Plenty of great players make careers bouncing around the league from team to team. It has become more of a norm for impactful 3-and-D players like P.J. Tucker, Trevor Ariza, and others. Championship contenders routinely scoop up these players as they look to round out the back ends of their roster. The players get a coveted shot at winning a championship.
In a shocking twist of fate, the Minnesota Timberwolves have become a conduit to sign some players that fit this mold:
To narrow the focus, Austin Rivers is someone who definitely fits into that veteran “solid player” archetype that is highly sought after by championship contenders. Tim Connelly signed him for the second straight year, so there is certainly history between GM and player. For Rivers to agree to come to Minnesota is wild on a few different levels. The most blatant aspect? He sees an opportunity to chase a ring here. That could be a bit optimistic, but let’s look at the facts.
Rivers signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum. To think that the Wolves could have his services that affordably could indicate that he is willing to take on a lesser role with a team that is closer to contention. Signing a free agent is a two-way street, of course, and players like Rivers (and Bryn Forbes and Kyle Anderson, for that matter) aren’t at the point where they will sign with just about any team to keep the checks coming.
It is an added benefit that Rivers has an excellent resume of team success to back up his otherwise pedestrian career averages. His stints with the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets were the biggest highlights of his career, and he was a crucial cog in those teams’ playoff successes. Rivers was also well on his way to becoming that same impactful player in Denver before other critical injuries (Michael Porter Jr., Jamal Murray) hampered the team’s chances to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Numbers certainly aren’t everything in his case, as last year’s six points per game with the Denver Nuggets doesn’t scare anybody. What scares teams, though, is that Rivers is an excellent perimeter defender who has the potential to pester and shut down bench units when used correctly in the rotation. We’ve seen successful Western Conference playoff teams deploy Rivers as a perimeter defensive stalwart while also being comfortable handling and distributing the ball. Rivers just finished his age-29 season and brings a steadying presence to lineups. He also helps stop the bleeding from the outside.
Chris Finch likely will not use Rivers in a starting lineup unless the team deals with a terrible bout of injury luck. But he’s a veteran that will bring savvy and work ethic to the team. He spent a year with former Wolves culture-changer Patrick Beverley in LA, which Connelly likely considered when offering to sign him. Rivers is a steadying personality on a team that is still laden with a bunch of young guys trying to find their identity and winning culture in the NBA. For that reason alone, he is a great pickup.
Signing Rivers also says that Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore are getting precisely what they thought they would out of Connelly. Connelly has wasted no time overhauling the roster into a perennial contender while also leaving the core intact. He has loudly proclaimed to the league that the Timberwolves will no longer stand to be a franchise that is content with middling success — a gross overstatement of Wolves basketball to date.
Connelly going for it all is an enticing and intriguing enough development that has opened the door for impactful free agents to come to play in Minnesota. Without this aggression, the reputation that has haunted Timberwolves basketball for 30+ years has no chance of going away. Austin Rivers is not going to singlehandedly change the franchise’s fortunes, but his signing is certainly indicative that the tides are changing in Minnesota. If this trend continues, it is finally creating a sustainable model for success that Wolves fans have been craving for decades.