Timberwolves

The Wolves Were Never Going to Take Wiseman or Ball

Photo Credit: Kyle Terada (USA TODAY Sports)

Call it a hunch. I don’t have any concrete information on this one, but we’ve seen how Gersson Rosas operates, and he’s not one to hedge. He isn’t bothered when his best-laid plans go awry. He has an idea of how to turn around the Minnesota Timberwolves, and damn it, he’s going all-in.

If he got stuck with the first overall pick in last year’s draft, he was always going take Anthony Edwards.

James Wiseman has played meaningful minutes on the Golden State Warriors, and LaMelo Ball just became the youngest player in NBA history to make seven 3-pointers in a single game. But both players would be a hedge in some ways against the two players he plans to build around: Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.

KAT is his guy. Any GM who inherited Towns would value him, but Rosas is going above and beyond to show his commitment to his franchise player. Of course he thinks KAT is a good player, everyone does, but Towns is under contract through 2023-24. However, in a league where players frequently force their way out, KAT could have a change of heart on this downtrodden franchise and publicly ask for a trade. Some GMs might try to get out ahead of that and move him while he has maximum value.

Rosas doesn’t appear to see that as an option. Towns is the centerpiece, and they are a losing team without him.

How committed is Rosas to Towns? He traded for Russell, who is on his fourth team since being drafted No. 2 overall in 2015. Not only did DLo initially spurn the Wolves and sign with the Golden State Warriors after being actively courted by Rosas, but he’s shown that he’s a max player who can’t carry the team with KAT out. Rosas sent a top-three protected pick to Golden State to acquire Russell, meaning that even if the Wolves have the worst record in the NBA this year, they only have a 40 percent chance to keep their pick.

Rosas essentially voided his option to tank. They had to win this year, and they aren’t.

In the 2020 draft, where there was no hands-down favorite to go No. 1 and no obvious franchise-changing star, Rosas’ choice was always going to be second-guessed. While losing doesn’t come with its usual perks this year — namely, a chance to select a franchise player in the loaded 2021 draft — it’s an opportunity to accelerate their young players’ development.

And they’re doing just that. Jarred Vanderbilt has taken advantage of his extra minutes by grabbing boards and playing defense, working his way into the rotation. Jaylen Nowell’s shot is starting to fall, Naz Reid is becoming a force inside, and Jaden McDaniels looks like he could be a steal from last year’s draft.

But ultimately, Edwards needs to display star potential right now for this team to succeed.

He appears to be given free rein in the offense and has the athleticism to be an impact player. He has hit his head on the backboard during one dunk and dropped a windmill slam over Wiseman in San Francisco. He makes smart passes and has hit clutch 3s. But he’s also frustratingly inefficient, and time will tell what his commitment to defense and improving his game each summer will be.

Ultimately, Minnesota has a max player and the No. 1 overall pick from last year’s draft even without Towns, and they’re stranded at the bottom of the standings in a season where tanking doesn’t guarantee them a lottery pick.

Losing wasn’t part of the plan. In some ways, it’s a symptom of the situation he inherited.

It would take compensation like a protected pick in next year’s draft to move off of Wiggins, so dealing the 2021 selection wasn’t just about trying to get DLo. But he could have opted for a more committed reset. He could have taken Wiseman or Ball and seen if it worked with Towns. If it didn’t, he still would have had next year’s pick and could build the team around whoever they took, Wiseman, and whoever was left.

The most obvious caveat here is that we’ve only seen five games of Towns and Russell, and their chemistry is the lynchpin for the entire offense. Everyone feels for Towns after suffering from a recurring wrist injury and then contracting COVID after seeing multiple family members, including his mother, die from it. However, his return appears imminent, and perhaps DLo will look like a max player once they take the court together. Both would benefit from the development of players like McDaniels, Vanderbilt, and Reid.

Edwards is the critical factor here. The Towns-Russell pick-and-roll tandem has to work, but Edwards has to be a complementary player. Not a franchise player. Not even a max player, necessarily. Just an impact player who is a viable option when teams are keying in on KAT and DLo.

A big man tandem of Wiseman-Towns doesn’t seem like a viable duo in the modern NBA. Russell is having trouble playing with Ricky Rubio, another point guard, so it’s hard to see him pairing well with LaMelo.

On the other hand, Edwards is a logical fit. He’s a guy who should be able to complement Towns if he reaches his potential. And that was Rosas’ goal all along.

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Photo Credit: Kyle Terada (USA TODAY Sports)

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