When the Minnesota Timberwolves walked off the floor for the final time of the 2017-18 — or in the case of Jimmy Butler, limped off with a knee wrapped in ice packs — it was clear that this team just didn’t have enough to compete in the Western Conference. Whether it was the image of Cole Aldrich’s perfectly groomed hair that hadn’t broken a sweat or Aaron Brooks gingerly scampering to the locker room, the setting emblazoned a long-percolating sentiment of Timberwolves faithful: This can’t be the bench next season.
In so many words, general manager Scott Layden echoed that belief a few days later at the team’s end-of-season press conference.
“I think about this trade deadline and if we could have been more aggressive,” said Layden when talking about missed opportunities to address roster deficiencies. “We had a lot of things that went back and forth and maybe we should’ve done something a little different. I take responsibility for that.”
For not only Layden but President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau, Thursday night’s NBA draft provides an opportunity to do that something different. And for a franchise with their foot pressed heavily on the gas, those moves could mean skipping out on drafting a rookie altogether.
While Thibodeau and Layden reiterated to members of local media on Wednesday that they would be glad to select a player with the 20th pick if it helped the team, and both suggested this is a time to potentially do more.
“We have taken a mentality of being aggressive,” said Layden. “Twenty we look at as an opportunity. If we select a player, we think that player can plug in and help us. Otherwise, you make a trade to get better.”
This is a pretty deep draft so there is a fair amount of action on the 20th pick. So we’re weighing what that means for us.”
What exactly that action is could go in a few different directions.
“Because of the depth (of the draft), there is the potential to move back,” was Layden’s response when asked about potentially trading the pick. “It’s always hard to move up this time of year. It’s very expensive. But we’ve explored all of that and see what is available.”
Another option, that seems to fit their patterning of last summer, is Thibodeau and Layden seeking a package that brings back more of a veteran piece. But the functionality of that type of move is tricky.
Trading Andrew Wiggins and his $146.5 million contract is a bear of a task and, perhaps more importantly, a massive shift in what has been the blueprint of moving forward — the elder crew ushering along the young guys. Towns would be left as the lone baby Wolf. (Tyus Jones is in the old guy crew.)
Gorgui Dieng falls somewhere between the Timberpup and Timberbull cliques, making him a theoretical draft night trade candidate. But his deal, as a backup center, is even more onerous than Wiggins’.
Mucking up another trade route was the news Tom Thibodeau shared Wednesday related to Justin Patton. Apparently, Patton’s foot is not anywhere near recovering from a second surgery in nine months.
“The unfortunate part is being injured again,” said Thibodeau of Patton. “Then to miss this summer and he’ll probably miss the fall.”
Teams looking to make a deal with the Wolves would be understandably skeptical of making a move for Patton at this stage of his recovery, even though the 21-year-old is on a very cost-effective 3 year, $10 million deal.
Further muddling the process is the narrow, albeit logical, idea of what the team needs to add. Butler and Wiggins are currently the only two wings under contract for next season, naturally making the acquisition of additional wings a priority. The type of wing is the question for a team helmed by Thibodeau who has been particular with what players he allows to actually see the floor in that role.
“For us, it’s about getting the better fit, the best players to help us win,” said Layden of the options. “I think we know the type of players we need to be in coach’s system and to succeed here.”
Layden, strategically, did not elaborate on what skills that type of player would possess.
As I wrote earlier today, determining that the team needs a wing is easy but whether that wing is predominantly a scorer, shooter or defender is the bigger question.
Adding an isolation scorer seems to make sense after Jamal Crawford opted out of his contract and especially so if Derrick Rose is not retained. Bringing in a pure shooter is another likely path because the team doesn’t have a single spot-up guy under contract. And a lockdown defender — in team scheme or one-on-one defense — would be logical after the Wolves only made menial strides on that end of the floor this past season.
Those are questions that remain. However, what was learned Wednesday is that all options are being considered. And that the move (or moves) they make Thursday and into July will be to help the team win this season.
“Teams are hitting us and we’re hitting other teams and just exploring what’s available and what we can do,” said Layden who appears to be the one fielding the calls. “There is an excitement, there’s an adrenaline. It’s a great experience to have a chance to improve the team.”