The State Of Minnesota Is Now The Edge Of Madness

In sports, and in particular the NBA, fans go through peaks and valleys of swagger, fervor, hunger, misery, desperation, and redemption, which leads to swagger.  Unless you’re a Lakers fan. Then you pretty much just have swagger. All the time.

Of these, I find desperation to be the most fun to watch. Redemption is like Homeward Bound. It’s sweet, and heartwarming, but it’s still a talking dog and you always have to question whether they would actually end up getting hit by a car in reality.

But desperation? That’s a special kind of fun. They’re like the Christopher Guest films. Awkward, unbelievable, yet instantly recognizable as behavior we are familiar with. After a period of darkness, a franchise will convince itself that any plan is the answer. Memphis’ three-year plan is a good example. The Celtics’ rebuilding effort pre-Garnett trade is another doozy. But man, Minnesota? That’s a swan dive into crazy juice. Industrial strength, high density crazyville.

Al Jefferson. Kevin Love. Three first round draft picks. Expiring contracts. New GM. New head coach. There was nothing but hope headed into this draft. And the fans were ready for that next step. For the jump-start into relevance again.

Just one problem.

The Timberwolves did not look themselves in the mirror before they walked into that draft room Thursday night.

Ricky Rubio has a rare concoction of elements that make him unique unto himself out of this draft class. He has star power, fan hype, professional employment, and capable handlers. This formula results in the one thing that can strike fear into the hearts of drafting small market teams. Leverage.

Rubio, as we all know, doesn’t have to commit to playing here. He can take his scrawny ass back across the water and make a good sum of money and continue to be idolized by his countrymen until such time as he can go where he wants to go. Kahn, for his part, is trying to play chicken with him. This talk of “well, it may be a few years.” Are you serious? Your star player? The big catch? The one you’re plugging on your website? He “might” be available “in a few years?”

Are you out of your freaking gourd?

But Kahn at least did what he thought was best for his franchise. And he drafted insurance in Flynn. We can debate exactly the damage that entering the night with three first round picks and walking out with only Johnny Flynn and Ellington actually playing next year another time. What I’m fascinated by is the reaction from Minnesota fans.

They’ve bought into the idea that “sure, he may not be around next year, but eventually he’ll be here.” What’s the success rate on that? And in the meantime, you have a #5 pick that has netted you absolutely nothing.  Not only that, but there’s the level of exaggeration the kid has created in the fanbase, even as he makes it pretty obvious he has no interest in suiting up in Minny’s colors.

We’re not just talking “Wow, he’s going to be a great addition to this team as we rebuild, the future still is bright!” No, no. We’re talking “He is (not ‘going to be’, is) better than Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams.” (CORRECTION 4:50pm EST: Derek politely points out that he’s not saying Rubio’s better than Wade or Williams, just that he wouldn’t trade Rubio for them. So there’s that.)  Let’s remember this is a kid who’s body frame is going to be pulverized by half the point guards in this league and whose play style most closely resembles a former white freak of nature out of LSU that is best known for never living up to his potential.  All of this, and the guy doesn’t want to play there.

Not that Minnesota fans are apparently aware of it. No, instead, they’ve decided to wage a jihad on sources who are widely respected not only by fans and media, but by the GMs themselves, under the guise of wanting transparency. Transparency which would, of course, eliminate their ability to siphon any information whatsover from GMs who honestly hate anyone involved in the media on a general basis. But that’s not what they really want. They want to lambast people for these subjects being relevant:

Above and beyond the sourcing nonsense and the lack of searching for answers to the questions listed above, can we also stop framing this issue in the following narratives?

  • Rubio just wants to end up in New York
  • Rubio would be much better off financially in a big market
  • Minnesota is cold
  • Donnie Walsh is David Kahn’s mentor

If you really sit down and think about it, these sentiments are meaningless gap-fillers.  Lots of players want to be on the big stage.  Of course there are more deals to be had in a huge city.  Lots of places are cold.  Lots of GMs earn their stripes under other active GMs.  These things are not unique to this situation.  Minnesota picked a kid who entered the draft and they don’t have to apologize for things that are true but hardly unique.

Hmm. I wonder why those things are being mentioned? Most likely because they’re both relevant and true.

Gap-fillers? Really? Because you know what a gap-filler is? Kahn talking like Rubio’s going to be a part of this franchise. He ain’t. That kid has leverage. And he’ll use it to get what he wants.

Now, it’s entirely possible Kahn is just positioning himself to get as much out of Walsh as he can. I have high hopes for Kahn and think he’s going to do a terrific job in Minnesota, despite the spin-out he did on draft night. He’ll get hammered for letting this “once in a lifetime” talent go, and if (when) Rubio ends up being just another point guard no one will go back and credit him. But it’s still the move to make.

But this situation is a perfect example of how fanbases can go absolutely insane in a short amount of time. Minnesota was a disaster under McHale. An outright disaster. And Minnesota is trying to convince itself that it can climb back to relevancy by showing Rubio all the wonderful things about Minnesota. And if he were a normal draft pick, or even a normal Euro draft pick, this wouldn’t be an issue. He’d be pumped about the money, figure out a way out of the buyout, and start listening to Replacements tapes and fashioning a winter wardrobe. But he’s not. He can hold out. He doesn’t have to stage a public feud or make it ugly. He can lay low, and wait for time to force Kahn’s hand, all the while enticing New York to pursue him further.

Maybe I’m way off. “Sources tell me” that there’s a good chance Rubio thinks he’s got a greater ability to get where he wants by playing in the NBA than by not. But let’s step back from the edge, take a look at this situation and deal with what’s actually going on, instead of blaming sites that are well connected for using anonymous sources.

I’m no Marc Stein. I’ve watched that dude operate in a locker room, and it was like watching the Godfather work a crowd. I talk to guys that are on the inside. Me? I’ve landed on the surface with a rock hammer and tried to chip my way in. And I can tell you from my very limited experience? GMs HATE most media members. Because essentially, their entire job is to try and take all the valuable information they have and give it away. Whether that’s juicy gossip, scouting reports, or contract details. And the distrust and revulsion is pretty clear, unless it’s a face that they know and trust. And that goes all the way from GMs down the line. And I can’t blame them for that. So when you work your way into a trusted position with these guys? You’re not going to use their names just so don’t leave the door open for a fan to start freaking out trying to find ways to rationalize his denial of what’s actually happening, namely, Ricky Rubio thinks you live in Siberia and that is not cool with him. And what’s Ricky? Ricky’s cool. Well, actually, Ricky’s scrawny and overhyped. But he’s also cool, supposedly.

What will now become awesome is that every step of the way as Rubio drags his feet on coming to Minnesota, there will be blame placed on the “New York media” for propogating the theory that it’s not just the buyout details but Rubio’s preference for location. T-Wolves fans now have a shadowy enemy to blame. And that’s much easier than pointing fingers at the star player that you want so badly to save you.

Now that I think about it, Minnesota fans and Cleveland fans should go bowling together.

UPDATE:

In response to the flurry of Timberwolf comments regarding Rubio wanting to come to Minny, I’d like to address something. Let’s try a little exercise.

You: Do you want to eat at Applebees?

Me: I want to eat.

How about this one.

You: Do you want to watch The Notebook?

Me: I want to watch a movie.

Or this.

You: Are you excited to visit a place where their biggest attraction is a shopping mall?

Me: I’m excited to travel.

Are you sensing a theme here? Reading between the lines?

Look, I love small market teams. They’re my bag. I want Minnesota to succeed. And if they trade Rubio, I think they can do just that. But this idea that “Rubio hasn’t said he doesn’t want to play in Minny! He hasn’t said it! LALALAAICAN’THEARYOUHEWANTSTO PLAYHERELALAALAL” is not going to be good in the longrun. He said “I’m excited to play in the NBA.” He said it was cold there. He said good things about other cities. And he skipped the freaking introduction!

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. God Bless you, Minnesota. You are making for fine post-draft entertainment.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.