Seeing Gersson Rosas blow up the 2020 Minnesota Timberwolves may have been the highlight of last season. The team was languishing at the bottom of the Western Conference. Karl-Anthony Towns was some combination of unhappy, suspended, and/or hurt all of the (COVID-19 shortened) season. It became abundantly clear Andrew Wiggins was never going to figure it out and all those minor offseason acquisitions weren’t moving the needle.
Sure, Rosas made a lot of the mess but he also didn’t let his pride prevent him from attempting to clean it up. Malik Beasley, D’Angelo Russell, and Juancho Hernangomez were fresh faces. All in all, Rosas moved eight players from his opening night roster between January 16 and the February 6 trade deadline.
Did it work? If you look at their 4-11 record, the answer is pretty clearly “not really.” The Timberwolves were 15-34 (.306) at the deadline and won just .266 of their games after. A lot of that had to do with Towns’ absence, but the point was probably to try something different. We could all see it wasn’t working and needed a change. Many general managers would hold onto to their mistakes because they were too proud to admit they were mistakes.
A Tale Of Two Trade Deadlines
Flash forward to Thursday’s trade deadline — the Timberwolves are 10-34, making them proud owners of the league’s worst record. They are also ranked 26th in both offensive and defensive ratings. This team is oddly top-five in blocks and steals, but aside from ranking third in field goal attempts per game, there is nothing else they do well relative to the rest of the league.
If the 2020 Timberwolves deserved a swift and decisive dismantling, certainly this season’s team does too, right? Yet, in my opinion it’s actually okay that the Timberwolves didn’t make a move at this season’s deadline.
Turning over three-quarters of a roster midseason is not always a wise decision. This franchise has been searching for continuity and certain players have begun to gel together. Resetting all that after a midseason coaching change would have set the cohesion process back further. According to Jon Krawczcynski of The Athletic, the team wants to wait for the return of D’Angelo Russell to see how everyone looks together before making additional transaction decisions.
Personally, I don’t think Russell adds enough to make a wait worthwhile. It’s easier for me to see how Beasley slots back with the team than Russell without taking possessions from Anthony Edwards. I also get Russell and Towns are buddies, so they would likely have to show Towns based on on-court performance that this doesn’t work. The Timberwolves also gave up what is likely a high first-round pick for Russell, so it’s not unimaginable they want to exhaust all options.
By now, we all know the Timberwolves were rumored to be in the mix for players like Aaron Gordon. The Nuggets acquired Gordon for Garry Harris, R.J. Hampton, and a 2025 first-round pick. Parting with these assets makes more sense for a team like Denver than it does Minnesota. The Timberwolves version of that offer seems something like Beasley (or Ricky Rubio), Jaden McDaniels, and a 2025 first-round pick.
The Nuggets are fringe contenders with an MVP candidate. They can sacrifice a prospect like Hampton for a player who helps them win now like Gordon. A lot can change in four years, but that pick from Denver is a likely late or mid-first-round pick at best. For a team that thinks it’s entering its window, this move makes sense.
Now, should a rebuilding team trade first-round picks in back-to-back seasons? Absolutely not. If the Timberwolves were at the top of the conference, maybe they wouldn’t need Jaden McDaniels, but as mentioned above, they are not. A player like Gordon would have improved this team but would it have been enough to part with a prospect they like? Gordon is a nice player but it’s not like he would have added 20 wins or something to this team’s expected outlook.
If you are going to mortgage the future with the league’s worst record, you should probably receive an even more impactful player than Gordon. It’s not like a player like that was available anyway.
Where Does This Leave the Wolves?
While Rosas swings for the fences, it seems like his conversations were on a smaller scale. Moving Ricky Rubio to a team in need of a point guard could have made sense, but it’s not the end of the world that he’s still a Timberwolf. They could still move him in the offseason or by the next deadline on an expiring contract if they were so inclined.
Otherwise, it seems like Jarrett Culver or Ed Davis — two players the team has had little use for this season — could have comprised some on-the-fringe moves. But that probably means trading your DNP-CD for someone else’s DNP-CD. In other words, none of these deals were moving the needle much.
There’s no doubt this roster needs more talent — that part is abundantly clear. Part of that will come from young players improving and the team’s core having time together. Another part of that will be reconfiguring this roster over the summer. Seeing Rosas make another big move would have been exciting, but sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make. Certainly, there are many more moves in this team’s (very near) future.