Well, the 2018-19 season has finally come to an end for the Minnesota Timberwolves. After a year of positives and success in 2017-18, capped off with a playoff appearance for the first time in forever, this season stunk. It was almost like the ‘17-18 season was just a big tease for Minnesota fans before crushing them back to the reality of chaos and instability that was ‘18-19.
With that being said, we now have an offseason to look forward to. The great thing about the offseason is that there’s hope. It might be the most blind, misplaced hope in the world, but there is always hope that things will change for the better.
What does a change for the better look like, though? What are some realistic ways in which Minnesota can improve enough to be a legitimate playoff team next year? I’m sure there’ll be people who think that running back with a healthy RoCo will be enough, but I’m not so convinced. Especially when taking into account the rest of the Western Conference, Minnesota needs to find ways to improve.
You could argue that the Clippers are a likely team to fall out of the playoff picture next year, but they’ve shown that it’s foolish to write them off. None of the other playoff teams in the West figure to be much worse next year than they were this year. Then, you include the fact that the Lakers with a healthy LeBron and a revamped roster probably battle for a spot. The Kings are only going to get better. Dallas has a really nice foundation in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis and figures to add more pieces in free agency. The West is going to stay a battle ground for the foreseeable future.
With all of this in mind, lets dig into a few ways the Wolves can improve their team throughout this offseason. You’ll notice that the emphasis is much more dialed in on the front office/coaching staff. There are two main reasons for that. One being that the process that this team has followed for the past few decades has been terrible, and that starts up top. The second reason being that any significant trades that we dream of to clear up cap space are closer to long shots than likely to occur.
Hire a real President of Basketball Operations
Empower said President of Basketball Operations
So, Kyle went over this quite a bit, but there are conflicting reports about the process the Wolves are going to use this offseason as it pertains to the front office.
Minnesota is finalizing plans to keep GM Scott Layden and coach Ryan Saunders, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 10, 2019
The Timberwolves plan to open up a search for a new President of Basketball Operations. That person will lead the basketball department and help decide on GM Scott Layden and coach Ryan Saunders, league sources tell @TheAthleticMIN. No decisions have been made.— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) April 10, 2019
So, you can decide what you want to believe for yourself. Personally, I’m siding with Jon Krawczynski. I can’t imagine anyone being more plugged into this franchise than him. Anyways, we should hope and pray that they follow through with what Jon has reported. This isn’t to say that Layden/Saunders wouldn’t keep their jobs anyways, but the correct order of events here is to hire the new POBO and let him choose who he wants in his building. That’s how successful teams are run.
In all likelihood, the new POBO will be someone from the Wolves franchise in the past who will keep Layden and Saunders anyways. Frankly, I’d be okay with that as long as it was the new President of Basketball Operations’ decision to retain them.
Hire a Defensive Coordinator
Operating under the assumption that Saunders will be brought back, he needs to have a top flight defensive coordinator on his staff. As bad as the defense was with Thibs, it still fell off a cliff under Saunders. I’m not even sure exactly how much of a difference coaching makes in the NBA unless you have one of the five worst or five best in the NBA (see: Jason Kidd to Mike Budenholzer transition).
With that in mind I’d be open to the idea of retaining Saunders given his relationships with the players, especially KAT. He seems to have loosened up the culture a bit to where guys aren’t in hell anymore. That’s good stuff. What is not good, however, is that over the past 15 games, the Wolves have a defensive rating of 116. The only teams worse than that over the same span are the Bulls, Suns, and Cavs. Those teams were all actively trying to lose over that period. Needless to say, that’s not exactly the company you want to keep.
For Saunders to be effective, he needs to have a great defensive mind next to him. Even great coaches need help. Mike D’Antoni is a wizard offensively, but the Rockets were in shambles early in the year without their own defensive coordinator Jeff Bzdelik. Saunders needs someone like that for this to really work.
Be aggressive in the draft
This is kind of vague, but it is really just an attempt to simplify a complex situation. The Wolves are likely to be picking at or right around the 10th spot in this upcoming draft, which actually might be a blessing in disguise. Most years, being in the late lottery isn’t a great place to be. That is sometimes referred to as basketball purgatory along with the first few spots right after the lottery.
In this draft, however, there might be more value in the late lottery than in any spot after two or three. Zion’s going number one, we all know that. After that, it gets more blurry. It seems like R.J. Barrett and Ja Morant are going to go 2 and 3 in some order. While both players have clear upside, there are legitimate concerns about how both may translate to the NBA.
After that, it’s hard to see how the Wolves could really screw this up unless they somehow end up being the team that takes Cam Reddish. There are pros and cons to a ton of guys such as Darius Garland (likely gone before 10), Coby White, Brandon Clarke, P.J. Washington, etc. All of those guys, in some form or another, could fit in Minnesota. Whichever way they go, there just needs to be a plan.
Clarke could be like a super-charged Taj Gibson, but would push KAT back into that same role he played with Taj. White has a sky-high ceiling as a 6’5” combo guard who can shoot, but his T-Rex arms raise some question marks. Washington figures to be a solid, albeit unspectacular stretch-4 at the next level. In my opinion, the Wolves have the surrounding pieces. It’s time to go big game hunting for someone like White.
Acquire a perimeter initiator
This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. In fact, it might be the hardest thing to do in the NBA. This is, by far, the largest non-defense related on-court issue holding the Wolves back. KAT is amazing. There’s no disputing that. However, the last time a team without a great perimeter initiator won anything was probably back with Prime Dirk and the Mavs, and that team wasn’t exactly lacking perimeter talent either. Somehow, the Wolves need to find someone who can initiate offense from the perimeter.
Ideally, this should be Andrew Wiggins. There’s no reason to believe he’ll ever become that guy anymore, though, so we need to look outward. This is why I feel like the Wolves need to swing big in the draft for a Coby White. Maybe they trade up for Darius Garland. It’s hard to tell who’s really going to be available in free agency, so it seems like the draft will have to be the place.
With guys like Tyus (coming soon), Okogie, Covington, Saric, and KBD, the Wolves have some solid role/super-role players on the roster. What they’re really missing is the guy who can create a bucket for themselves or teammates in late game or late shot-clock situations. Personnel wise, this should be priority number one.
Re-sign Tyus Jones
For better or for worse, Tyus probably played himself out of a big money deal this year. Unless someone like Phoenix makes a ridiculous offer to Tyus, Minnesota should be able to retain the steady lead guard. I don’t think he’s the starter at that position moving forward, but he figures to be a super-sub for a long time if he can improve his shooting just a bit.
Unload one big, dead contract
It’s highly unlikely that multiple of Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague (assuming he opts-in) and Gorgui Dieng get traded this offseason. If the Wolves can trade just one of them, however, that would be a great help to the franchise. They’re going to undoubtedly have to take bad money back, give up a first-round pick, or both to complete a deal like this. It most scenarios, it’s probably worth it. If nothing else, this roster just needs a bit of a shake up. One idea that’s been thrown around in the Canis slack by our own John Meyer was a Wiggins for Nicolas Batum swap. Both guys are underperforming on terrible contracts. For both sides, it might be worth seeing if a change of scenery helps either player out.
And that’s it! We’ve just made the Timberwolves a true title contender in a few easy steps. I kid, I kid. This team isn’t all that far off, though, from becoming a true playoff contender. There are a lot of ways to improve a team, but my philosophy is that change has to start up top. Good organizations are that way because of their management, and then that trickles down to the players.