Deep. Breath. Wow. It’s been the nuttiest 48 hours of transactions in Wolves history as the front office executed three trades that have almost entirely remade the roster. So much so that there are only two players remaining who were under contract with the Wolves when Gersson Rosas took over operations last May: Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie. That’s right, Josh Okogie is your second most tenured Timberwolf. Amazing.
How did we get here?
When Rosas was introduced as President of Basketball Operations he made no secret of the kind of team he envisioned: One that embraced modern basketball, played small, played fast, and took a lot of three point shots with Karl-Anthony Towns as the focal point and shooters surrounding him.
The odd thing is that his summer transactions seemed to cut against this grain. He traded one of the team’s best shooters, Dario Saric to move up in the draft where he took Jarrett Culver, a wing player with some abilities, but not much of a shooter. He signed multiple bigs—Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell, along with UDFA rookie Naz Reid—despite the stated intention of playing small ball with Robert Covington at the four spot.
Yes he took a shot at free agent point guard D’Angelo Russell, but that didn’t work out, and the Wolves were left with a roster that was ill-suited to playing the way Rosas and Ryan Saunders insisted on playing.
The results, for this and other reasons, have been disappointing. The team is 15-35, is mired in a 13 game losing streak, and their best player is taking deserved heat for his defensive failings and inability to elevate the squad.
And then this week happened.
Rosas, who as recently as last week was reminding fans that it would be a long-term project to get the team where he wants it to be, a perennially successful franchise that is consistently in contention, struck.
The week began with news of renewed interest on the part of the Wolves in acquiring Russell. That dominated their news cycle, with rumors flying about multiple picks, Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington and the like until Tuesday night, when the Wolves pivoted temporarily away from the Warriors and consummated a complicated four team trade with the Rockets, Hawks, and Nuggets.
For the Wolves, the main outgoing piece was Robert Covington, a coveted 3-and-D forward on a favorable contract. In truth, this still hurts a bit, because Cov was a fantastic player for the Wolves and is an excellent version of a valuable player type—one the Wolves could still make use of. But the writing had been on the wall for a while with him—he was always likely to go at the deadline. He was too valuable for a contender, and given his age (29) and knee issues, he just wasn’t long for the Wolves.
This is regrettable, because we all enjoyed having Covington on the team, and the Wolves will certainly miss his talents and presence.
In addition to Covington, the Wolves dispersed several of their one-year contract players around the league: Shabazz Napier (starting point guard!), Noah Vonleh, Jordan Bell, and 2018 second round draft pick Keita Bates-Diop all were sent out in the deal.
In return, the Wolves received two first round picks: Brooklyn’s lottery protected 2020 pick, and the Rockets 2020 pick. The re-routed the Rockets pick to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez, and Jarred Vanderbilt. Beasley and Hernangomez will be restricted free agents this summer, which means the Wolves can retain them if they care to, but both will likely get significant raises.
As of this morning, it appeared that the Russell ship had sailed, at least for this deadline, and the Wolves were rumored to be on the hunt for another point guard, with two-way player Jordan McLaughlin the only true point left.
And then the bombshell: The Wolves clearly had never stopped working on a D’Lo deal, and finally got the Warriors to agree to send them Russell, along with Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans, in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, a top-3 protected first rounder in 2021 (unprotected in 2022) and a 2021 second round pick.
I’m not entirely sold on Russell as a “second star” but he was Rosas’ whale, and he never stopped trolling the proverbial seas to find a way to land him, and he finally did.
And in a final move, the Wolves traded Gorgui Dieng for veteran forward James Johnson.
So after that exhaustive recap, where does that leave us?
For starters, the Wolves are now a much better shooting team. The additions of Russell and Beasley in particular should help shore up a massive weakness. In addition, Hernangomez and Spellman have shown the ability to make threes, meaning that with the return, someday, hopefully, of Jake Layman from his toe injury, they should be able to surround Towns with at least three and sometimes four other shooters. This was Rosas’ vision to begin with, and while it became blurry for a while there, it has now snapped into focus.
How they are going to fashion a playable defense out of this group remains an issue. If they continue to insist on playing small, it’s going to be tough because Towns has shown little sign of being able to thrive at that end of the court in the system they are currently employing. Hopefully they can figure something out, because while it’s clear this team is going hang its hat on offense, you have to be able to play at least passable defense to have any real success.
The other thing it leaves us with is a very young roster. For years and through different regimes, we have been preached to about patience. But this is a group that is really going to need it. With the exception of expiring contract and buy-out candidate Evan Turner, and just acquired James Johnson, there is nobody on the roster over the age of 25. Frankly they could use some veteran gravitas, but at any rate this is going to take some time, both because of the youth and because everyone is new.
The Wolves will not have cap space for the forseeable future, and are now committed to Towns, Russell, and to a lesser extent Malik Beasley. Whether that’s a good enough core to reach their goals remains to be seen, but the new roster is young and exciting, and that’s really all I can ask for.
We’ll have a lot more on these transactions, including analysis of all the new guys and what they might contribute.. There are a lot of new players to sort through as they try to figure out who will be a part of this team going forward.
It makes the rest of the season worth watching, just three days after it was feeling like one of the more depressing campaigns in a long history of them for Wolves fans. There’s a new excitement to go along with an almost wholly new roster, and we get to see whether Gersson Rosas’ vision comes to fruition.