With the NBA trade deadline looming on February 9th, front offices across the league are either looking to offload players for picks or bolster their roster to contend.
For the Minnesota Timberwolves, this trade deadline could be a case of doing both.
Following the massive Rudy Gobert trade this past offseason, the Wolves bet heavily on themselves as Western Conference contenders following their promising playoff appearance last season. They also gave up a large chunk of their future to do so. The Wolves essentially went all-in on Gobert by giving away four first-round picks to the Utah Jazz and multiple role players.
The Gobert trade hasn’t exactly panned out the way many eager Wolves fans may have anticipated coming into the season. However, it was still one of the boldest and wildest trade moves for any team in the last couple of seasons. And Tim Connelly was the man most responsible for pulling the trigger on the seismic Gobert trade, Minnesota’s newest general manager and President of Basketball Operations.
Minnesota hired Connelly in May 2022. They signed him to a five-year $40 million contract, hoping he’d be able to construct a contending team centered around Minnesota’s young core of Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Before the Wolves hired him, Connelly served as an executive member and general manager for the Denver Nuggets for nine years. Much of the Nuggets’ recent success is a result of good scouting – they got Nikola Jokic in the second round of the 2014 draft. However, Connelly played a role in helping build a very formidable team in Denver.
What can we expect from Connelly at the deadline? It is a perfect time to see how Connelly has handled the deadline in his career so far.
Connelly never made any major splash moves around the deadline in his nine-year tenure with the Nuggets from 2013 to 2022. Instead, he made minor moves with varying effects on a young, up-and-coming Denver team.
In 2014, Connelly took part in one of his first trade deadline moves with the Nuggets. As part of a three-team trade, Denver traded aging backup point guard Andre Miller to the Washington Wizards and a 2016 second-round draft pick to the Philadelphia 76ers. In return, the Nuggets got Jan Vesely, a young rotational big man from the Wizards. The Nuggets also traded forward Jordan Hamilton to the Houston Rockets and got backup point guard Aaron Brooks in return.
Through these moves at the 2014 deadline, it is apparent that Connelly and his executive team acquired younger players to complement a young and developing Nuggets team at the time.
Connelly and the rest of the Nuggets basketball operations team followed a similar route at the 2015 trade deadline. On deadline day, the Nuggets traded Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee, two older but still serviceable role players, to the Portland Trail Blazers. In return, they got Will Barton, Thomas Robinson, two younger role players, and a 2016 first-round draft pick that would eventually become Malik Beasley.
Up to this point, with the Nuggets, Connelly stuck to more low-risk and high-reward moves. He usually just traded away some expiring contracts or aging role players for younger talent. It wasn’t until 2017 that Connelly made what could be considered his first real risky move at the trade deadline.
At the 2017 trade deadline, the Nuggets traded away a young and promising big man in Jusuf Nurkic, and a 2017 first-round draft pick to the Trail Blazers. In return, he received a formidable backup center, Mason Plumlee, cash considerations, and a 2018 second-round draft pick.
By making this move, Connelly ensured that Nurkic did not deter the development and playing time for Jokic, who was becoming Denver’s current centerpiece. This move has proved to be a big success, with Jokic now the reigning two-time MVP.
While 2018 and 2019 remained relatively quiet years for the Nuggets at the trade deadline, the 2020 deadline marked another one of Connelly’s most notable but disappointing moves for Nuggets fans. It’s also a move that Wolves fans will be familiar with.
As part of a four-team trade, the Nuggets dealt Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangómez, and Jarred Vanderbilt to the Timberwolves. In return, they got several role players that only ended up playing 14 games in Denver. The Nuggets also got a first-round pick that would later become Zeke Nnaji, which turned out to be Denver’s best return in the trade.
The Timberwolves benefited greatly from this move. Beasley and Vando became fan favorites and key players in last year’s playoff run. However, the trade served as arguably one of Connelly’s most controversial moves.
Still, Connelly would redeem himself the following year by trading for Aaron Gordon and JaVale McGee, who became significant contributors to the Nuggets finishing as the 3rd seed in the West last season.
Although he was mostly conservative in Denver, Connelly was immediately aggressive after the Wolves hired him. Connelly would trade away Beasley and Vanderbilt again, along with Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro, and Walker Kessler, four first-round picks for the Stifle Tower. Wolves fans should still be patient in fully assessing this trade, and it seems like ownership brought Connelly in to make the Wolves immediate contenders.
With trade assets like D’Angelo Russell, Naz Reid, and Jaylen Nowell going into this trade deadline, Connelly and the rest of Minnesota’s front office will have some key decisions. If Connelly could come out of this trade deadline a winner, it could really benefit this Wolves team as early as this season. However, it could also have a major negative effect on the Wolves. For now, we just have to hope Connelly will be as meticulous as can be with any potential decision he makes at this trade deadline.