Another NBA postseason is underway, and again the Minnesota Timberwolves are not participating in it.
Yes, everyone knows that this has largely been the case for over a decade now. But the optimism circulating around the current roster heading into next year paves the way for validated excitement.
Yet, when watching these NBA playoffs, it’s apparent the Wolves are missing a key piece.
In what has to be the best first-round in years, you have the superstars like Damian Lillard going for 55 points on an NBA playoff-record 12 made 3s. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden are all rocking in Brooklyn. And Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks avenged some demons, getting rid of the Miami Heat in four games. The list could go on and on.
Minnesota has Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, two pillars they hope to build around for a long time. They have great complementary scoring options in D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley. But adding Marcus Smart could really help make a playoff push.
Smart’s Boston Celtics were ousted by the Brooklyn Nets in five games. But what a player like Smart brings to the table is exactly what Minnesota is missing. While his shooting occasionally leaves a lot to be desired (33% from 3-point land this year), Smart does have games where he absolutely heats up — even in the postseason. But his defense and vocal leadership are his biggest offering to a team.
Smart is beloved in Boston for his rugged style of play and his fearlessness against whoever he goes up against. He can guard 1-3 on the floor and put the clamps down when it’s most needed. And he’s not afraid to let his teammates know when they are slacking. It’s something the Wolves desperately need themselves.
Smart is under contract for next season, but the Celtics’ front office is widely expected to make multiple moves after a deflating year, meaning he could be available. This could be the most opportune time for the Wolves to pounce.
Adding someone of Smart’s ability would make a meaningful impact on the Timberwolves franchise. There’s not a soul that would tell you the Wolves were even a competent defensive unit this past year. There are also very few who would argue one acquisition could completely flip the script, but it would certainly help.
The mentality on defense comes from a culture that instills and preaches it. Smart brings that zest, that voice that could help make Minnesota into a much better defensive unit. It can’t get much worse than what was seen at times last year.
Sure, it would be great to get another superstar, but they will have to find those in the draft. Minnesota is not typically a free-agent destination. This is a franchise that is trying to develop stability and consistent playoff appearances. Staying realistic about who they could add is a key ingredient to the equation. And getting Smart would start a positive culture shift defensively while also providing a vocal presence that seems to be lacking in the Minnesota huddle.
The offense already has so much in place; they need to continue to gel as a unit. It took until the end of the year to get DLo, KAT, and Ant on the floor together. And the results stood out. Minnesota was much better in the last couple months of the regular season than what they displayed early on. It gave reason to believe that this core can truly work. But more work needs to be done, and pieces need to be added.
This isn’t to suggest the offense is a done deal; Minnesota could stand to add more shooting. In today’s NBA, you can never have too much of it. However, the defensive side of the ball deserves the most attention this offseason. Smart isn’t a liability on offense. It’s just not where he makes his biggest impact. Regardless of if he started at the 2-guard or came off the bench, he’d get plenty of minutes.
Minnesota stands to build on what looks like an outstanding young roster. They may end up with a top-three pick on June 22, but most likely, they will fall far enough in the draft that the Golden State Warriors will get their pick. Even the Wolves retain it, it would be wise for them to explore adding a steady presence like Smart to help catapult this roster into a playoff team next year.