Every NBA team, whether they are rebuilding or looking to add the finishing pieces that will turn them into a contender, has one ultimate goal: win the Larry O’Brien Trophy. But in a league where one transcendent talent can turn any franchise into a contender overnight, the teams that are trying to derail the dynasty of the moment have to get creative and push them over the edge.
It was true with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers’ dynasty. LeBron James made the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and the Lakers immediate contenders. Stephen Curry turned around a moribund Golden State Warriors franchise and boosted the level of play of those around him. Legendary coaches like Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich made the Boston Celtics and the San Antonio Spurs model franchises.
But if you’re in the same situation as many teams around the league, fighting for relevancy, you have to build from the ground up. The teams that break through pull off strings of trades, and they draft and develop with aplomb to gradually build a contender. This is especially true for mid- and small-market teams that cannot recruit talent like the big-city coastal teams can via free agency.
However, we have seen success with the homegrown model lately. Look no further than the last three NBA Champions and the teams that they faced.
What can the Minnesota Timberwolves learn from teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns, or even the Lakers, Heat, Toronto Raptors, or Warriors? Let’s take a look.
Player movement has never been as prevalent as it is now. All players are looking to win and are more willing than ever to change teams in order to do so. Bringing in a star who wants out of their previous situation helps any team realize their championship dreams, and we have seen that become a reality in the last five seasons. Now more than ever, general managers are encouraged to be shortsighted and give up future capital to win immediately.
Each team had its own unique acquisition, but all of them used an offseason trade to put them over the top. The Bucks dealt for Jrue Holiday. Phoenix knew the Oklahoma City Thunder were looking to move Chris Paul. The Raptors traded a franchise staple, DeMar DeRozan, for Kawhi Leonard. Anthony Davis forced the New Orleans Pelicans to trade him to L.A.
Not only did these teams make a massive leap in the standings, they statistically improved or balanced out their prior weakness with the new acquisition.
Where Do the Wolves Fall?
The Wolves are facing a critical offseason. The core is more defined than it has been since Jimmy Butler forced his way out. Anthony Edwards is an emerging superstar, and both Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell are signed to max contracts. Gersson Rosas is entering his third season as general manager and faces an expectation to win now that he’s assembled his own roster and has his hand-picked coach.
He still has to put his finishing touches on the roster. Minnesota has glaring holes defensively and at power forward, but they have two open roster spots they can use to address those needs. When fully healthy, they have one of the most potent offenses in the league. It’s not just the starters, either. Malik Beasley, Jaylen Nowell, and Naz Reid can all provide scoring off the bench. Toss Chris Finch’s creative offensive mind into the mix and you have a potential top-10 offense.
The Wolves have been linked to Ben Simmons this offseason and could show more interest around the league on impact players as the offseason begins to unfold. Is this the year to go all-out and trade for a star player, which would mean moving on from their current roster and jeopardizing the future?
If they take a big swing this offseason, KAT and Ant would be untouchable, but the Wolves would float DLo, Beasley, and Jaden McDaniels in trades to try and land a star. Remember, the Raptors dealt DeRozan, who spent nine seasons in Toronto, for Kawhi Leonard, who was fed up with the Spurs — a model organization.
The result? A championship parade. The lesson learned? Sometimes it’s wise to move a franchise player to land the player who will put you over the edge.
Who Is Minnesota’s Extra Piece?
Given Minnesota’s cap situation, they are both limited in what they can do and in a position to go for broke in order to win.
The roster is currently composed of nine players, and I could easily see the Wolves declining Culver and Juancho’s team options. This would leave them with seven players who are all heading into their prime.
What if next year’s Wolves resemble the Suns team that went 8-0 in the bubble? If Rosas has trust in his core, he would be more willing to make a major trade. At his disposal is anything from a max player like DLo, a player on a team-friendly deal like Beasley, or a young role player like Jaden, Naz, or Nowell, plus future picks. This could put them in the playoff mix in the wild Western Conference but also could narrow their competitive window.
Given that the Wolves are a cap-strapped team in a mid-sized market, a blockbuster trade may be the extra step they need to take. We see more player movement than ever, and you never really know who could be available that upcoming offseason. Rosas has no fear dipping his toes into trade talks to become a contender in the chaotic Western Conference. Moves must — and probably will — be made.