This upcoming season will likely reveal how the new Timberwolves front office views the team and it's future. It's the debate that we often have here, whether the Wolves will attempt to become a win-now team or one that is focused on the longer term goals.
In the last two years the goal of "development" was extremely explicit as post-game interviews were often framed with this mind, speaking to how players were learning from their mistakes and gaining important on-court experience. With one of the youngest teams in the league, especially with the post All-star break rotations, this was extremely important and eventually payed dividends as we saw that group coalesce and start winning some games.
But now we have come to the next step, which is really the elephant in the room and something that we are know little about due to the lack of knowledge of the plans of the newly appointed President of Basketball operations Tom Thibodeau. If Sam Mitchell and Milt Newton had not been replaced it was likely that we would see another year that as focused on development, albeit with a stronger bent towards winning games.
Thibodeau's persona that has been developed from his years in Chicago would suggest that the Wolves are likely going to transition to a path that focuses on immediate postseason hopes, which has already been seen by the general NBA response to the Timberwolves' hire. The expectations for the upcoming season have been greatly increased. New management in the NBA also has a habit of making a "splash", as if they are announcing their presence in the team's decision making process as well as in the future direction of the organization. These would point to a busy off-season for the Wolves, as the current roster will require several positional upgrades and veteran players to make that leap.
However, the flip side of the issue is that there are numerous instances in the NBA where that model (landing the superstar young player and immediately trying to win) is fraught with danger. The New Orleans Pelicans are often talked about as the ultimate bad example, as they effectively mortgaged their future for a group of role players who are now overpaid and are unlikely to help the Pelicans reach anything but a low-seed in the Western Conference. We are also all-too familiar here in Minnesota with this dilemma after watching the Timberwolves consistently fail to properly build a good team around Kevin Garnett.
This off-season has also been sounding alarms for huge overpays due to weak free agent class and skyrocketing cap. The players that we often bandy about, which are usually not as well known outside of NBA circles, like Maurice Harkless, Batum, Deng, Allen Crabbe, Marvin Williams, Fournier, are being talked about as targets by fans of every single team that has cap space. Which is, well everyone.
It is extremely likely that a majority of these players will get overpaid, even with consideration to the rising cap and what these new contracts will scale to as percentages against the final total higher cap that the league will hit in the next few years. There just aren't enough of these guys to go around, not even taking into account the fact the the original teams for these players will likely be trying to retain them.
This puts the new front office in a tricky position. As we don't want to overpay for weaker assets and limit the team's potential down the road, but it is also very likely that Tom Thibodeau wants this team to be making the playoffs next year and that is going to require a few changes. It will be interesting to see how it eventually plays out once the offseason hits.