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Wolves Wednesday: The Youth Shall Set You Free

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Are the Wolves really an old team? What ever happened to Chase Budinger? Will MGH be back? It’s Wolves Wednesday!

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

If the NBA offseason were a hurricane, the ten or so days between the draft and free agency would definitely be classified as the eye of the storm. While each individual event presents various storylines and drama that help shape the upcoming season, the period in between these events is more similar to that of the hours leading up to Black Friday — everyone huddled anxiously as they discuss potential deals and wait for the clock to strike 12:00 (or in this case, for the first #WojBomb to hit our shores).

With free agency only a few short days away, the Wolves figure to be relatively aggressive yet again (despite possessing limited funds to make a big splash). Although there are still numerous spots on the bench left to fill, the Wolves will enter July 1 with limited ammunition — primarily the MLE and a handful of minimum contracts.

In looking at the names who aren’t expected to be back in uniform next year, one key theme sticks out — old age. The Wolves roster ranked 22nd last season in terms of average age (meaning only eight teams had an older average), despite having a core nucleus of Karl-Anthony Towns (22), Andrew Wiggins (23), Tyus Jones (22), and Justin Patton (21).

While the additions of Jimmy Butler (28), Jeff Teague (30), and Taj Gibson (33) increased not only the team’s expectations but also their average age, it was the additions of guys like Jamal Crawford (38) and Aaron Brooks (33) that really inflated the narrative surrounding the “young pups.”

With those two players surefire locks to find new teams next season, other “elder statesmen” in the Wolves locker room also appear (at least somewhat) unlikely to return, including Cole Aldrich (29), Nemanja Bjelica (30), and Derrick Rose (29). Although all the tea leaves point to Rose returning next season, for the sake of this exercise, let’s pretend these three players exit as well. Add in the Wolves’ two newly drafted rookies, and all the sudden the average age on the roster goes from 27.3 to 24.7.

While comparing the average age of the current roster to the NBA average last season is like comparing apples and tomatoes, my point here still stands. Yes, a majority of other teams recently added new, young players to their core, and yes, other teams will undoubtedly shed older players in free agency as well come Saturday.

But the point of this late-June exercise is to simply take a “glass half-full” approach to a common narrative that has surrounded the franchise since the new regime took over — the roster is aging quickly and the window to contend may already closing. Simply remove the old names from the roster and inject two new rookies, and the Wolves (in this example) vault up to the 2nd youngest team in the entire league, only behind the Phoenix Suns.

Hell, next season the Wolves could (although very, very unlikely) lose their three oldest players yet again (Butler, Gibson, and Teague) and be faced with the reality of 23-year old Andrew Wiggins being their second oldest player on the roster. Again, while this is extremely unlikely (there’s probably a better chance of me making $19 million dollars next year than Jeff Teague turning down that same amount), the reality is that this Wolves nucleus is still in good shape relative to other “nucleuses” around the league.

Will Tom Thibodeau be around long enough to see that nucleus (possibly) reach its full potential? Only time will tell. While the Jimmy Butler trade certainly expedited the franchise’s plan for success, it hasn’t impeded the current regime from adding multiple young first-round talents to its core (while simultaneously refraining from mortgaging future picks to do so). That’s important in and of itself.

Can any of these young players actually play? Even if they can, will the head coach give them enough rope to demonstrate their abilities on a consistent basis? That story has yet to play out, but it’s worth remembering that while short-term expectations for this current squad are quickly rising, the long-term forecast is still particularly optimistic.

Can You Dig It?

On the eve of another NBA free agency, a period in time when your favorite team loses certain players while simultaneously bringing in new ones for you to cheer for, an interesting story has surfaced about one of my favorite ex-Timberwolves — Chase Budinger.

In a recent Sports Illustrated story, author Max Meyer details Budinger’s journey from the wood courts of the NBA to the sand courts of the AVP as he attempts to chase a lifelong dream of becoming a professional volleyball player. The story is well written and shines light on Budinger’s tragic injury history, one that prevented him from possibly attaining the same professional basketball accolades of his Co-MVP counterpart from the 2006 McDonald’s All-American game (Kevin Durant).

Although his career in Minnesota only lasted three short seasons (he played only 131 total games and averaged just 7.6 points), Budinger’s potential always had me yearning for more. Purely from an athleticism standpoint, Budinger had all of the tools to be an elite forward during his time, standing 6’7” with a 39-inch vertical and textbook jumper.

While back-to-back knee surgeries zapped some of his athleticism and most of his confidence, it’s really cool to see Chase bounce back in such a way that allows him to once again chase his dream of professional volleyball. Best of luck to the former Wildcat.

MGH? UFA

While the Wolves welcomed one new Georgia Tech alum to Minneapolis yesterday, it appears another former Yellow Jacket is simultaneously on his way out:

Although news of MGH’s likely departure is disappointing, it’s far from unexpected. The Wolves drafted two wings in the recent NBA Draft, and are focused on adding additional wings during the upcoming free agency period, creating a numbers game for the 24-year old from College Park, Georgia.

Playing in only 42 games last season, MGH became a fan favorite relatively quickly due to his strong work ethic, passion for defense, and all-around positive personality. Here’s to hoping he lands a solid deal this summer with another NBA franchise.

Cole Your Horses

In a final bit of housekeeping, I should mention a very important update to something I discussed in a previous Wolves Wednesday. While the date for the decision on Cole Aldrich’s contract was set to be June 20th, it appears that deadline has been moved back a week or so:

When news of this extended deadline broke, I thought it could have major ramifications on the Wolves activity in the NBA Draft, but that excitement was short-lived. However, the Wolves still have a few days this week to sniff around possible Aldrich deals to free up their books a bit.

While a deal for Cole seems very unlikely, it’s important to remember that anything is possible. With that said, I fully expect an announcement sometime Friday afternoon stating the Wolves have released the Burnsville native.