Timberwolves

Dr. Chelanga’s Guide to a Realistic Timberwolves Season Outlook

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson (USA TODAY Sports)

Welcome back to another armchair therapy session with your favorite non-doctor, Dr. Chelanga (that’s me). The Minnesota Timberwolves season starts on Wednesday, and I think it’s important we process some things before opening night so that we can all head into the season with a good perspective and realistic expectations.

This weekend I was shocked by the visceral reaction that was caused by the Wolves cutting Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The reaction had me wondering why fans were so upset about a guy that played a total of 36 preseason minutes for Minnesota. A guy who at this point in his career is a fringe NBA player.

This is not an article about Hollis-Jefferson. Rather, I want to dissect the anger, shock, and disappointment that was felt when he was cut to find out where that is coming from. In Dr. Chelanga’s (again, that’s me) last article, we discussed trauma. Oftentimes our emotional response to traumas manifests as reactions that seem inappropriate or over the top. Take a look at this series of tweets and you’ll see what I mean:

Remember, Hollis-Jefferson signed a non-guaranteed deal and after being waived by the Wolves, he was not claimed off waivers. These reactions are disproportionate to the effects that this roster move will have on the court. If we, as a fanbase, are so angry that the Wolves cut him, then I’m afraid we have a much deeper problem.

The problem here is a deep distrust for Timberwolves’ management because we’ve seen them make some terrible moves. I want to use the past to help put the present into perspective. So, let’s go back through some of the most painful roster moves from the past to help us understand what some roster moves from this offseason really mean.

The Kevin McHale Era

I won’t be able to go through every move that these GMs made in their tenure, but I’ll hit on some big ones. First, let’s talk about Chauncey Billups.

Billups came into what seemed like a perfect situation. He would play the backup to the aging Terrell Brandon and eventually take his place. He was given the opportunity in the 2001-02 season when Brandon suffered a season-ending injury in February. The Wolves went on to win 50 games that season, face the 57-win Dallas Mavericks in the first round, and were swept.

After their quick elimination, McHale totally reshaped the roster. He let Billups walk and cleared the way for Timberwolves legend Troy Hudson to take the reins as starting point guard the next season. Even though Billups’ departure set the stage for Sam Cassell to join the team in 2003, Billups won the NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons that year.

Let’s bring this into a modern-day context. Roster moves are tricky and one of the hardest things to deal with as a fan is being left with “what-ifs.” This feeling is most closely linked to regret. We’ve all made choices in our lives that have us questioning “what-if.” Sure, we as fans didn’t make these roster decisions so the regret isn’t personal, but we feel it that way. That’s part of being a fan. We will never know the answer to any “what-if” dilemma, so how do we deal with them?

First and foremost, we need to keep perspective on the scale of these questions. When you’re feeling like the Wolves made a mistake with a roster move ask yourself: “How much does this really affect the team?”

Everything has weight. Obviously, Billups and Hollis-Jefferson carry a different weight, but they are connected through the Timberwolves’ continued failure. So, our trauma brain kicks in and says “Ah, the Wolves cut a player that I liked, they’ve done this before and it has been bad, everything is bad, this team is bad AHHHHHH.”

Maybe I’m projecting here, but my point is that it’s easy to get lost in the minutia of roster moves when the franchise you hold closest to your heart has flubbed time and time again. However, “What if the Wolves had kept Ray Allen instead of trading for Stephon Marbury?” is different from “What if the Wolves would’ve kept Chauncey Billups?” which is very different from “What if the Wolves would’ve kept Rondae Hollis-Jefferson?”

The David Kahn Era

Let’s begin with David Kahn calling Darko Milicic “Manna from Heaven” it happens at about the 2:36 mark in this video:

David Kahn was far less notable for cutting folks from the roster than he is for signing and draft players that left the fanbase saying “Huh????”

I’ll be brief, but if you want a full rundown of all of Kahn’s moves, this is a wonderful resource.

The long story short is that Kahn spent years acquiring assets for the Wolves and making moves to shuffle the roster. He entered the 2009 draft with four first-round picks in hand. Somehow he came out of it having missed on a couple of future MVPs and a few All-Stars.

Heading into this offseason, Rosas had completely turned the roster over and had three picks headed into the draft. Drafting Anthony Edwards, Leandro Bolmaro, and Jaden McDaniels.

After watching LaMelo Ball play this preseason, I can’t help but wonder if Ball is to Edwards what Jonny Flynn was to Steph Curry in Wolves lore. But, again, this is past trauma clouding my brain. It is paramount to remember that Flynn was a horrible pick in real time. There was no sense of “let’s wait and see if this pans out.” Everyone knew when he was drafted that it was a mistake, especially because the Wolves had just drafted Ricky Rubio.

When the Wolves traded for D’Angelo Russell, they essentially used their 2021 first-round pick to select their point guard of the future. So if you think about it as the Wolves “drafting” Russell, then picking Ball No. 1 would have been more of a regression to the patterns of old management than picking Edwards.

Outside of Edwards’ clear offensive promise, he is a player with an NBA-ready body who projects to be able to play almost anywhere on the court. At 6’6″, 230 lbs. with a nearly 7-foot wingspan and great speed and athleticism, Edwards has the physicality to guard 1-5. He certainly needs to figure out how to utilize his physical gifts, but all signs point to him improving throughout the season.

Both Edwards and Ball struggled in the preseason, and will likely continue to do so throughout the season. There has been almost no time for Edwards to adjust to NBA basketball, so there is going to be a massive learning curve. We can’t put too much hope into Edwards to help drive winning basketball this year, just like we can’t put too much stock in Ball’s fancy no-look behind the back passes.

It’s only a matter of time before Edwards starts attacking the basket and filling out our Instagram feeds with nasty dunk highlights.

The Thibodeau Era

The short-lived Thibodeau era is… confusing. He was able to put a roster together that got the Wolves into the playoffs for the first time since 2004. At the same time, he reunited his old gang from Chicago and it was worse than your dad getting his old band back together for one last show that no one asked for. He was able to take one big step forward which was followed by tripping, falling down the stairs and not being able to find his Life Alert.

Thibs’ “highlights” include:

Signing Malik Beasley to a 4-year, $64 million contract this offseason has echoes of bad Wolves contracts of yore. With his pending legal trouble, the risk is high for a player who has never even played consistent NBA minutes. Let’s give this some perspective though: Beasley’s contract has a fourth-year team option, meaning that there is only about $43 million guaranteed. For context let’s take a look at his peers from the 2016 draft class:

Player Contract Guarantee
Buddy Hield 4-year, $94M $82M
Caris LeVert 3-year, $52.5M $52.5M
Malik Beasley 4-year $64M (Team Option) $43.5M

This is why I talk about perspective. Much like Wiggins, Beasley signed his deal with a lot of question marks about his game and a lot to prove. But, the money here is below his potential market value. It’s not hard to imagine Beasley being as good as Buddy Hield. If he can perform as he did in 14 games with the team last year, his contract becomes a steal.

After years of roster rigamarole, it’s no wonder Wolves fans are on edge heading into the season. The inconsistency and ineptitude this front office has shown through the years is damaging. As we head into the season, remember that this is all a process. It has been a long, and difficult process, especially if you’ve been with the team for a while. But, for the first time in a while, the process seems solid. Fans may not see the big gains that they are hoping for, but with patience and trust in the process, maybe soon we’ll see the progress we’ve been so desperate for.

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