There are fewer situations tougher than what Dwyane Casey has had to deal with this season. Injuries and trades have left Casey guessing as to who is going to play night in night out. Mixed messages from management, anywhere from ‘win now’ to ‘let’s see what we’ve got,’ have left this team and it’s coach completely confused. Add all of that to the fact that this is Casey’s first year at the helm, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Going into the season, the Wolves looked like a team that was better, if only in attitude, than the one that failed to reclaim their conference finals success of the season prior. An unhealthy Sam Cassell out the door, an experienced but untapped potential Marko Jaric was in. Troy Hudson was healthy, or so we thought. Wally was back on track and Rashad McCants was a rookie with sky high offensive abilities. Heck, even Kandi was looking ahead to a good season, what with it being a contract year. Our new head coach was a defensive minded coach, which was something this team lacked last season. KG was always going to be KG so we were good to go right? Yeah….
First, Hudson’s ankle went poppy, then Marko’s confidence was replaced with wobbly knees and a liquid spine and we all came back to earth when Rashad played like what he was: a rookie. KG, Wally, and the defense were looking good though. Then it started to fall apart. The offense was stagnant and the adjustments Casey installed seemed to slacken the defense and the losing began. As the losing got worse, so did Dwayne’s ability to coach, or so it seemed. He couldn’t decide on a starting lineup or a solid rotation. Players would play 35 minutes one game and six the next. No one knew when they would play or how much, and the confidence ebbed away even further. The team started to nosedive. Then management stepped in. Wally and Kandi out, Buckets, Banks, Reed, and Blount in. Nothing changed though. No solid lineup, no consistent rotations, still no winning.
The team played great – in stretches. First quarter, the Wolves would run out to an early lead, seemingly dominating the opponent. Then, sometime in the third quarter, the other team would make adjustments and Casey couldn’t follow. Too many times this season, the Wolves let a double digit lead slip away – by slip away I mean turned into a double digit loss. Everyone knows that it’s harder to play together when it’s not going well, but that’s where the coach usually steps in and makes adjustments to curb what the opponent is doing. Not this coach, not this team. Watching teams switch to a zone defense and the Wolves simply looking lost was a sight all too familiar this season. They still can’t defend the pick and roll. They beat Phoenix one night then lose to Orlando by 20 the next. There has yet to be any kind of consistent play from this team night in and night out, hell even quarter to quarter.
Now, as the season winds down, things are getting worse. KG and Buckets aren’t going on road trips, let alone playing. Your two best players, staying home. Great, nice work management. Sure, maybe Casey told them they’d only be playing the first and third quarters and KG and Buckets balked at the idea and decided to stay away – due to “injuries.” Yeah, right. 351 straight starts? A streak ended by tendonitis? Sure, whatever. Buckets not playing through a groin strain? BUCKETS?? The man who doesn’t know there’s a score? Or a clock? Or anything else other than gettin’ buckets? Okay. Sure, I guess.
I know, I know, the team needs to keep its record bad so they can keep their pick But do you really think that pick matters to KG? I guess maybe he’d welcome another new face, a good young player, but at the cost of winning games? Even meaningless ones? Not a chance in hell. He’d rather lose his right hand than lose games. He dies to win and the past two seasons have killed him. You can see it in the way he walks, the way he plays, the way he talks to the media now. He’s called out players on his team, just like a leader should. He’s questioned the coach when it was warranted, just like a superstar should. He’s even called out the GM on the team, just as any person with a pulse should do – yeah Deadzo, we’re looking at you. KG has handled his frustration like a perfect gentleman all season, and he gets rewarded with 6 throw away games to save a draft pick that will be made by a man that he clearly no longer trusts. Ouch.
So nine months after finishing a season filled with turmoil, locker room unrest, and disappointment, we’re right back where we started. Sure, the guys that were the main cause of last season’s stress filled locker room were sent walking and that feeling fell away for awhile, but still, nothing has changed. A team that was expected to atleast battle for a playoff spot has been out of the running since February, mentally if not mathematically. We are headed into another summer in which the team will have to face many of the same questions and shortcomings of the offseasons past with the answers no more clear than before.
I guess though, that’s Minnesota basketball isn’t it?