Getting your hopes up is disappointing.
For weeks, free agent D’Angelo Russell was connected to the Timberwolves thanks to his friendship with Karl-Anthony Towns. Reports over the weekend involved meetings between Russell and Towns, as well as the Wolves being the guard’s first choice.
The Wolves seemed to believe they had a way to clear the space to sign Russell or work out a trade with the Nets. Despite never hearing any details beyond a stray Andrew Wiggins rumor, we were never sure how exactly the team was going to clear that space. That didn’t matter as much to many people since the Wolves were a top free agent’s first choice and the team believed they could make it happen.
Then that didn’t happen as ESPN reported late Sunday night that Brooklyn and Golden State agreed to a sign and trade for Russell. Russell’s new contract is believed to be for four years and $117 million.
What happens next remains to be seen. The backup plan, a reunion with Ricky Rubio, was taken off the table at the start of free agency when Rubio signed with the Suns. Gersson Rosas went big game hunting and came up empty. The risk of coming up empty-handed in the pursuit of Russell was always there since the Wolves didn’t already have the cap space cleared.
It’s okay to be disappointed that the Wolves weren’t able to get Russell but there was always a high degree of difficulty involved in trying to get him. The interest was mutual but clearing the space proved too tough to do in a short amount of time.
Pointing the finger
Having their top-two plans implode is obviously not ideal for the Timberwolves but that isn’t necessarily Rosas’ fault. In order to make the room to add Russell, they were going to have to move Andrew Wiggins’ contract—a top-three bad contract in the league at best—or the two years and $33 million left on Gorgui Dieng’s deal.
Not only did the Wolves have to accomplish those things, but they had to do so in a short amount of time without settling for a franchise-crippling trade. We don’t know what the offers had been but parting with a first-round pick to move Wiggins for someone like Russell Would have probably been worth it. While Russell has his flaws, he still would have been an upgrade over Wiggins and the team would have had him under contract for multiple years.
The free agency period has only been open for less than 24 hours, so a lot could change. Jeff Teague’s expiring contract is another that we may hear more about as the team continues to look to improve and fill the roster’s many holes.
The Darren Collison domino effect
It’s interesting to think that Darren Collison’s unexpected retirement last week could have affected the Timberwolves. The Pacers guard retiring seemed to make the team’s connections to Rubio stronger and yet, Indiana added Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb after Rubio agreed to a pact with the Suns.
There are a few lingering questions with this situation:
- Did the Suns simply outbid the Pacers with that three-year and $51 million contract?
- Did the Pacers decide if they were going to give that money to anyone, they’d rather give it to Brogdon?
- What happened to the Brogdon-to-Chicago steam that we heard leading up to free agency? It seemed that Brogdon was either returning to Milwaukee or headed to Chicago, so this was certainly a curveball.
- Would Collison have changed the plans for any of the involved teams had he not chosen retirement?
Regardless, it doesn’t matter much. The Wolves weren’t able to clear the cap space quickly enough and Rubio didn’t have to wait to receive an offer.
The Western Conference improved
Watching the first 12 hours of free agency unfold did not make anyone feel better about the Timberwolves’ playoff chances for the 2020 season. The Kings, Lakers and Pelicans all finished near the Wolves outside of the playoffs in the standings and all made strides to improve their chances for next season. Look at what happened:
- The Pelicans added J.J. Reddick, Derrick Favors and Euroleague swingman Nicolo Melli. This is in addition to drafting Zion Williamson and the haul from the Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade. Don’t forget Jrue Holliday is still in New Orleans and still quite good.
- Sacramento was a 39-win team in 2019 and adding Trevor Ariza and Dwayne Dedmon for depth. This team should show further improvement next season.
- While the Lakers haven’t signed anyone, they still have Anthony Davis and LeBron James. The possibility of Kawhi Leonard signing in Los Angeles hasn’t been ruled out either. Obviously, Leonard signing with not the Lakers would change their expectations for next season, but even a Davis and LeBron-led team couldn’t be overlooked.
- In Memphis, the Grizzlies are hoping that Kyle Korver and Andre Iguodola will provide support for the young players. The Grizzlies won just 33 games in 2019 but a strong draft to add to Jaren Jackson Jr. and now a couple of reliable vets likely makes the Grizzlies more competitive next season. A playoff team, maybe not, but it’s likely they’re more competitive.
- The Suns are absolutely still miles away from the playoffs, even with the addition of Rubio. After seeing firsthand how the losing wore on Rubio in his final seasons in Minnesota, he’s probably going to be miserable in Phoenix, especially after back-to-back playoff appearances with Utah the last two seasons.
Even if the Wolves don’t land a top free agent, they could be more competitive for next season by having Robert Covington and Jeff Teague healthy. Returning Tyus Jones will also go a long way but it doesn’t seem that enough dominoes have fallen for him to get attention from other teams yet.
What we know is that Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose have found new teams already and Anthony Tolliver is likely to follow suit. On the Monday after the free agency opener, the Wolves now have more work to do after losing out on Russell and Rubio. Hopefully, the team wasn’t banking on landing one of Russell and Rubio.