The Lakers' Interest In Former Wolves Players Signals A Positive Change

Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Jarred Vanderbilt signed a new contract with the Los Angeles Lakers for four years, $48 million this week. Vanderbilt was a Minnesota Timberwolves fan favorite because of his hustle, defense, and ability to snatch a rebound out of an opponent’s reach from almost anywhere on the court. He was instrumental in the scrappy 2021-22 Wolves playoff run. Vanderbilt got a well-deserved payday. He will be a big part of the Lakers’ rotation as they hunt for a title in the late years of LeBron James‘ career.

V8 is not the only former Timberwolf who got a contract from the Lakers this offseason, though. He’s one of three. Shortly after the playoffs ended this summer, D’Angelo Russell signed a two-year, $36 million contract with a player option in the second year. During the free agency period, Taurean Prince signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract with the Lakers. Meanwhile, the Wolves signed former Laker Troy Brown Jr. to a two year, $8 million contract in what basically amounted to being a trade, without actually being a trade.

Additionally, last season, the Lakers had two other former Wolves on their roster. Patrick Beverley played for the LA until shortly before the trade deadline, when they traded him to the Orlando Magic. Orlando cut Beverley, and he signed with his hometown Chicago Bulls. The Utah Jazz traded Malik Beasley to the Lakers at the deadline. However, after the season they declined his $16.5 million team option and let him walk. Beasley then signed a one-year, $2.7 million with the Milwaukee Bucks, which should be a good home for him. The Bucks need perimeter shooting depth.

That’s five different players from the Wolves 2021-22 playoff team that have played with the Lakers (or signed with them in Prince’s case) in the past year. Three of those players were regular starters for the Wolves. All five were in the team’s top eight players in minutes per game, not counting Greg “Moose” Monroe who averaged 20.3 minutes per game in four regular season games when the team was depleted by COVID-19.

There has been a significant Wolves to Lakers pipeline in the last year, and LA has actively sought out most of these players. They acquired three of them in one fell swoop from two different teams. In last year’s three-team deal between the Lakers, Wolves, and Jazz, the Lakers received DLo from the Wolves, and Vanderbilt and Beasley from the Jazz. It was the third time a team had traded Vanderbilt and Beasley together, and ironically, Tim Connelly did it the first two times.

It seems as though the Lakers were trying to recreate the magic of Minnesota’s 2021-22 playoff run with the same role players, but with LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the leaders instead of Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns. That may sound a little bit goofy on the surface. However, it was an extremely successful and smart move. That core of players were great together on the Wolves, and they had even more success backing up LeBron and AD on their way to a Western Conference Finals appearance.

Before the Lakers made that trade, they were struggling with their depth, and had a hard time winning games when either of their two stars were hurt. They looked like they may not even make the Play-In Tournament. Still, they went on an incredible tear after the trade deadline that got them to the 8th seed.

They say that the NBA is a “copycat league.” However, this has to be the first time in NBA history that any team has tried to copy anything the Wolves do, outside of poaching their biggest stars.

That’s significant to me because it signals a positive change in the Timberwolves front office’s competency over the last five years or so, and that the league views them as an organization that has amassed a group of talented players. At the very least, the Lakers view them that way, although you can question their competency at times, too. Moreover, the Wolves retained enough talented players that they could make the playoffs two years in a row. They also had to make tough calls on which players to move to try to level up, and those players have for the most part gone on to have success elsewhere without it hurting the Wolves.

While this may be a low bar to clear, that’s more than you can say about most former Wolves teams. While owner Glen Taylor saved the team from being moved out of Minnesota, he has signed several GMs who have set the organization back by years, including David Kahn. Kevin McHale was one of the team’s best GMs. He drafted Kevin Garnett, but he was also in the team’s front office during the Joe Smith tampering case, which led to the team losing four first-round picks. For context, in the modern Adam Silver era, most teams only losing one to two second-round picks for tampering.

McHale denied knowing anything about the under-the-table payments, and Taylor willingly shouldered the blame. But McHale also took a leave of absence after the case. The situation led to one of the funniest quotes in Timberwolves franchise history that also adequately sums up their historical incompetence. McHale addressed the tampering by saying, “There are eight to ten teams that do this all the time. They’re just good at it. We’re bad.”

Until the last few years, the Wolves front office has been bad at a lot of things, including tampering. As a result, the team was the butt of a large portion of jokes around the league. They still have yet to fully live that down, considering how many people made fun of Pat Bev and Anthony Edwards for climbing the scorer’s table after the play-in victory in 2021-22. Or how much people tend to jump on Karl-Anthony Towns anytime he says something they consider to be overly prideful for what he’s achieved while having a conversation on a podcast with one of his friends.

Gersson Rosas ruined his future with the Wolves by creating what was reported to be a toxic work environment, and publicly cheating on his wife after bringing his kids on stage during his introductory press conference. However, he and his team jump-started this new era of Wolves basketball and significantly improved the team on the court. Rosas took Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels in the same draft, signed Naz Reid as a UDFA, and hired Chris Finch. Not only are those three of the most important players for Minnesota’s present and future, but they are the only players besides KAT and Jordan McLaughlin who have been on the team since Ant’s rookie year.

Now the team is in even better hands with Tim Connelly, who constructed a championship roster around Nikola Jokic with his front office team in Denver. Connelly is known as one of the best scouts in the league because of his hit rate in drafts, and especially in the second round. Even though Connelly also was afflicted by the Wolves curse after joining the team, seemingly becoming possessed to make a very classically Wolves-y, ill advised trade by selling the farm for Rudy Gobert, he seems to be back in his Denver Nuggets bag, making smart moves around the margins.

Last year, Connelly traded DLo, who likely wouldn’t have re-signed in Minnesota for what LA offered him, for Mike Conley and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Conley and Alexander-Walker seem to be great players and culture setters for this iteration of the Wolves. Although it’s still too early to say how good the players Connelly has drafted are going to be, he successfully identified Walker Kessler as a good center prospect. He has also taken some fun upside swings on toolsy wings in the second round, with Josh Minott and Leonard Miller.

Sachin Gupta also deserves credit for what he’s done as a member of the team’s front office. While it’s hard to tell what each individual front office member does, Gupta has been with the team since May of 2019, and kept the team on the track to success during his time as the interim POBO after the Timberwolves fired Rosas. Gupta is well respected around the league. He’s one of the few through lines between the two front office groups that have pulled the Wolves back into relevance in a way that feels sustainable. Minnesota is lucky to have him in the organization, and he is certainly one of the unsung heroes of the team’s rebuild.

The fact that the Timberwolves have been able to bring in enough talent in the past several years that the Lakers, a win-now team hunting a championship, would actively seek out former Wolves players is a sign that Minnesota’s current front office has done a lot of things right. So many things, in fact, that they’ve had to move on from good players to make room for other good players that fit the roster better.

That’s a far cry from the Timberwolves’ old rosters. If those teams gave up on a player, it far too often meant they were doomed to be out of the league in a matter of months, because Minnesota was one of the last stops on the map. Although the franchise’s first championship may still be a ways away, the Wolves front office now seems to have a sustainable formula for acquiring talent, and they have made the playoffs two years in a row as a result.

Tim Connelly and Co. Still Need To Take A Page From Denver’s Playbook
By George Fallon - Dec 10, 2023
Russillo and Windhorst Make the Perfect KAT Comparison
By Joe Rogers - Dec 9, 2023

Kyle Anderson Has Solved Minnesota's Backup Point Guard Dilemma

Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

There is a clip from the hit 2000s TV show Scrubs where Dr. Turk looks toward his on-screen girlfriend and says, “You know I do what I […]

Continue Reading