The Wolves’ roster has drastically changed over the last month with the NBA Draft and Free Agency period. This tumultuous period saw a number of NBA Stars shift teams, creating a new power structure in the NBA. For the Wolves, the new front office had their first chance to make their mark on the team. We wanted to take this time to review the previous month.
1. Do you think the Wolves made the correct decision to move up in the draft?
Mike O’Hagan: Honestly, it’s hard to say without seeing Jarrett Culver play at all. I admire and love the aggression that was exhibited, but it also seems odd that they moved up without knowing they were going to get their guy (Darius Garland). In the end, they paid a relatively small price (long-term) since paying Dario Saric likely would’ve been expensive next summer. In that sense, it seems like it was a worthwhile risk to take, although several of the rookies drafted in the latter half of the first round (Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Grant Williams) have looked like studs thus far.
Josh Clement: This draft was the first time we saw the front office in action and, as is the case with subsequent moves, we seem to be stuck in a wait-and-see approach to properly evaluate what happened. I’m a firm believer that all the retrospective talk about Darius Garland and Jarrett Culver being in the same tier was simply papering over a potential mistake, but there is no denying Culver’s appeal. He could be a foundational component to this team and fit into what Rosas is trying to build. However, I think it was a mistake to easily cast aside the cost of moving Dario Saric, who is legitimately a good player, to move up five spots in a weak draft and miss out on the ideal pick.
John Meyer: Absolutely! Jarrett Culver looked like one of the best players in the class and Dario Saric probably wasn’t going to be around a season down the line. I don’t think The Homie was all that happy in Minnesota and with his restricted free agency looming it makes perfect sense to use him to move up five slots to take a chance on a wing that has shades of Andre Iguodala. Maybe they didn’t draft the point guard they truly coveted in Darius Garland but I love Culver’s game and my guess is the Wolves will too.
Kyle Thiege: Yes and no (great answer, right?) I don’t pretend to be a draft expert, but I loved Jarrett Culver’s game pre-draft and was hoping the Wolves could (finally) get lucky in the NBA Lottery to get a chance to draft him. While the lottery stayed true to form for Minnesota, the Wolves still ended up getting their guy and all they had to pay was one year of Dario Saric (who is a talented player I’ll admit, but let’s stop pretending like he was this stable star last season who just needed more opportunities). Swapping a fine rotation player for a chance at a star draft prospect is the type of risk a small market like Minnesota has to make every time.
And yet, I really was hoping the Wolves could originally trade back and accumulate a few extra assets because I loved some of the late lottery prospects. I know it’s Summer League, but we’ve already seen some great July performances by guys like Brandon Clarke, Tyler Herro, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. While Culver still provides a higher upside than any of those three players, seeing so many talented players kick off the summer with a bang really increases the pressure for the draft-day decision to pay off.
2. How do you feel about the Wolves big swings in the draft and free agency?
Mike: Again, you have to love the aggression. Sitting by and waiting for a draft pick to hit is a dangerous game when you have a star like KAT, so you can’t fault Gersson Rosas and company for trying. However, I do wonder how likely it is, even with a ton of cap space as soon as next summer, that a max-or-near-max level free agent would actually come play in Minneapolis.
Josh: It’s been quite an adjustment dealing with the New Wolves Order. Rosas and crew have obviously correctly identified that they need to pick up a second star to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns and are doing everything in their power to make that happen. They are extremely astute at using various media outlets to build noise that they are on the verge of making moves, which is clearly a learned strategy from the Rockets. Eventually, they are going to have to pull something off rather than simply talking about it if they want to build trust among the cynical Wolves fans (although we probably do not matter very much).
John: I loved the move to grab Culver but the big D’Lo swing certainly didn’t land. It’s all very intriguing to me. The front office is completely different than the one Thibs ran. There’s tons of leaks. They’ve already been really active in the market. After listening to many of the interviews with Gersson Rosas since he took over it’s pretty clear to me what his strategy is. Always have a seat at the trade table. It’s in Rosas’ DNA from his Houston days as the #2 to Daryl Morey. The Wolves are going to be rumored to be interested in tons of big names that become available on the trade market until they finally cash-in on one. I like that, at least in theory. Free agency was excellent. This organization has never been good at winning on the fringes and they Moneyball’d the hell out of this offseason with shrewd low-cost moves.
Kyle: I’m probably guilty of ordering too many shots of the Gersson Rosas Kool-Aid, but it’s hard to really argue with anything the New Wolves Order has done so far. The Wolves moved up in the draft without any real assets (outside of Karl-Anthony Towns) and almost landed a premier free agent without any real cap space.
Let’s put it this way: if you would have told me the morning after the lottery (an annual depressing morning in Wolves Nation) that Minnesota would end up drafting Culver and be on the cusp of possibly acquiring D’Angelo Russell, I would have requested that you be drug tested. While the rumors/possibilities of the Wolves landing Garland or Russell never actually materialized, the team still came out of the summer with talented young players and never had to mortgage their future to do so. In my eyes, that’s a great first step for this new regime.
3. How do you feel about the Wolves new free agency additions (and subtractions)?
Mike: It feels like they did about as well as they could have done in working around the margins after missing out on D’Angelo Russell. I wonder what the plan is at point guard moving forward, because the current crop of ball-handlers is horrific. I get that Tyus’ offer sheet would have been a bit much for a likely career backup on an already cap-strapped team, but in the short term, it leaves them very thin at point guard. They did pick up a few interesting, cheap, young players.
Josh: For years (even decades), the mantra around here has been that good process begets good results. With Rosas, we are finally seeing what good process looks like as a team works the margins to try to find a star. However, it’s all well and good that we can talk about how the front office is maximizing league inefficiencies by focusing on minimum-level replacement players over mid-level players, but then all the sudden we look up and wonder where all the good players went. Who is shooting threes? This roster has massive holes in and is extremely reliant upon two players, Jeff Teague and Robert Covington, who were injury prone last year.
John: They were great value shoppers. The defense should improve because of it. Shabazz Napier is better than a lot of people might think. He can get buckets. Layman was wildly improved in year 3. Noah Vonleh was actually good in New York last season. All three of these guys have a prior relationship with new assistant coach, and Defensive Coordinator, David Vanterpool. Thanks, PDX! Jordan Bell is actually interested in playing defense. He has something to prove after a disappointing sophomore season. Treveon Graham can defend as well. Subtractions? Only Tyus Jones strikes me as real meaningful. The others can be replaced rather easily. I’ll miss Jones a lot and would’ve matched the deal, but I’ve told myself to move on with Bazz Wolf 2.0 at PG and keep my Tyus Tantrum offline as much as possible. I’ll say this: it was good to see Apple Valley’s Finest get paid.
Kyle: When you strike out in free agency, like the Wolves clearly did, the absolute worst thing you can do is panic (hello New York Knicks). Minnesota clearly had one Plan A for July 1 and that was to string together enough transactions to bring in D’Angelo Russell. When that fell apart, would you rather your team blow unnecessary money on older veterans, or invest one-year deals in younger players who, while disappointing so far, are hungry for a new opportunity to rejuvenate their career.
Outside of Jake Layman, Rosas clearly made one-year contracts a priority, and can now turn to his reshaped (and greatly improved) coaching staff to try to do what they do best — develop young players. Swapping out proven vets like Taj Gibson and Anthony Tolliver for Jordan Bell and Noah Vonleh definitely suggests the Wolves are going to take a step back next season, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing if there is a plan in place to then leap two steps forward in 2020
4. How confident are you in the new front office’s strategy?
Mike: I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on what has been a confusing offseason thus far. The front office seems intent on playing around the margins until they are able to make a big splash. Whether that will be a trade during the season or a move in free agency next offseason remains to be seen, but it’s clear that this front office is going to be aggressive in trying to find that second star for KAT. How successful that chase ends up being will determine how their tenure here will be remembered.
Josh: I think that long-term, Rosas and the new front office clearly know what they are doing. There is a reason why Rosas and all the subsequent hires were so lauded across the NBA. When they came on board, we knew that it would likely take at least a year before the new front office was able to make a substantial change to the long-term future of the Wolves. But this past month has been a bit like a magician claiming that he is going to a pull a rabbit out of a hat, waving his wand, and showing that it was simply a regular hat after all. We always knew it was just a hat, but for a moment we believed that something more was possible.
John: More confident than the previous regime! OK, fine, that’s a pretty low bar with how quickly the old front office went from WOW THEY GOT JIMMY BUTLER to WOW THIS WHOLE THING BLEW UP IN THEIR FACES. Rosas strikes me as an incredibly intelligent POBO who can communicate his vision clearly and connect with every part of the organization in a way that builds trust and allows him to (Thibs voice) DO HIS JOB. The way he seemed to get most if not all of the little things right in his first offseason gives me hope. The strategy to add an All-NBA type guard is the right one but time will tell if they’re just gonna sit at the table but never eat.
Kyle: Extremely. If you are more cynical than myself, I totally get that, but let’s not confuse swinging and missing with failure. The best hitters in baseball still strike out from time to time, and while the new front office took some massive cuts this summer, their “failed” results didn’t cost them any future assets (draft picks, long-term contracts, etc.).
With that said, there is still plenty of work to be done, and this summer may turn out to be a humbling (and necessary) experience for Rosas & Co. Wolves fans were teased multiple times this summer about blockbuster transactions – trading up for Garland, dumping Andrew Wiggins, acquiring Russell, etc. – and when all three moves fizzled out, the consensus was that the new regime is much more bark than bite. Only time will tell on that hypothesis, but until Rosas and his front office actually take a risk that negatively affects the team going forward, I will continue to hold out hope that walks and singles can turn into a big inning.
5. What do you think the goal of this next season is?
Mike: As long as Robert Covington and KAT are playing, they’re going to be trying to win games, and they’ll probably be mildly successful in doing so. Outside of that, the goal is likely to find a new home for one or several of Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, and Gorgui Dieng. Teague’s deal is the easiest to get off of since it’s an expiring deal, but if Minnesota can recoup any sort of value for these contracts, that’s a win heading into next offseason. Without a great shot at making the playoffs while still being too good to completely tank, it seems that trying to win as many games as you can while setting yourselves up for the future financially should be the focus of the 2019-20 season.
Josh: The Wolves failure to land a second star this season, and the subsequent pivot, imply a mini-tank. It makes complete sense when taking a cursory look at this roster, as the Wolves long-term deals are simply albatrosses. This offseason gave us an idea of how much it takes to get off of long-term contracts and doing so would hamstring the Wolves future. However, the tanking requires a bit of a smoke screen to the general public eye, which every team does, but it is a bit frustrating for those of us that simply want to watch a good basketball team.
John: We’ve touched on this already but Rosas seems intent on adding a star guard next to KAT before it’s too late. He’s going to keep trying this next season until the trade deadline passes. I guess it seems like the #1 goal is to re-establish trust with KAT and the fan base and the organization as a whole. Alignment (from top to bottom) is the popular buzz word. This might sound like some #sad #goals but it seems like they want to:
- Develop Jarrett Culver into a legitimate starting wing
- Hit on one or two of the 1-year deal guys, whom they’ll extend next offseason (Napier, Bell, Vonleh, Graham .... and I guess Wallace, too)
- Rebuild some value in Andrew Wiggins
- Get closer to the end of Gorgui’s contract, making it more movable
- Get off Teague’s money (i.e. let time pass)
- Establish a new modern style of play
- Show KAT he’s the unquestioned Alpha
- Make people feel better about the future as a whole
- Have More Fun
How do I feel about that? It is what it is.
Kyle: The Wolves will enter the 2019-2020 season with only one player currently in his 30’s (Jeff Teague), meaning they will have one of the youngest rosters in the entire league. With David Vanterpool and Pablo Prigioni now on staff, Minnesota should do everything they can to develop the young players (Culver, Nowell, Okogie, KBD) as well as the old young players (Wiggins, Dieng, KAT, etc.).
More specifically for guys like Wiggins and Dieng, every single day that those players can get even a tick better, their value (at least in my eyes) grows because it’s one less paycheck owed to them long-term. Both players enter the upcoming season with nearly rock-bottom trade value, but even developing them from toxic assets into neutral assets will give Rosas & Co. far greater ammunition as they enter what projects to be another franchise-altering offseason next summer.