Now that there has been the fresh change of leadership for the Minnesota Timberwolves, bringing on board Gersson Rosas, we have all felt a renewed vigor to a fanbase that had seemed destined to slog through the quagmire of the NBA middle-ground with little direction or future.
This brief ray of hope had us believing the Wolves could finally have a little bit of luck thrown their way in the NBA lottery, particularly with the new flattened lottery odds that gave them a few more percentage points in their favor. Alas, that did come true and the Wolves moved down one spot from 10 to 11, while watching fellow Western Conference foes jump way ahead, with the Pelicans, Grizzlies, and Lakers all falling into some exceptional luck.
Now that the dust is beginning to settle amidst lottery positioning and the NBA playoffs, not to mention the Wolves own front office, we are going to quickly find out what kind of approach the new Wolves will take, broadly defined by either a practice of patience or virulent opportunism.
The Patient Route
In Tom Thibodeau’s first year as President of Basketball Operations with the Wolves, he chose to take stock of the roster, essentially using that first year as a proving ground to decide which pieces of the roster to keep and which to jettison.
That team was a decided failure, but Thibs was able to make the correct judgment that this group was simply not going to win a lot of games. We may look back at that era with rose-colored glasses, but a Zach LaVine - Andrew Wiggins wing pairing would simply be disastrous long-term.
While we have rightfully questioned the efficacy of some of the moves that Thibs made when he finally kick-started the development timeline, by taking the time to examine what was in place on the team, he was able to make a better decision from his point of view.
It is very possible this is the route the Wolves will take, such as by retaining Ryan Saunders as the head coach. Change is hard and the Wolves’ current roster configuration presents difficulties at every turn. By waiting another year, the Wolves could have a lot more flexibility, as they would be out of Jeff Teague’s contract and have another year off of Gorgui Dieng’s and Andrew Wiggins’ deals.
However, while this may be the “easy” option, it does not seem like the Wolves can afford to take this path. When Thibs took over the Wolves, the team had essentially no long-term contracts on the books with Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns all on rookie deals. The promised land was in the far-off future.
But Rosas does not have the luxury of time. Karl-Anthony Towns is beginning his maximum contract next year, which, looking at recent stars who have forced their way off their team, gives the Wolves 3 to 4 years to convince him to stay. If the Wolves give up one of those years to reevaluate the roster, the opportunity cost could be incredibly high, potentially sinking the Wolves back into the misery of the rebuilding woes.
Pouncing on Opportunities
If the risk of standing still is too great, Rosas could lean more towards studied opportunism. Hopefully, this is what we should expect out of a President that has been with the Rockets during the Daryl Morey era. If nothing else, the Rockets have identified opportunities when the arose and acted decisively, which has not been a quality that recent Wolves front offices have had.
The NBA landscape is about to radically shift in the next six months. If Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and more change teams, the power balance of the league will be radically different. The Anthony Davis and Los Angeles Lakers/Celtics drama could escalate. Adding on to that, with the wild lottery, the Pelicans and Grizzlies may have very different thoughts around their roster today than they did a week ago.
This is where the Wolves have to be opportunistic. The West could easily become open if the Warriors lose Durant. There is no reason the Wolves cannot reach the levels of the Trailblazers or the Nuggets with some retooling. They have a bonafide superstar and decent complementary pieces, someone just needs to reorient the puzzle pieces.
But if they stand still, they are dead. The Grizzlies and Pelicans just accelerated their rebuilds and the Lakers will not be standing pat. The Mavericks will be pairing Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The bottom of the West could charge past a stolid Wolves team. Lose two years and Karl-Anthony Towns is gone.
Hopefully, this implies that we will see some extremely aggressive moves coming from the new regime. Of course, we will have our pipe dreams that somehow the Wolves are able to throw enough assets at the wall to come out with Mike Conley, Jrue Holiday, or Bradley Beal, but beyond that, the team will have to find something in order to legitimately compete.
Simply put, the risk is too great for the Wolves to not take on more risk. Taking the slow road to another season of 30 to 40 wins seems to only lead to another half-decade of rebuilding.