It’s time for the Minnesota Timberwolves to blow it up.
OK, OK… I’m exaggerating a little when I say “blow it up.” No, the Wolves should not trade Karl-Anthony Towns. And no, the Wolves should not move Andrew Wiggins (at least not before I take down my Christmas tree). But the Wolves SHOULD be focusing all of their attention over this next month or so on becoming first-movers in regards to the NBA trade deadline, especially if they have long-term aspirations of becoming a championship team (more on that in a minute).
Last night’s victory against the turbo-charged Sacramento Kings can be looked at in two ways. For one, the Kings were coming off a wicked road back-to-back that had them facing off against the two best rookies from this latest draft class (Luka Doncic and of course Josh Okogie). Three Kings starters played less than 7 minutes, as Dave Joerger simply chose to take the scheduled “L” rather than overexert his young players (wow, what a fascinating concept!)
The other way to look at last night’s crushing of the Kings is this: the Wolves have an extremely deep roster full of talented players, some of whom are expected to be with the franchise for a long time (Towns, Wiggins, Okogie, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric). They also have some interesting decisions to make on other talented players, most notably Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones (both free agents this summer). Unless the Wolves find a secret amnesty provision in their stocking, they will also have Gorgui Dieng for the foreseeable future (who to his credit is playing really strong basketball as of late). Those eight guys (yes, I’m an avid supporter of the Wolves re-signing Derrick Rose this summer) make up the Wolves core going forward, a core that is quite possibly the strongest in the franchise’s checkered history.
In addition to all of that, the Wolves also possess talented veterans at all different positions: guard (Jeff Teague), forward (Anthony Tolliver) and center (Taj Gibson). As many people are aware, Teague has a player-option for $19 million next season, making him the only player in this group *likely* to return next season (Tolliver and Gibson will be free agents who will command much more than the Wolves can/will offer).
Back to last night for a second… the Wolves were without Teague due to an ankle injury, and believe it or not, the team didn’t skip a beat! Derrick Rose (battling his own ankle issues) replaced Teague in the starting lineup, and dished out 11 assists in just 24 minutes. This performance only fueled the belief of some that Rose 2.0 can still be an above-average starting PG in this league (after all, he just turned 30-years old, and is actually 7 months younger than Stephen Curry). The shuffling of the lineup also shifted Tyus Jones to his more natural position, a move that was welcomed by the Apple Valley native:
Tyus said he felt like he was "more at his natural position" tonight playing as the sole point guard and primary ball handler. It showed. 10 points, 10 assists in 23:34— jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) December 18, 2018
Jones’ post game words built upon his strong performance as the Wolves true backup PG:
Legit the most important part of tonight's win IMO: Tyus Jones played the best game of his NBA career. 10/10/2 and just 1 TO. +30 in 24 minutes. First NBA double-double. Controlled the floor with authority and had that swagger we saw at Duke while he was just slinging passes pic.twitter.com/aWk5LHiZsW— Key Sang (@Phantele_) December 18, 2018
So where am I going with this? As of this posting, the top 14 teams in the Western Conference are separated by a mere 7 games, which is the same number of games separating the 14th seed (Utah) and the 15th seed (Phoenix). In other words, the Western Conference is an absolute bloodbath, and there doesn’t appear to be much relief in sight, at least for Minnesota’s sake.
For example, the Golden State Warriors are expected to get their 275-pound Boogie man back sometime this spring. The Denver Nuggets are itching to unleash their new sixth-man Isaiah Thomas after the holidays. LeBron’s Band of Brothers are beginning to create beautiful music. The Blazers, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Rockets, and Pelicans all have at least one major trade bullet left in the chamber. The Spurs still have Gregg Popovich.
The Wolves, to some fault of their own, are behind the eight ball (and eight seed) a bit because of how they handled (or refused to handle) the Jimmy Butler saga early on. In a conference more competitive than ever, letting General Soreness essentially shave points isn’t necessarily the most brilliant strategy to strengthen your chances early on of making a postseason run.
Technically speaking, the Wolves are only 2 games back of the eight seed, but as mentioned above, the Western Conference is currently humming at a historic pace. With that in mind, the Wolves best long-term move is pivot immediately, focusing their efforts on asset maximization at the expense of guys like Teague, Gibson, and Tolliver (all of whom would be enticing pieces for a team looking to make a playoff push).
My good friend Dane Moore spear-headed this movement earlier this week in his column, focusing primarily on the likes of Tolliver and Jerryd Bayless. While all of these ideas were superb, I say why not spice it up even more!
Why not call Phoenix and offer them Teague in exchange for some combination of expiring contracts (Jeff Teague that is, not Marquis. Scott Layden should definitely clarify that detail with the Suns). Or what about Taj Gibson to the (surprisingly feisty and playoff hungry) Brooklyn Nets for Kenneth Faried and some sort of future draft compensation? How about Anthony Tolliver for a couple 2nd round picks to a team thirsty for shooting off the bench (a.k.a. literally every team in the Association).
My point here is simple: while each of the players listed above is talented and has been valuable to Minnesota in some way or another, NONE of them are in the Wolves future plans, nor do any of them truly move the needle for this season’s iteration of the roster. It’s time to accept that notion and strike first to acquire future assets/flexibility that allow this team to build around the true core of the franchise, a core that by all metrics should be good enough to contend going forward.
The Western Conference is zigging. It’s time for the Minnesota Timberwolves to zag.