Zulgad: Playoff payoff: Timberwolves need to give fans reason to pay attention

Expectations for the Timberwolves at the outset of the season were low and nobody seemed to mind. Gersson Rosas and Ryan Saunders were in their first seasons as president of basketball operations and coach, respectively, and the Wolves have embraced a style for which many of their players aren’t best suited.

It wasn’t that the Wolves were expected to tank, but missing the postseason for the 16th time in 17 years looked investable. It still might be — the Wolves are 8-7 after losing to Utah on Wednesday night at Target Center — but the feeling here is that this franchise would be best served to take a run at making the postseason.

That’s right. Ordinarily, I’m all for tanking and when in doubt my feeling often has been that bailing out of the playoffs is the best idea if your team has no real chance. But that thinking doesn’t apply here and there’s a good reason.

If Andrew Wiggins really has turned a corner and is going to consistently perform like a max player (I’m in wait-and-see mode on that one but let say it happens), the Wolves have two marketable and key players. Karl-Anthony Towns is a superstar and Wiggins would be the player we thought he might become a few years back.

In a season in which the Wild appear to be awful and in which fan excitement about the hockey team is almost zero, the Wolves could be in a situation to pounce and get the type of attention that they so often have not deserved. The announced attendance for Wednesday’s game was 13,177.  There was a less-than-impressive gathering last Friday for the Wolves’ loss to Washington in Target Center.

There is clearly a wait-and-see feeling toward the Wolves, much like there was one about the Twins last spring when small crowds showed up at Target Field despite the team’s hot start.

The upside to having a bad season is that the Wolves would put themselves in the NBA lottery and have another shot at adding a top player in the draft. While that might help the franchise in the future, the reality is that at some point the Wolves need to capture the attention of the Twin Cities sports market.

Towns is a great starting point. Yes, he has some flaws in his game but he is the biggest superstar athlete in this market among the four men’s professional teams that we follow the closest. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is probably next. Towns is a price of admission guy and the Wolves need fans to realize this. The Wolves also have a team that fans actually might embrace. Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler played well in Chicago, but that act fell flat and closed quickly in Minnesota.

The Wild’s “State of Hockey” slogan ignores the fact that Minnesota is a good basketball state, if there is a reason to pay attention. The Gophers have proven this and so did the Wolves during their brief and long ago run of success.

To be clear, there is no feeling the Wolves actually would make any type of run in the playoffs. They will be lucky to get the seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference and their exit almost certainly would be a quick one, as it was a couple of years ago when they faced Houston. But with the way the Western Conference is shaping up, it appears the Wolves might be able to sneak into the postseason.

In this case, that would be more valuable than taking their chances in the draft lottery.