into this season, the Wolves had been free of the cursed McHale for two years and were showing signs, however faint, of life. Okay, okay, I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself. The team had the worst regular season record in the league last year. However, I stand firm to my belief that the Timberwolves will go from a .200 team to a .500 team this year. “Wait a minute, Pat. Are you trying to say that this team is in some way capable of doubling their win total from last year… With 16 fewer games in the season?” You read me loud & clear, comrade. As entertaining as it can be to make an argument without backing it up, I’m going to try to back this one up, for better or for worse. In the offseason, the Wolves brought in veteran head coach Rick Adelman. With 945 career victories (8th all-time), Adelman has 253 more wins under his belt than the entire Timberwolves franchise. Known for his ability to quickly turn around struggling teams, the up-tempo offensive scheme that Adelman favors will suit the young, athletic Wolves roster well. The Timberwolves are led by Kevin Love, one of the five best power forwards in the NBA. K-Love is the best rebounder in the league, an excellent passer, and is developing into an elite scorer in his own right. Not to mention that he stayed in shape during the lockout by playing beach volleyball. At the small forward position, the Wolves suit up Michael Beasley. Beasley would rather smoke the reefer than play defense, but the former second-overall draft pick is a natural scorer who nicely compliments Love’s skillset. To add to the attack, the Wolves drafted Derrick Williams with the second overall pick last spring. Without having seen Williams play in an NBA game, it’s impossible to say how he’ll pan out, but the guy’s an athletic freak, and if nothing else, he’ll be entertaining to watch. Speaking of entertaining… At long last, Spanish pretty boy Ricky Rubio has finally decided to join the team. Drafted by the Timberwolves in 2009, Rubio deferred from joining the team immediately so that he could finish out his contract with FC Barcelona in the Spanish Basketball League (Liga ACB). Rubio cited further development, better weather and more attractive women as his primary reasons for staying in Spain for an extra two years. And frankly, I don’t blame him. A pass-first point guard, Rubio was rumored to be the second coming of Pistol Pete Maravich as a 16 year-old legend in Spain. Is he actually that good? I wouldn’t bet anything of value on it. Is he extremely attractive? Yes. Boom, let’s play ball. The Wolves have several other young, talented players on the roster, who, like the team, are unproven. But hell, who doesn’t love an underdog story?