May 1st, 2019, marked the beginning of former Minnesota Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas’ short-lived reign in the Twin Cities. After former GM Tom Thibodeau had seen his Jimmy Butler plan flop, the Wolves fired him and brought in Rosas.
Thibodeau had already traded Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2nd round pick – a relatively light return. None of these players fit what Rosas was looking for.
Rosas had seen enough after half a season. Rosas unleashed a series of trades at the Feb. 6th deadline that reshaped Minnesota’s roster. There had been crazy selling teams at the deadline before, but this was a new level. Rosas’ Wolves shipped off seven of their 15 players on the roster.
Timelines in the NBA are becoming increasingly important. Teams are realizing that surrounding their stars with players who match their timeline. After all, having 29-year-old players while your best player is only 25 isn’t the most efficient path to success. When your best player enters their prime, typically age 27, your surrounding cast would be 31 and out of their prime. It’s the reason the Milwaukee Bucks shipped their future for all-star guard Jrue Holiday.
Rosas understood he had to trade away non-timeline players, and DLo fit their timeline better than Andrew Wiggins. Wigg had run his course in a Wolves jersey, so Rosas dealt him to the Warriors. Players like Robert Covington didn’t have time to wait until 2022 for the Wolves to become good again.
But moving Andrew Wiggins was Rosas’ biggest move. After six long years on Minnesota’s roster, the timelines no longer made sense for the Wolves. Both sides needed a fresh start, so Rosas sent Wiggins to the Golden State Warriors, and a 1st and 2nd round pick for Russell. It was Rosas’ first move that highlighted his vision.
Rosas had finally acquired the team’s future point guard, who he had tirelessly chased in the offseason. But he wasn’t done yet. By the day’s end, the Wolves had acquired seven new players. Only two remained from Tom Thibodeau’s tenure – Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie.
- D’Angelo Russell
- Evan Turner
- Jarred Vanderbilt
- Malik Beasley
- Juancho Hernangomez
- James Johnson
- Omari Spellman
- 2020 1st round pick (became Jaden McDaniels)
It was Rosas’s roster now. He had made his trade for his star point guard and was ready to make a playoff push. Rosas never got to see his vision pan out, though. After an injury-ridden season in 2020, the Wolves fired Rosas for workplace misconduct and elevated Sachin Gupta.
After Anthony Edwards blossomed into a star in this year’s playoffs, Gupta was faced with a tricky question to answer. Can the Wolves fit KAT and DLo’s timeline alongside Ant and McDaniels’?
“I think we’re seeing signs they (timelines) can,” said Gupta. “ I do believe those timelines can exist.”
The signs are there. Edwards, 21, and McDaniels, 20, made significant strides this season and are playing in a way that belies their age. They can coexist if those two budding players can develop into impactful NBA talent while Towns and DLo enter their respective primes.
Russell’s situation is admittedly a little difficult to deal with when fitting in with Edwards and McDaniels. I believe that D’Lo will be a Timberwolf next year, but not the year after that. The Wolves won’t be able to find a better fit than DLo in the offseason, so there’s no reason to move off of him.
At age 26, DLo won’t be getting all that much better. Therefore, McDaniels’ development is vital in determining Minnesota’s roster construction. Russell can be part of the mix if Jaden can blossom into the fourth star he’s capable of being. But if Jaden’s development is slower than expected, the Wolves may be forced to trade Russell.
You can find a lot of examples of similar situations throughout the league. If Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo didn’t quickly develop into the sixth-man of the year and all-defensive players they are today, how do the Miami Heat keep Jimmy Butler, 32, happy?
Not many basketball players play elite basketball after 30 years old. Guys like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James are capable of doing so. But players like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan remind us that any player can hit a wall at 30.
Ultimately, the Wolves want to win a championship, so what has recent champions’ roster construction looked like?
The Wolves roster has an average age four years younger than the average age of the last 11 champions. However, only one champion had an age range larger than Minnesota’s roster. When you look at that team, it’s the 2014 Spurs, a team managing two different timelines. Like the present-day Heat, these teams were managing two timelines. In 2014 Kawhi Leonard was 22, while Tim Duncan was 37. In 2016 Kyrie was 23, and LeBron was 31.
These are the teams the Wolves need to become. If Edwards can match the impact that young Kawhi or the young Kyrie Irving had, the team can take the next step. If McDaniels can develop quickly alongside Ant, he would be a great complement to KAT and DLo. But if it takes too long, Towns and Russell will exit their primes before the Wolves are ready to contend. The Wolves will be forced to trade them and try to reset their timeline again.
Minnesota’s answer should never be to trade Ant or Jaden. Edwards and McDaniels have shown enough early in their careers to be considered “one team” players.
The goal should be to mesh the two timelines together unless it’s impossible to do so. Then the Wolves will be met with the difficult decision of who to trade. Until that day, look for Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels to bridge the gap between young and old.