Sports fandom often takes various forms. Many spectators are content to cheer on their team from the sidelines and simply let that be that. They talk about their teams with their buddies at the bar, maybe wear a Minnesota Timberwolves tee shirt to work every once and a while, and have enough knowledge to occupy some small talk at the dentist’s office. To be in this mindset is to exist in a safe space. These fans are shielded from many of the harsher realities and takes that float around the bowels of the internet.
Ignorance truly is bliss, though it is also a funnel cloud that can suck others into its aura at any given minute. Often it does, as groupthink is a particularly prominent force in the age of fandom in social media. Hot takes generate likes and clicks, so those takes are often at the forefront of many peoples’ newsfeeds.
The fallout from this is that it gives anyone with a keyboard and internet access (like myself) license to contribute to these weather patterns.
One of the most popular Minnesota basketball takes lately occurred around the trade deadline. The previous general manager, Gersson Rosas, instilled a culture of expectation that he would take fearless big swings to improve the team. In his first year on the job, Rosas almost completely overhauled the roster, acquiring a slew of young talent in Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Jaylen Nowell, and Naz Reid through the draft and via trade.
This season, the Timberwolves are seeing the fruits of their labor. The team’s depth is the deepest it has been in recent memory, and guys 1 through 15 are finding ways to contribute to their success. These contributions have even come as players have gotten injured, never taking games off to sit at home. Instead, the unification of the bench and the camaraderie is as real as it has ever been. Everybody wants to see each other succeed, and the results of this team-building and chemistry have paid dividends.
Many were clamoring that interim GM Sachin Gupta should have made some trades at the deadline to help fill out the bench. Gupta felt content to stand pat, and it would now appear that this was the right call.
There were certainly options for the Wolves to pursue (beyond Ben Simmons, of course). The team lacks defensive depth at center, and there was also the consideration that trading someone like Beasley would have been an addition by subtraction by opening up some minutes for Nowell in the rotation.
But none of these things happened. Some fans speculated that this may not have been the right move, as the Timberwolves’ “window” is finally opening. Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards need all the help they can get to maximize their potential and development as winning players.
However, Gupta’s decision to retain this team’s depth is proving to be a massive bonus for the Wolves. The amount of quality contributors not only gives head coach Chris Finch fallback options as players deal with injuries, but it also gives him players of various skill sets to plug into a wide swath of scenarios.
In the late season, this injury depth is particularly important. Minnesota has recently cycled players who are sitting out of games for various reasons. Players are picking up minor injuries here and there. Rather than having key cogs like Vanderbilt, Russell, or Patrick Beverley tough it out, there are multiple options behind them that can fill the void. It ensures that Finch can keep his guys as fresh as possible for the play-in tournament or even the playoffs in what is shaking up to be one of the most important Timberwolves seasons in over a decade.
This opportunity for depth pieces is also giving them a fair chance to develop. Franchises that routinely develop young players while simultaneously having a chance to showcase their talent can flip them for additional and greater assets. If Minnesota wants to turn into a winning franchise, they have to start developing this talent consistently. Being able to rotate players like this is both healthy and stands to benefit the team in the long run.
Of course, there is also team chemistry to consider. This year’s locker room is unquestionably the Timberwolves’ healthiest in recent memory. It is an intangible factor, sure. But there is something to be said about having personalities mesh in a locker room. That idea is perhaps a bit of a novellic ideal, but it comes down to human beings finding success in situations where they are comfortable and stable.
Having a room full of athletes on the same page can have more meaning than one may think. Team sports should not be reduced to solely analytics. The notion of simply plugging players in and out of teams without taking consideration of who they are as human beings strips away some of the essence of what makes sports great in the first place.
Beverley talks about that idea in his most recent episode of The Old Man and the Three with JJ Redick. Beverley said that one of the best parts about this Timberwolves team is that they are honest and hold each other accountable. That culture would not have been instilled without Beverley, which has been one of the most critical factors propelling Minnesota’s success this season.
The Wolves are betting on themselves, which is paying off for once. Next season will be another story, of course, but it would appear that keeping this group of players together is the right move this year. There will be pains, but this young core is learning, struggling, and growing together. They are establishing something special, and that in itself is too precious of a resource to trade away for an advanced metric.