As if this season hasn’t already been miserable enough for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the thought of what potentially lies ahead makes it even more torturous. Some fans may be so fed up with the Wolves losing that they’d be willing to dump draft position in exchange for wins now. Others would stand firm on mailing in this season to better position them in the lottery for next year.
Yes, next year.
Folks, when you’re exactly one-third of the way through the season and your team is tied for the worst record in the association, these are things you consider. This year is oh so different though. Because of the Andrew Wiggins–D’Angelo Russell trade in 2020, the Wolves and their fans are even more on edge. Why? Well, that first-round pick that the Wolves sent as a sweetener to the Golden State Warriors is only top-three protected.
This is the definition of cruel and unusual punishment for an organization and its fanbase. Even if the Wolves finish with the worst record in the NBA this year, it only assures them a 40.1% chance of staying in the top three. Their best odds are to get the No. 5 pick (47.9%). This would send the pick to the Warriors. And because of this, all involved with the Wolves are stuck.
Sure, you’d welcome more wins. Just about anything is better than yielding 43 points in back-to-back first quarters. Of course, the Wolves have been a massive tease, making late rallies in both games only to come up short. They’ve lost four of five and all four have come by five points or less. It’s what they do, and if that realization hasn’t slapped you in the face by now, you’re always going to be naive to it.
So yes, it would be a sight for sore eyes for Minnesota to string together some wins. But the ultimate cost could be the future.
You can sit back and say, One assured top-five pick to the Warriors isn’t going to cost Minnesota the future. That’s fine, but it isn’t as though the Wolves would be going from the likes of being able to draft Cade Cunningham, Jalen Suggs, Jalen Green, etc. to someone else. No, no, no. They would be going from the possibility of that to absolutely nothing. That alone can set your franchise back years.
Look at the New York Jets. (If you’re offended I’m drawing a comparison between the Jets and the Wolves, forgive me but understand the point.)
The Jets were 0-13 and primed to finish this past season at 0-16. A clear split developed within the fanbase. Some wanted at least one win because 0-16 goes in the record books. Understandable. Others couldn’t have cared less and wanted to make sure they got superstar Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. If that meant going 0-16, some fans said, so be it.
The Jets pulled off a shocker in Week 15, beating the Los Angeles Rams in L.A. At the time it tied them with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the worst record in the league.
What happened next unified the Jets fanbase as a whole.
They beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 16. The Jaguars lost that same week, assuring them the No. 1 pick and Trevor Lawrence. Souls were leaving living, breathing bodies of Jets fans everywhere. The Lawrence in the Big Apple dream was shattered. The Jets faithful were gutted.
However, here’s the key in the Jets-Wolves comparison: The Jets still have the No. 2 overall pick. They can take Justin Fields if they want, or Zach Wilson. They can go offensive line, maybe wide receiver. They. Still. Have. The. Number. Two. Pick. They lost out on Lawrence, but there are options. It isn’t what they wanted, but it’s better than nothing.
If the Wolves draft pick is outside the top three and is No. 4 or 5, it goes to the Warriors and they lose it all. No backup plan. No taking someone like Jonathan Kuminga or Evan Mobley. It’s a complete vanishing act.
This makes it the ultimate nightmare for the Wolves and the fans. With every win comes panic that they could lose their first-round pick. Let’s face it, Minnesota is not a playoff team nor will they be competing for a spot this season. That ship has long sailed. There is still something to be said about seeing your team win at least some games and being semi-bearable to watch. It lessens the pain. But in this case, it could ultimately inflict more.
What’s the conclusion? Obviously, the top priority has to be doing everything possible to hang on to that draft pick. Even though it can’t be all in the Wolves’ control, they can assure a best-case scenario of a 40.1% chance of landing in the top three and keeping the pick. Maybe root for them to win one of every four or five games the rest of the way.
Think about the ramifications of wanting short term happiness. Sure, watching the Wolves rip off five or six would be heartwarming. But it could jeopardize the long-term future. That’s how good some of these dudes projected in the top three of next year’s draft are seen as: franchise-altering guys.
Don’t invest in short-term happiness if it crumbles the long-term blueprint.