By Alex Berg
Let me start this off with an important disclaimer: I am in no way a "Sam Mitchell apologist," nor do I believe (at least at the moment) he should be the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves beyond this season. However, the hatred I've seen and heard over the last month or so has gotten out of hand. I mean, we've gotten to the point where people are signing online petitions and complaining to Timberwolves ticket representatives to express frustration with some of Mitchell's decisions.
Some decisions he makes, and repeatedly makes, are definitely frustrating to watch. The fact that it took well over a month before we consistently got to see Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns on the floor together is baffling -- especially considering the alternative. Zach LaVine playing the majority of his minutes at the point guard even though he has been incredibly more effective and efficient playing off the ball has been hard to watch. On the plus side, it looks like Kevin Martin may be on the way out (no offense to K-Mart, just is not a great fit here right now,) which should open up minutes for LaVine at shooting guard and Towns and Dieng are getting more and more minutes together.
The other big complaint has been his rotations and leaving ineffective lineup combinations for a minute or six too long. This one is getting a little better, though it's still far from perfect. At least we are seeing fewer minutes with Towns, Ricky Rubio, and Andrew Wiggins all seated on the bench together.
Why should we be patient?
Well first of all, he is just the interim coach. If that changes in the near future, it will be more reasonable to be upset. Also, let's not forget why he is the interim coach. Flip Saunders had to step away from the team and tragically passed away. I don't imagine Mitchell had any idea exactly what he would be stepping into when Flip originally stepped away. Not to mention the kind of effect such a tragic event could have on a young team just days before its season begins.
Second, this team -- although loaded with young talent and potential -- won just 17 games last season. I understand adding a top-overall pick adds expectations, but nobody should be expecting a playoff berth this season. It's not even Christmas yet and the team has won 11 games. The Timberwolves won their 11th game on February 8(!!!) last season. This team could easily have 15 or so wins this season already with better play throughout four quarters, but this is what young teams do. They aren't going to be consistent for 48 minutes and that is not necessarily always going to be the head coach's fault.
Mitchell could definitely be better, there is no arguing that. But pinning all of the blame on him and/or calling for his job now is not the answer. If the interim tag is lifted and he is the head coach beyond this season, sure get worried. Until that happens, let's just try to relax and enjoy the inevitable growing pains of a young basketball team.