MINNEAPOLIS – Owner Glen Taylor is well aware of the Minnesota Timberwolves' long-term rebuilding plan. He is starting to see improvement and likes the core of young players that have been assembled.
As the Timberwolves have sunk to the bottom of the Western Conference again, Taylor said he needs to see more victories over the second half of the season to show everyone that the plan team President David Kahn and coach Kurt Rambis have put into place is working.
"They say be patient, but personally I'd like to see some improvement from the beginning of the year to the middle part of the year to the end of the year and that it's going in the right direction," Taylor told The Associated Press. "I think a couple of things have gotten better. I think the players have gotten better. But I think collectively we haven't seen the results yet."
The Timberwolves are in the second year of another rebuilding plan, a process that began in the summer of 2009 when Taylor hired Kahn to take over the basketball operations and said goodbye to longtime executive, and occasional coach, Kevin McHale.
Kahn drafted guards Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn in the first round of his first draft, then hired Rambis in August to be the coach to take over the troubled team. The first year was more about reorganizing things from a business standpoint and putting the team in a more favorable position with the salary cap, and the team won just 15 games.
Rambis has done an admirable job of developing the players, helping Kevin Love emerge as an All-Star caliber forward and getting career seasons out of Beasley, Milicic and Corey Brewer.
But all that work hasn't translated to wins yet. The Wolves are just 11-37 this season and have delivered several lackluster efforts, the latest coming in a 102-84 wipeout at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies at home on Wednesday night.
Taylor said he has been meeting with Kahn and Rambis "quite a bit" to discuss the state of the team and figure out how to expedite the improvement.
"I think everybody understandably is disappointed that the improvement doesn't translate yet into the win-loss record," Kahn said recently.
Both Kahn and Rambis say they have seen a drastic improvement on the court in talent level and competitiveness and acknowledge that it is difficult to be patient in the pressurized world of professional sports.
"Obviously, all the players, coaches, front office and fans would like to be winning more games," Rambis said. "But if you look at how much the team and players have improved, how hard they continue to work, the spirit they bring to practice, and the camaraderie we have on this team, those are all great signs for us. That's what I hold onto."
He's right on many nights. The Timberwolves took the Oklahoma City Thunder to overtime last week and have given teams such as the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs all they could handle in narrow defeats.
But there are also nights like Wednesday, where the youngest team in the league comes out flat and uninspired. The Wolves also had poor performances at home against the Bobcats, Nuggets and Trail Blazers, all of whom were missing at least two starters because of injuries.
For a franchise that has had to slash ticket prices to keep an eroding fan base coming to the games and is part of a group asking for $155 million in renovations for Target Center, it can't afford many more nights like those.
"We're going to ask the coaches to try to demonstrate that that they're making progress so our fans can see that," Taylor said. "That's the message you have to bring to your fans. Here's where we were, not satisfied. Here's where we're better. So towards the end there's no question that we're better."
The lack of immediate success is starting to bring more public criticism on Kahn and Rambis. But Taylor said he hasn't lost faith in either one and credited them for "not whining" about what they have and continuing to work.
"I still think they're bright, intelligent guys and I know they're working hard," Taylor said. "I know they want the results even more than I do. I know it's frustrating. If they could put their finger on exactly what it was, I know they would do it. It isn't that they aren't working on it."