You know what they say: time is a flat circle. Well, I say that, at least. I picked it up somewhere, and it’s just sort of stuck.
A quick Google search tells me that the phrase came from the show True Detective (which I’ve never watched) and is in reference to Friedrich Nietzsche’s thoughts on time and, more specifically, the concept of eternal recurrence. Basically, this addresses the notion that everything in life is bound to repeat itself in some way, shape, or form. These recurrences could be early or latent. It’s fascinating. I should probably watch that show.
As the 2022-23 season dredges on for the Minnesota Timberwolves, all eyes are on Rudy Gobert as he acclimates to his new team. The product of that cataclysmic package will always be under the microscope so long as Gobert plays in Minnesota. His successes and failures will both be magnified at each occurrence. It’s not an ideal situation to be in, but thus is the state of the franchise.
This acquisition comes with loads of scrutiny, but it is not wholly unlike other trades that the Timberwolves have made in the recent past. Both the franchise-altering trades for Jimmy Butler and D’Angelo Russell were made with the intent that their acquisitions would help drive the future of the franchise more than outgoing young players or draft picks. While the Butler trade remains an abject failure, and hindsight is 20/20, the jury is still out on the Russell and Gobert moves. What’s important is that these deals were never supposed to be judged based on the next season’s immediate impact.
Allow me to explain:
Butler’s situation was unique regarding the two other trades. The Wolves traded Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the seventh overall pick (Lauri Markkanen) for him in 2017. Reuniting Butler with his old coach Tom Thibodeau and subsequently marrying him to a roster chock full of young talent in the form of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns was supposed to be enough to keep Butler around long-term. However, Butler complained his way out of Minnesota in dramatic fashion one playoff gentleman’s sweep and wage dispute later. Despite the playoff appearance, a one-year rental was not what the Wolves expected.
The more accurate situational similarities come when comparing Russell and Gobert’s respective acquisitions. The Timberwolves brought Russell in to maximize Towns’ abilities by providing him with a reliable pick-and-roll partner. Their anticipated chemistry was predicated on the notion that they were longtime friends and how that bond would be strong enough to sustain Russell’s prolonged tenure on the team. Thus far, that aspect of the trade has been a success. However, it is hard to see Wiggins winning a championship with Golden State and not consider the trade a failure.
The Wolves also brought Gobert in to help Towns. However, his arrival was more to shore up KAT’s perceived defensive shortcomings. Considering that Towns recently signed a supermax extension, Gobert’s arrival carries more weight towards his pairing with Towns than any early predictions of Gobert coming to unlock Russell’s passing ability. As one of the statistically best defensive players in the history of the game, this pairing was positionally ambitious but could have a league-altering payoff if deployed correctly.
Obviously, this has not gone according to plan. Towns and Gobert have only played in 19 games together this season, an alarmingly low number considering we are past the halfway point in the season, and there is no clear timetable for Towns’ return from his calf strain. It is imperative that, given the exorbitant amount of future years and money devoted to both players, they play as many games as possible together to ensure the “Twin Towers” experiment can operate at its optimum capacity.
It’s not unlike the exact scenario that unfolded when Russell got to town. Russell and Towns played one game together in the 2019-20 season before only playing 24 together in the 2020-21 season. It’s hard to build legitimate game-time chemistry with a lack of true action on the court together. The natural byproduct of these circumstances was a familiar barrage of losses that resulted in Ryan Saunders’ dismissal.
One can argue about the fairness of whether or not it was the right decision to let Saunders go, but you have to admit that the circumstances are oddly similar with Gobert this season. People have been calling for Chris Finch’s head as the blame gets batted around like a beach ball at Woodstock ‘99. Gobert hasn’t been great, but success in the immediate was never Tim Connelly’s plan. Considering the comments former teammate Mike Conley made about the time and patience it takes to learn to play with Gobert, it is clear that the optimum version of this wonky squad won’t be realized for another year or two yet.
The message here is to preach and practice patience. Fans need the diligence they and Butler lacked at the early onset of their new situations. Gobert is slowly coming into his own, and there will be further inevitable growing pains when Towns returns due to the atypical “two bigs” direction. Given the small sample size, the early returns are inconclusive, and it is far too early to call this pairing a surefire mistake.
Reactionary takes are hard to suppress. Fans are even more visceral when their Timberwolves got that oh-so-sweet-and-rare taste of success last season. Things aren’t as bad as they could be. The Wolves remain in the thick of the playoff chase despite playing some objectively poor basketball without their best player. If that isn’t any consolation, the future of Gobert’s tenure in Minnesota with Towns, Anthony Edwards, and Jaden McDaniels by his side shouldn’t be too shabby.