After getting two consecutive number one draft picks, one of their own and the other being picked and traded to them for Kevin Love, the Minnesota Timberwolves have some large expectations building with every season that passes.
After Kevin Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2007, the T-Wolves have been one of the franchises at the bottom of the league. None of the players, headlined by Al Jefferson and Sebastian Telfair, from the KG deal are still in Minnesota and nothing came of any of the picks.
Fast-forward a year later and Minnesota had the number three-pick in the draft. They really liked what they saw in Love when he worked out for them, but the general feel in the league at the time was that he was a stretch at the third spot. Most front offices thought they would trade down and take him at four or five, instead they made a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies that sent O.J. Mayo – the player they took at the third slot – and other players for Kevin Love.
Love played six seasons in Minnesota and people thought the front office was going to build around him for the future. That plan never came to fruition and in the summer of 2014 the Cleveland Cavaliers made a call to ask on Love’s availability once they won the draft lottery. The Wolves loved Andrew Wiggins and were ready to pull the trigger on the deal, however, Cleveland wanted a guarantee that Love would resign with the team in the following offseason. Kevin told his agent he wasn’t interested and the deal seemed off.
That all changed when LeBron took the blankets off of his secret project and announced he would be returning to Cleveland after four years in Miami. That broke the barriers around the Love-Wiggins deal and following the draft, Love was gone and Wiggins was in.
Other than Wiggins winning the Rookie of the Year award, Minnesota had another less than stellar season. Que lottery victory and the subsequent drafting of Karl-Anthony Towns and the outcry of a franchise turnaround. With a core of Ricky Rubio – Wiggins – Towns, people were raving about the young guns in the North.
Move forward another year and Towns is named Rookie of the Year, yet no postseason berth for Minnesota. They landed the fifth pick in the 2016 draft and grabbed the supposed replacement for Rubio in Kris Dunn. As we near the end of the ’16-’17 season, nothing seems to have worked.
Dunn has not panned out despite showing small glimpses when he gets time as a backup to Rubio and Tyus Jones. Wiggins and Towns have hit it off after starting two-guard Zach LaVine went down with a season ending ACL tear as they fight for the final playoff seed in the West. This raises a very important question for Minnesota: What do they need to do to get over the hump?
Minnesota has a multitude of options and avenues open to them if they truly want to stop the 13-year playoff drought that plagues their fan base. Cap space is partially open, for now, they have assets other teams might want and a good young core that they can experiment with for years to come until they find something that works. They just need to reach out and take a few swings.
The simplest option would be finding players in free agency that would be willing to come to Minnesota and play with Towns and Wiggins. Many players might jump at the opportunity for the right price and that is a good sign. The Wolves badly need to find someone to fill the power forward spot that can complement Towns downlow and many options are available this summer. The issue with this scenario is finding the right price that won’t break their cap space completely.
Next up is a trade. Minnesota has a lot of younger players that are going to be up for extensions soon, *cough* core of the team *cough*, so they have people to move if they want to remain flexible with under the cap. Players like LaVine and others are valuable for teams that are rebuilding and if they fetch a good price, why not pull the trigger?
LaVine’s presence is redundant since his skillset is nearly identical to Wiggins and they are proven to play better without him. Meaning they are free to dangle him in front of teams like Philadelphia or Orlando who might bite and send draft picks and veterans in return for the two-time dunk champion. This is a gamble on the ceiling LaVine might have versus building around the two sure fire players they have now.
Finally, they could draft well. This has proven to be a safe route, but with their young core improving every year, they won’t be able to do this forever. After this draft, they won’t have high odds of being one of the worst teams in the league anymore and they will have to move to one of the other paths. If they miss the playoffs again this season, which is seeming likely, they will likely have a lottery pick in the upper single digits that might field them another franchise talent in a loaded draft class.
Only time will tell which way they will chose to build around Towns and Wiggins, but for now let’s see what players might head to Minnesota to help them improve in the wild, wild west.
With Wiggins and Towns locking down the starting three and five spots respectively, and an improved Rubio at the one, that leaves two starting jobs open. If they due trade LaVine for a higher draft pick or he comes back less than 100 percent from his injury, that will still leave big gaps.
JJ Redick is a name that pops out instantly to me as someone who would fit well in Minnesota. He is a great shooter and solid defender, a large improvement over LaVine in that particular category, who can come in and make big shots and help spread the floor. His veteran presence in the locker room will be good for the younger team. It will take a pretty penny to gain his services, but it might just be worth it.
Serge Ibaka is a rental that might help the depleted Raptors in the playoffs, but that is still no guarantee they will pay to keep him after this year though. His defense has taken a step back as he works more on his offensive game, but he is still an above average defender who can spread the floor with his three-point shooting. Another big contract player who could help right away in a starting role.
Paul Millsap appears to be out in Atlanta after his recent injury and if he wants to make some money and be the veteran leader on a team that fits him, Minnesota might be the perfect match. The criminally underrated forward plays constantly well on both ends of the floor, and looks to be at his peak. For the right offer, they might get him at a discount. He is probably the best fit for them at that position since he can spread the floor, rebound, post people up and defend well.
Blake Griffin is the longshot here. He will want the max of the max and rightfully so. The Wolves would love to have the dunking machine who can spread the floor, but with Wiggins and LaVine, if they want to keep him, coming up on their first real NBA deal extension and Towns following a year later, committing 30 plus million to Griffin might not be high on their priority list.
Derrick Rose has looked healthy with the Knicks, and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau knows his game well. Should the team really want to move Rubio and run with Tyus Jones and Kris Dunn for the future, Rose at a bargain salary, under 15 million for two or three years, might be a great fit. He doesn’t need to be the primary scorer and if his passing skills can improve, his career might have a small resurgence.
The Timberwolves have a bright future ahead if they just stick their hands out and grab the necessary pieces to improve.