Happy Saturday! As the NBA continues to formulate options to resume the 2019-2020 season (with or without the remaining regular season games), the staff here at Canis Hoopus has been exploring a handful of “what if” scenarios that could have altered the course of Minnesota Timberwolves history forever. What if the Wolves had just gotten along? What if the trade for Jimmy Butler had looked different? What if the Wolves didn’t pass on Stephen Curry (just kidding, I never want to talk about that situation ever again).
Despite a lack of fresh NBA news to write about and discuss, the beauty of the “what if” game is that it gives you an opportunity to reflect back on how one specific decision could have greatly altered both the present (and the future) in so many ways. And when it comes to Minnesota, the “what if” game is even more “enjoyable” because very few teams have made as many historical mistakes (free agency, drafting, head coaches, etc.) as our beloved Timberwolves.
While not necessarily a mistake, all of the chatter this week about “what if” got me to thinking...
What if the Wolves had drafted Darius Garland?
Let’s first flash back to the summer of 2019 (truly a case of “back in the good old days”). With new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas leading the way, the Wolves entered the 2019 draft with a late lottery pick and a collection of misfit toys that didn’t really fit what Rosas envisioned for his new team.
Enter the Phoenix Suns:
Minnesota has traded No. 11 and Dario Saric to Phoenix for the No. 6 pick in the draft, league source tells ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 20, 2019
Minutes before the draft started, Woj blew up our phones with the news that Gersson’s first major move as president was swapping pick #11 for pick #6 (while also throwing in disgruntled big man Dario Saric). Leading up to the draft, rumors were circulating that Rosas had his eyes on the prize (rookie point guard Darius Garland out of Vanderbilt) and was ready to make any move necessary to land his franchise PG.
As you probably remember, the top three in last year’s draft was pretty set — Zion Williamson was the no-brainer to go #1, Ja Morant was the obvious choice at #2, and the New York Knicks “had zeroed in” on RJ Barrett at #3. This meant (at least at the time), that in order for Rosas to land his guy, not only would he have to move up, but he would have to move up pretty high, which Woj confirmed in a follow-up grenade:
Minnesota president Gersson Rosas tried to get to No. 4, No. 5 and finally moved up to No. 6. https://t.co/92ro1J5uP3— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 20, 2019
With the draft “realistically” starting at #4 with the New Orleans Pelicans (who acquired this pick as part of the Anthony Davis trade with the Los Angeles Lakers but then sent it to the Atlanta Hawks in a separate deal), Rosas was leaving no stone unturned as he attempted to go grab Garland. With both the Hawks (and Cleveland Cavaliers at #5) sitting in front of him, Rosas was ultimately left to wait his turn and just hope that the apple of his eye would miraculously still be around at pick #6.
Atlanta is pursuing Virginia's DeAndre Hunter with the No. 4 pick, league sources tell ESPN. Atlanta GM Travis Schlenk makes a big move in lottery second year in a row to get his man. Last year, it was Trae Young. This time, DeAndre Hunter.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 20, 2019
Barring a trade, the Cavaliers are focused on Vandy guard Darius Garland with the No. 5 pick, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 21, 2019
Damn. After aggressively moving up to chase what they believed was their next franchise point guard, the Wolves were left at the alter, as Garland was selected by Cleveland at #5. Not to be outdone, Rosas immediately picked up one of his many phones yet again:
Minnesota is engaged in multiple conversations on the No. 6 pick acquired in the deal with Phoenix, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 20, 2019
Did Rosas realize he had made a mistake? Was the new POBO already in over his head? Or was the Daryl Morey understudy simply just performing due diligence to make sure that he couldn’t squeeze value out of another desperate franchise?
Ultimately, the Wolves stood pat and selected another highly touted college prospect at #6:
Minnesota is focused on Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver, league source tells ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 21, 2019
By now we all know that it was a fairly up-and-down rookie campaign for the kid out of Lubbock, Texas. In 63 games, Culver averaged just 9.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 23 minutes a game, but what REALLY stood out was how disappointing (and NSFW) his jump shot was. While he did shoot a semi-respectable 40.2% from the field, Culver connected on only 29% of his 3PA’s and (close your eyes, kids) shot a truly unbelievable 46% at the free throw line.
Let’s flash back to the purpose of this whole post (and by the way, I’m still buying Culver stock if you’re looking to sell) — WHAT IF THE WOLVES WOULD HAVE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO SELECT DARIUS GARLAND? The list of possible questions is endless:
- With Garland on the roster, does Gersson Rosas pivot from his desire to acquire D’Angelo Russell in free agency?
- If Rosas was no longer interested in Towns’ best friend, how does that affect Karl and his attitude going forward?
- If Russell no longer was a priority, does that increase the likelihood of Rosas paying up to keep Apple Valley’s own (Tyus Jones) on the team to mentor Garland?
- Speaking of mentoring — would the relationship between Garland and Robert Covington have played a role in RoCo’s fate with the team?
- If RoCo doesn’t get traded, do we ever get the chance to fall in love with Malik Beasley?
- Does “Jordan McLaughlin” ever become a thing?
- If the Wolves did land Garland (and presumably no longer wanted DLO), does that mean Andrew Wiggins is still repping a Wolves uniform when the NBA returns this summer/fall?
- Did writing the last bullet point cause me to get up from my keyboard and pour a way-too-early glass of morning wine?
I’ve thought about this hypothetical all week, and to be quite honest, I don’t really have a good answer for most (if not all) of those questions. Maybe Rosas knew all along that acquiring Russell was the key to keeping Towns happy, and that whoever he selected in the draft would ultimately be leveraged in additional trades down the road. After all, while a Garland/Russell backcourt would have been all sorts of fun to watch on one end of the court, it would have been all sorts of extra NOT fun to watch on the other.
Who knows! But as we continue to look back at the past while accepting the present and embracing the future, it’s fun to think about how one singular move in the summer of 2019 could have drastically changed the trajectory of the franchise — for better or worse.