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Minnesota Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell arrives to Target Center

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The Gamesmanship of Trading the Pick

How will the Wolves front office approach the draft?

Photo by Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via Getty Images

The Timberwolves front office has been clear that all options are on the table for the 1st overall pick. In Gersson Rosas’ tenure, the Wolves have aggressively utilized an asset-based approach to team improvement. The team also is on a particular timeline due to the contracts of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, which further indicates the Wolves may be seeking tertiary (or secondary) star by trading the 1st overall pick.

However, the team picking right after the Wolves, the Golden State Warriors, just so happens to be taking the same approach.

Objectively, this odd situation would suggest that the Wolves and the Warriors draft assets are depressed, as if both picks are for sale, then other teams are working in a more open marketplace. Teams looking to move up could aim to play the Wolves and Warriors against each other, as why spent all of your assets to move up to the first overall pick, which you could more easily move to the second pick.

However, that would require some knowledge of which player is likely to be picked first or second, or an assessment that the players picked first and second are relatively equivalent to the cost difference.

This is the Wolves advantage, as while the Warriors pick may be for sale, if a team is convinced that there is a clear-cut superstar in Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, or James Wiseman, then to ensure that you can draft that player, the Wolves are the only trade option. This is why we are going to have absolutely no indication which way the front office is leaning until draft day (or if an unlikely trade is struck prior to the draft). The Wolves may have their internal evaluations, but they will attempt to present as believing all of the top options are on the table.

This is less believable if a team wants to move up to grab Wiseman, as it is much less likely the Wolves would take a center, but by showing uncertainty between Edwards and Ball, a team with a clear preference must then engage with the Wolves to draft their choice.

This is also why the Warriors’ early press about the 2nd overall pick has highlighted how the team considers the 2nd overall pick a bridge to the future, building towards the Spurs-like franchise the team always dreamed of. Whether or not this is true, the Warriors are attempting to make the rest of the league believe they would be just as happy to grab a high-profile player like Wiseman compared to trading the pick.

Unfortunately for us Wolves fans, this just means that we are unlikely to have any indication which way the front office is leaning until draft night. This front office has proven adept at utilizing local media to present a rosy picture, or even an implausible scenario such as last year’s free agency pursuit of D’Angelo Russell, to muddy the waters regarding their upcoming plans. We can certainly expect more of the same in the coming months, as the Wolves will be rumored in every conceivable trade.

Now, if we can see through this charade in this first week after the lottery, the rest of the NBA certainly can as well. But it is also likely the optimal way to approach the upcoming draft, so we will be left wondering what the Wolves aim to do until October? November? 2025? We will certainly have ample time to debate Anthony Edwards vs LaMelo Ball vs. trading the pick.