The Minnesota Timberwolves traded for All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell over three years ago. Despite Russell’s mostly productive time in the Twin Cities, some would go back in time and never deal Andrew Wiggins and the No. 7 pick (Jonathan Kuminga) to Golden State in exchange for Russell.
“[Golden State] got Wiggins, they got the pick they used for [Jonathan] Kuminga, and they got that for D’Angelo Russell,” an anonymous coach told Sean Deveney. “That is highway robbery. … What kind of franchise trades that pick plus Wiggins for D’Angelo Russell?”
Why should we care about one anonymous coach’s view on this trade? Well, he shares the same feeling with many of Minnesota’s fan base and some media. Why was this trade necessary to keep the Wolves relevant? And why would we not go back in time and redo this trade?
The beginning of the 2019-20 season started with some optimism surrounding a Timberwolves team that began 7-4 for the first time since 2017. That buoyancy didn’t last long, though. The Wolves dropped 18 of their next 21 games, mainly due to a lack of star power and overwhelming injuries. It would be a microcosm of the season. The Wolves would finish 19-45, 14th in the West.
Wiggs wasn’t having a horrible 2019-20 campaign, averaging 22.4 points per game, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists on 33% from three and 44% from the floor. Those are borderline All-Star numbers, aside from the shooting splits. He wasn’t an All-Star caliber player, though. You never knew what to expect from Wiggs. He’d have 24 points on 50% from the floor one night, then nine points on 20% from the floor the next. They had to make a change.
Make A Splash
With the Wolves sitting at 15-34 just about 50 games into the 2019 season, Gersson Rosas knew he had to make significant changes.
Rosas made over the Wolves roster in a four-team, 12-player trade. It was the largest in NBA history since the Knicks trade that sent Patrick Ewing to the Seattle SuperSonics in 2000.
- MIN gave up: Robert Covington, Shabazz Napier, Keita Bates-Diop, Jordan Bell, and Noah Vonleh.
- MIN received: Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Juancho Hernangomez, Evan Turner, and two first-round picks who would turn into Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels.
- The Wolves also traded Gorgui Dieng to the Memphis Grizzles for James Johnson at a later date.
After much talk about the Wolves pursuing Russell leading up to the trade deadline, which seemed to fall through, this massive and somewhat random trade stunned and confused almost everyone, including Karl-Anthony Towns.
Keeping KAT Happy
Regardless of what was put out on social media regarding KAT’s feelings in Minnesota, one thing was sure – he was at his boiling point with the Timberwolves. All he has wanted to do since entering the NBA was compete for a championship, and the Wolves hadn’t ever been a bona fide contender with him on the team.
“I’ve been losing for a long time,” Towns told Chris Hine of the Star Tribune. “I’m not trying to do that anymore. Every possession means a lot. You obviously see my patience running low with a lot of things, so there’s no excuses. We’ve got to get it done.”
Following Robert Covington’s departure from Minnesota, Towns seemed to be more disappointed than ever with the Timberwolves.
“It was difficult,” Towns told the Star Tribune. “I’ve been part of so much change here in Minnesota. I’m kind of desensitized to it. Obviously, there’s ones that hurt a little bit more. Zach [LaVine] hurt a lot, Cov is up there. So the last 24 hours, I haven’t slept much. I think I fell asleep [Tuesday] at like 5:30, 6 a.m.”
Rosas was committed to building around KAT since he became the team’s GM in 2019. Keeping Towns in Minnesota was his priority. Although reports revealed that a Wiggins-for-Russell swap fell through, Rosas was determined to get DLo in a Wolves uniform to keep KAT in town. Rosas’ fantasy finally came true just a few hours before the trade deadline. The Timberwolves finally acquired their highly-coveted point guard of the future.
“I’d be lying if I told you I thought it was possible,” Towns told The Athletic following the trade. “I’m shocked like everybody else. We’ve been putting it into the universe since Day 1. We’ve never been shy about saying it in the media or interviews, or wherever it may be. If you want something to happen, you have to keep believing and keep saying it to the universe and repeating it, and one day the universe will hear it and give you your wish.”
The Wolves finally had DLo. The fanbase, ownership, and Towns all seemed to settle down. They were focused on the future of the two in Minnesota.
“I think with DLo here, it’s always going to be a big incentive for me to want to stay,” Towns said. “DLo is a big part of everything the vision is. DLo always knows he’s going to be wanted because his brother is here with him, and he always knows he’s going to have his back covered because I’m always going to be there for him.”
Has DLo Been Worth It?
Russell’s health is the key to unlocking his game. During his first full season with the Wolves, DLo was only active for 42 of 72 games that season. Last season he only played 65 of 82. When DLo is healthy, he elevates his team to new heights.
Following a poor playoff series against the Memphis Grizzles last season, many fans wrote DLo off. They wanted the Wolves to trade him before the next season started. Russell was certainly not on top of his game through that series, but writing him off over five bad games was not fair to him.
Let’s not forget that without Russell, there is a good chance the Wolves would not have even made the postseason last year. Minnesota was 39-26 with DLo active last season and 7-10 when he was out. There’s a drastic sample size difference. However, you can’t overlook his reliability – most notably in the play-in.
The Los Angeles Clippers were in control for most of their play-in matchup against the Wolves and led by 10 points with less than nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. Russell was one of the only consistent streams of offense that night. He finished with 29 points, six assists, and five rebounds, on 60% from three and 55% from the floor. Without DLo’s cool, calm, and collected play, the Wolves would most likely have lost that game and matched up against the red-hot New Orleans Pelicans for the last spot in the playoffs.
So to answer the initial question, “What kind of franchise trades that pick plus Wiggins for D’Angelo Russell?” A desperate one. Rosas and the Wolves needed to acquire Russell for multiple reasons. Without him, this team would still be in the dark hole they had been in for many years.