When Gersson Rosas took over the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2019, it was clear that massive changes were on the horizon. Under his tenure, the first season radically reshaped the Timberwolves roster, clearing out the vestige of the Tom Thibodeau era and bringing in a completely new front office and a new star to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns.
But it has been a bumpy ride. Outside of the brief excitement in the beginning of last season before teams figured out they should just double Karl-Anthony Towns and let Treveon Graham and Josh Okogie rain threes, watching the Wolves was a slog. They were simply bad and it was pretty unclear how they were going to get better.
Even when the entire roster turned over, the Wolves remained bad. Of course, Towns was out for all but one game with D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley on the court. But for many of us, it has been hard to become too excited about a Russell-Towns pairing. There is certainly the potential that the duo could bring out the best in each other, but there is a long track-record for both players that points to as many pitfalls as reasons for excitement.
It feels different now. There is that feeling in the air for Wolves fans that maybe things can change. Maybe it is a new mystery box in Anthony Edwards, convincing ourselves that this time things will be different. Maybe it is the return of Ricky Rubio, cast in a new role of the veteran leader, spiritual guide, floor general, and idol of adoration. Or maybe it’s the return of Timberwolves basketball for the first time in nearly 9 months. This is around when we get overexcited about our draft picks and a potential return to relevancy.
But maybe it will be different this time. Anthony Edwards is no Andrew Wiggins. His personality is a marked opposite and his tape reflects a much higher court awareness, handle, and passing ability than Wiggins ever displayed. Wiggins also spent the first years of his career on a terrible team in a system that cast him as the first-option on every play. We even spent nearly a year with the point-Wiggins experience in the hopes of finding a crunch-time offense.
We have seen with other wings in the NBA that this development track only works for the ultra-stars, which Wiggins failed to live up to. Hopefully, Edwards will be brought along methodically, more akin to the experience that Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum had in Boston when they were playing alongside established stars. Having Ricky Rubio along will help simplify the game and I envision the two of them playing a lot of their minutes together in the second unit that could give Edwards more leash to score but more stability and support.
Rubio is also not the elder statesman/assistant coach that Kevin Garnett or Tayshaun Prince served as at the end of their careers. Rubio just helped lead the Suns to their 8-0 bubble run and the Spanish team to the 2019 FIBA World Cup where he was the MVP. Rubio will be an important part of this team and do exactly what he does best, making mediocre teams better. He has always made teams better when he is on the court his entire career and will help this Wolves team be not-terrible. Having Rubio on board is like adding 5-10 extra free wins when he stabilizes second-units or catalyzes an offense stuck in gear.
Edwards and Rubio will also be fun in a way the Wolves have not been fun in a while. Timberwolves fans have not had enough time to build a relationship with Russell, nor any of the other new faces. Towns is an established presence at this point and the less said about Jarrett Culver’s rookie year the better. Edwards and Rubio bring the old and the new at the same time, a hope for the future and the present.
Of course, the Wolves have their work cut out for them this year. The Western Conference is incredibly competitive and nearly every team is vying for a playoff spot. There are gaping holes on the roster and the perennial questions about defensive capabilities are just as pressing. Our expectations remain tampered by the fact that Timberwolves are, well, the Timberwolves.
But it feels amazing to be excited about the Timberwolves again. To be able to watch a team that is fun and not terrible. That has not happened for a few years now and it is a worthy cause of celebration in a year filled with horror and hopelessness. It is good to be optimistic again.