The trade deadline is like Christmas for NBA fans. On the morning of the deadline, fans are glued to their social media feed, seeing what moves teams across the league are making. There’s an overwhelming sense of mystery and hopefulness as the deadline inches closer, similar to a kid’s feeling when tiptoeing near the tree on Christmas morning, eyeing the presents that sit peacefully underneath while everyone else is asleep.
Trades involving star players are similar to the big presents. They are fun and can leave fans gobsmacked. However, there were mostly small presents underneath the tree this trade deadline season, especially for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who walked away from the February 8 deadline with a practical gift.
On Wednesday afternoon, just under 24 hours before the deadline, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Timberwolves were trading Troy Brown Jr., Shake Milton, and a 2030 second-round pick to the Detroit Pistons for Monté Morris.
That was Tim Connelly’s lone trade. Online discourse suggested that Kyle Anderson would be on the way out because Minnesota’s front office wanted to get some bench scoring. However, they were content with landing Morris at the deadline. And after looking at the bigger picture, it’s obvious why.
Unlike last year, the Timberwolves didn’t set out for a blockbuster trade. They have held the 1-seed in the Western Conference for 65 straight days and are in a close race with the Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 1 spot in the West. Despite its early-season success, Minnesota was 5-5 over their final ten games leading up to the deadline. The Wolves have had issues all season long with consistently moving the ball, especially in late-game situations, and receiving productive offense off the bench.
Bringing in Morris will help with both of those weaknesses.
The Timberwolves have the third-highest turnover rate per game (15.2), the fifth-lowest assist-to-turnover ratio (1.77), and have turned the ball over 15 or more times in 18 games. Keeping the ball on their side of the floor and not wasting opportunities has held the Wolves back, especially when Mike Conley is on the bench.
“He’s a winner,” Chris Finch told reporters regarding Morris. “He just kind of makes the right play. Super solid, low-turnover guy. He’s used to playing off of a lot of star players really well. I think it’s a fairly seamless partnership with Mike. It’s not like this other type of guard that you have to adjust to. Just his high basketball IQ; you can’t have enough of those guys.”
Morris has only played six contests this year because of a quad injury that kept him out for the first 42 games. But he was one of the best and most efficient passers in the NBA before this season. Morris’ turnover percentage was 7.6% on average from 2018 to 2023, ranking him in the 98th percentile, according to CleaningtheGlass.com. He was also in the top five in assist-to-turnover ratio during those five years and the top two (only behind Tyus Jones) twice.
Basketball Reference refers to Morris as “Count of Monte Assist/TO.” I’ve never heard anyone use that nickname, but it could not be any more perfect.
In addition to seeing the floor and making smart passes, Monté can score and knows how to run pick-and-rolls next to two centers effectively. He is uniquely smart on offense. While his defense leaves something to be desired, Morris should have no issues fitting in on Minnesota’s bench once he’s fully healthy. He should help patch some of the Wolves’ team-wide offensive issues coming off the bench.
Additionally, the financial side of the Morris trade further highlights Connelly’s trade deadline savvy.
Morris, 28, is making $9.8 million this season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer. Most players tied to Minnesota leading up to the deadline would have been half-season rentals. The Timberwolves will face a financial crunch next year. The newly implemented Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) heavily penalizes teams for exceeding salary cap aprons. Minnesota will be floating extremely close to the first apron next season. Therefore, that limited who they could trade for at the deadline if they hoped to keep that potential player around for more than 31 games.
Because Morris played at least three seasons in the NBA without being waived or changing teams as a free agent, he will be a Bird Rights free agent this summer. That means the Wolves will have his Bird Rights, allowing them to re-sign Morris and exceed the 2024-25 salary cap without any implications. Connelly drafted Morris 51st with the Nuggets in 2017 and will likely look to keep him around past this season.
Trading for Monté also gives Minnesota more freedom in the future.
Because the Wolves traded two players for one, they now have three standard NBA contracts open and $1.6 million in luxury tax space. They can use that money and open space to either sign a free agent via the buyout market or convert one of their current two-way players (Luka Garza, Daishen Nix, or Jaylen Clark) to a standard contract.
Three-point shooting and wing depth off the bench remain holes that need patching for the Wolves, so if they decide to explore the buyout market, here are some potential names to watch out for:
- Seth Curry (currently with the Charlotte Hornets, a chance he gets bought out)
- Evan Fournier (currently with the Pistons, a chance he gets bought out)
- Danilo Gallinari (waived by the Pistons)
- Joe Harris (waived by the Pistons)
- Marcus Morris (expected to be waived by the San Antonio Spurs)
In addition to the financial freedom, the Wolves used $9 million of their non-taxpayer mid-level exception to acquire Morris. That leaves them with $3.4 million to use on trades or signings up to four years in length.
Obviously, bringing in the level-headed and still relatively young Morris was a basketball move by Connelly and Co. They went into the deadline knowing that adding a backup point guard who could score and facilitate was their No. 1 priority. However, this move also had financial implications. It’s unlikely that Count of Monte Assist/TO will reside in the Twin Cities for just the rest of this season. Thanks to some savvy front-office money management, the Wolves can keep him around longer and make additional win-now additions.