At this time a year ago, the Minnesota Timberwolves appeared to be going nowhere. With a roster that didn’t fit their current system and a 15-31 record, it was clear that the current group of players wasn’t going to be part of the solution for a franchise locked in the NBA’s cellar.
As the NBA trade deadline neared, President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas was aggressive and made a series of trades, creating an entirely new roster mid-season. With the new team treated as an “Opening Night” reboot last February, several positive acquisitions — including Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell — indicated that the team would be better in 2020-21.
One tumultuous year later, the Wolves look like the same sorry team they’ve been for the majority of their existence. Losers of 12 of their last 14 games, many of the players on their roster also don’t appear to be viable cogs on a winning team. Although the NBA trade deadline is still two months away, Minnesota’s odds of making a charge toward a playoff spot seem unlikely. That could give Rosas another opportunity for another midseason overhaul.
The decision to blow the roster has to be made with the future in mind. With the Timberwolves giving the Golden State Warriors their first-round pick in the Russell deal, making the team good enough to not be in last place but not good enough to grab a playoff spot is risky. The Wolves dumping all of their assets to finish 12th in the Western Conference feels like something that would do more harm than good.
This means that Rosas will have to look for young players with several years left on their contracts or accumulating assets that will help the Timberwolves acquire a bigger name next summer.
Last trade deadline, the Timberwolves were able to accomplish some of each. In the four-team deal that sent Robert Covington to the Houston Rockets, the Timberwolves came away with an extra first-round pick from the Brooklyn Nets and the duo of Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez from the Denver Nuggets.
Out of that group, Beasley is the player that has made the most impact and appears to be a key piece of a potential playoff team. His production in 14 games last season (20.7 PPG, .426 three-point percentage) and 16 games this season (19.6 PPG, .376 three-point percentage) make his four-year, $60 million contract a strong deal for the Wolves in the present, but also could make him a bargaining chip for a bigger deal in the future.
There is something to be said about Beasley’s off-the-court activities, which have included hanging out with Larsa Pippen and re-creating a scene from Gran Torino in his driveway last fall. Still, his on-the-court contributions are what the Timberwolves should be seeking from a player standpoint.
Rosas also thought he could get a 2-for-1 in that deal by acquiring Juancho Hernangomez, but that hasn’t panned out. The 25-year-old has logged 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game so far this season and hasn’t brought much on the defensive end of the floor. However, the three-year, $21 million contract is the kind of cheap, affordable deal for a young player that would also entice the Wolves.
Rosas could package these players and try to get an impact player either at the NBA’s trade deadline (March 25) or as part of a deal last summer. Last February, Rosas chose this route by sending Andrew Wiggins and the Timberwolves’ 2021 first-round pick to the Warriors in exchange for Russell.
How the deal plays out remains to be seen, especially since Russell has played only five games with his fellow foundational cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns. But it’s the one way that Rosas can bring stars to Minnesota since they have traditionally struggled to lure them during free agency.
This all brings us back to the plan to find young, controllable players that are not only enticing to the Wolves but other teams that would be willing to make a deal. While Anthony Edwards seems to be off-limits at the moment, players like Beasley, Hernangomez, and even 2018 sixth-overall pick Jarrett Culver could be dangled in a trade to acquire another asset that could help the team now and be attractive trade-bait down the road.
This appears to be the Timberwolves’ front office’s long-term goal, but a bigger question is if they have a plan in place to do it mid-season. As mentioned, Russell and Towns have not side-by-side very often, but the players that are supposed to play with them have had limited experience.
While some players like Hernangomez and Layman don’t appear to be long-term solutions (especially with the emergence of Jarred Vanderbilt and Jaden McDaniels, who could both also be on the block), it may benefit the Wolves to see if they’re any better playing next to the Towns/Russell combo, making the next two months an important evaluation process.
If we’ve seen anything from Rosas during his time in Minnesota, however, it’s that he’s not afraid to pull a trigger on a deal. When the smoke cleared last February, only Josh Okogie and Towns remained from last year’s opening night roster. If Rosas can get his hands on more young, attractive players and accumulate assets to make a big swing, there’s a good chance he’ll find a way to do it.