This year’s Great Baseball Road Trip, which concluded Sunday, featured a long drive from Minneapolis to Denver (thankfully, it was just a one-way drive, with a flight home). Those 13 or so hours in the car, split over two days, gave the five guys in the vehicle plenty of time to embrace some sports debates.
Among the ones that grew the most heated was a discussion of Minnesota teams that are in the best shape for the future. After acknowledging the Lynx dynasty (best chance to win immediately) and that the Vikings have the best mix of present and future potential, eventually the gloves came off.
The biggest dust-up came over a discussion of the Timberwolves and Wild — a discussion that very much embodies the spirit of what it means to be a modern sports fan.
On the one hand, there is the Wild: a team that has made the playoffs four consecutive years — including advancing to the second round twice — and still has quite a few core players to go with a new coaching staff.
On the other hand, there are the Wolves: a team that won 13 more games last year than it did the year before, added another top-five draft pick along with a new coach, and seems to be loaded with potential as talented young core players mature.
So basically what we ended up having is an argument over what constitutes success — and also how we define “the future.”
Shockingly, I took the side of the Wolves — strongly, initially, though you’ll see some compromise in a little bit. I’ll admit to having a wicked blind spot when it comes to the local NBA team, and I’ll also admit that I find it easier to get excited about a bad team with the potential for greatness than a good team with the potential to remain good — which is how I would define the Wolves and Wild, respectively.
Longtime friend Rocket — we’re talking almost 30 years now, so we’ve had our share of great debates — was the strongest on the side of the Wild (shocking, again, since he’s a hockey guy and has been on this side of the argument for years).
So, success: I very much dislike some of the modern sports fan thinking that turns every non-championship season into a narrative of a trash year. So I don’t think what the Wild has done over the last four years should be taken lightly. That said, the concern from the outset on my end was that this was a team built to be good not great — and that it would hit a certain ceiling, a la the 1997-2004 Timberwolves and 2002-2010 Twins when it came to the playoffs. That sentiment has largely played out.
But when measured against the Timberwolves of the past four years, the Wild has accomplished so very much more. That said, the Wolves *seem* to be building a team that has a higher ceiling. Where that will take them is anyone’s guess, and it is is fair to snicker at the constant notion of potential before there is even, you know, a single winning season on the books.
The nature of both the NHL and NBA also factors into and complicates the argument. Basically: in the NHL, underdogs historically have had a much better chance of getting hot and making a playoff run — so being good, as the Wild has been, is sometimes good enough. In the NBA, it almost always takes an elite team to win a title. So in that regard, perhaps the way both franchises are currently constructed is proper, though not perfect.
Where I left it eventually — and where there was some middle ground in the vehicle, though not an enthusiastic consensus — was here: if we’re talking about “best shape for the future” as defined by the ability to make the playoffs and have a chance to do damage once there, the Wild and Wolves break down like this:
*Next season, I’d pick the Wild.
*In two season, it would be a coin flip.
*In three seasons, I would pick the Wolves.
It makes sense when you consider that Zach Parise, arguably the Wild’s best player, is 31 — and Karl-Anthony Towns, arguably the Wolves’ best player, is 20.
All of those, of course, are points in the future — which we are staring at from the present. The further we cast our gaze into the future, the harder it is to predict. That’s an edge to the Wild. The more we live in the past, the more we’re destined to be blind to what’s ahead. That’s an edge to the Wolves.
Like all great debates that have no clear immediate answer, we’ll just have to wait and see.