The 2003-2004 Minnesota Timberwolves
Carlos Gonzalez/ Star Tribune

The 2003-2004 Minnesota Timberwolves season is the highlight of any Timberwolves fan’s basketball memory. The Timberwolves aren’t exactly known for winning basketball games but Kevin Garnett made sure they always had a chance. Garnett was entering year nine of playing for a Timberwolves team that did him no favors when it came to surrounding him with Talent. From the Joe Smith saga of mishandling free agents causing them to be stripped of important draft picks. To the mishandling of the draft picks they did have giving Garnett no real talent besides him that would develop into a #2 Star.

The Timberwolves had lost seven straight first-round playoff series leading up to the 2003-2004 NBA season. But in Timberwolves’ franchise history-making those playoffs sevens straight years under legendary coach Flip Saunders was nothing to be ashamed about. The Timberwolves just lacked another star player to play alongside Garnett that would propel them further up the Western Conference power rankings.

The Timberwolves Form Their Big Three

After their 7th straight early departure from the NBA playoffs and Garnett having the best season of his career, GM Kevin Mchale got busy in the offseason. He overturned the roster trading Joe smith for Sam Cassell, while Cassell was 33 he still was a productive player and had plenty of post-season experience. The Timberwolves also Brought in Latrell Sprewell a talented player that had an abundance of character issues most notably his incident with head coach P.J. Carlesimo in 1997 during a Warriors practice.

While this wasn’t the most conventional or star-studded big three they saw huge success during the 2003-2004 NBA season. The trio of Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, and Kevin Garnett was the highest-scoring trio in the NBA that season. The Timberwolves won a franchise-high 58 games and earned the first seed in the Western Conference. Kevin Garnett also earned MVP honors for his dominant season averaging 24.2 points per game, 13.9 rebounds per game, and 5.0 assists per game. Garnett didn’t miss a single game that season and was also one of the best defensive players in the league averaging 1.5 steals and 2.2 blocks per game.

The 2003-2004 Minnesota Timberwolves for the first time in Garnett’s Tenure ranked in the top ten in both offensive and defensive rating. The team entered the Playoff’s determined to break the 7-year streak of first-round exits. They did so by beating the Denver Nuggets in 5 games with the high-scoring trio all almost averaging 20 points per game as Latrell missed out by .2 points at 19.8 a game. The Timberwolves played the Sacramento Kings in the next round going to seven games before they were able to prevail to reach their first conference finals appearance in franchise history.

Sam Cassell Injury And The Franchise Return To Mediocracy

Sam Cassell entered the conference finals versus the Los Angles Lakers injured and not playing to 100% of his capabilities. That truly hurt the Timberwolves’ chances of advancing to the NBA Finals so much so that coach Flip Saunders blames the injury for their eventual loss to the Lakers in six games. Saunders believes that Sam Cassell’s infamous dance caused him to aggravate a hip injury completely derailing their chance at a title. Garnett played 264 minutes in the conference finals the most of all players attempting to will this team to victory. The Timberwolves were a dominant team but without Cassell, the lakers proved to be too much.

In the following season, the Timberwolves came back down to earth finishing with a 44-38 record and missing the playoffs. Cassell was a shell of himself averaging 13.5 points per game and only starting in 38 games, age and injuries had caught up to him. Kevin Mchale fired coach Flip Saunders and replaced him with himself doubling GM and coaching duties midway through the season after the Timberwolves failed to replicate the success from the previous year. The Timberwolves also lost Latrell Sprewell as he refused to sign a contract that wasn’t enough to feed his family in his mind.

The 2003-2004 Minnesota Timberwolves season was the last time during the Kevin Garnett era that they would make the playoffs. They would go another 14 years without qualifying for the postseason until the 2017-2018 NBA season. The question remains what will it take for the Minnesota Timberwolves to become a consistently winning franchise.