The 2020-21 NBA season officially came to a close last Tuesday after the Milwaukee Bucks (OUR Milwaukee Bucks) closed out the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns. The end of the Finals usually signals a few weeks to recharge before the NBA Draft and free agency kick-off, but this season (because of the condensed schedule due to COVID-19), that period of relaxation will last... all of 8-9 days.
In other words, goodbye 2020-21 season, HELLO 2021-22 SEASON! While the Minnesota Timberwolves will enter the NBA Draft this Thursday without a first or second round pick, that doesn’t mean we can’t still jump into offseason mode and break down what to expect, what we’d personally like to see happen, etc.
Without further ado, let’s break down some of the biggest questions facing the Wolves as we prepare for yet another franchise-altering offseason...
1. What would Minnesota need to do for you to consider the off-season to be “successful?”
Jack Borman: Push some of their chips into the middle by acquiring an impactful rotation player, preferably at the 4 or on the wing. Minnesota just cannot return the same roster next season betting on staying healthy and see what happens. Given the current internal turmoil within the organization, Gersson Rosas may be on thinner ice than the public believes, and the time is ticking quickly on him to make a splash. Whether that be Ben Simmons, a player I mention in the next section, or an impact free agent with the Mid-Level Exception (MLE), now is the time for the Wolves to put up or shut up.
The Blazers are a ticking time bomb; the Spurs will fall off the map; the Pelicans are a disaster; Jamal Murray will be out until after the All-Star Break; the Lakers roster is abhorrent outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis; Kawhi Leonard will likely miss the entire season; Chris Paul could very feasibly leave the Suns or hamstring them with a massive salary; and finally, the Mavericks’ roster will be getting more expensive with Tim Hardaway Jr. hitting free agency and new President of Basketball Operations Nico Harrison looking to make a major splash. If all of this doesn’t open up a good opportunity for the Wolves to make a move to get into the 6-8 seed conversation, I don’t know what will. The Wolves need to quit sitting on their hands and live up to the “aggressive” trade mindset they’ve boasted about for the last couple of seasons.
Leo Sun: Avoid any type of drama. I’m going to lump *knocks on the biggest piece of lumber in the state of California* physical drama such as injuries to this as well. There have been a plethora of controllable and uncontrollable reasons for the lack of continuity that the Wolves experienced in recent years and I think that is a huge reason for their on-court failures. Although I understand that a 23-49 team shouldn’t just be standing pat and waiting for wins to sprout from the ground, I do think that the stereotypical “building a culture” narrative is important. I’m on the slightly optimistic camp about the leadership we have in both the front office and roster that I think if we push forward without an internal meltdown (See: Blazers, Portland) or long-term injuries, we’ll really begin to see more positive results next season. At least I hope.
Mike O’Hagan: I’m not quite as pessimistic about the rest of the Western Conference as Jack, but I do think it’s time to finally balance the roster out a bit. I have enjoyed what Malik Beasley has brought to the team on the court, but the Timberwolves have plenty of offense-first or offense-only players. It may not be time to go “all-in” per se, but it is time to up the ante a bit. I know it’s important for small market teams to make good use of their draft picks for cheap, controllable talent, but if Minnesota doesn’t think they’ll get a reliable PF for the MLE, attaching a pick or two to Beasley to go get that guy would be wise.
Basically, I don’t want this front office to simply “run it back.” The end of last season was nice, but ultimately it’s hard to know just how much to make of that 20-or-so game sample size of .500 play. They need to do something to balance out and improve this roster. I also wouldn’t be upset if the Wolves gave up a future pick to get back into the draft this year.
Brendan Hedtke: It’s actually quite simple for me. Keep the “Core Four” of Towns, Russell, Edwards, and McDaniels in place and you’ve had yourself a successful summer. I’m not saying the roster is perfect, or anywhere close for that matter, but too many times we have witnessed NBA teams mortgage their assets for a few extra wins and it almost never turns out good. Maintaining those core pieces is how you get a C in my grade book. We saw the team play very well down the stretch last season, even without Malik Beasley.
With some baked-in progression from Edwards and McDaniels, Towns being 100% healthy, and more cohesion between the key contributors, the Wolves could potentially find themselves around the .500 mark with minimal roster moves. If we want to talk about landing on the B or A honor roll, then finding yourself a good fitting power forward and a bit more size/defense on the wing would do it. They don’t have to be stars, but quality role players in those spots would be a huge accomplishment for Rosas and Co. this offseason. I’d be willing to give up Malik Beasley to find one or both of these things, but it takes two to tango.
John Meyer: Where’s the beef!? I’ll consider it a success, given the limitations with the current cap sheet, if they add some legitimate size/skill/muscle that can play meaningful minutes next to Towns and on the second unit. I’m talking about a rim-protecting and rebounding presence who provides strength and actual resistance in the middle; some sort of interior defensive presence is badly needed. I’m not sure how much longer the Wolves can run out these small-ball 4s next to Karl as if something different is going to happen defensively with this group.
More minutes with Naz Reid could help, and Naz is a super intriguing youngster they will definitely have to explore different lineup combinations with, but the Wolves need some legit meat either way. And I’m not talking about signing another Ed Davis type—no diss to the great Ed—just to see DNP’s all season. This team is way too easy to attack at the rim. They get pounded in the paint. Fix that.
2. Aside from Ben Simmons, Myles Turner, and John Collins, are there any specific players you’d like to see Minnesota target via trade?
Jack Borman: Larry Nance Jr. and Cam Reddish. Nance Jr. is a rugged 4-man who is a good playmaker for his size at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, can knock down open 3s, and is an excellent defender because of his strength and 7-foot-1 wingspan. With PF/C Evan Mobley the likely selection on Thursday night, Nance Jr. will be moved to the bench and likely available for the right price.
As for Reddish, the 21-year-old wing is reportedly available for a first-round pick, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. The Timberwolves should be all over this. Minnesota has very limited size on the wing. Malik Beasley is 6-foot-4, 185 pounds; Josh Okogie is 6-foot-4, 215 pounds; Jaylen Nowell is 6-foot-4, 200 pounds; Jarrett Culver has great size at 6-foot-6, 195 pounds, but is likely a trade candidate; Juancho Hernangomez is 6-foot-9, but is just 215 pounds; Jaden McDaniels and Anthony Edwards are the only real rotation guys with good size on the wing for the Wolves. Reddish is 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, and offers excellent lateral quickness, length (7-foot-1 wingspan), and hands, to go with a beautiful shooting stroke and an exciting downhill mindset he put on display for the Hawks in the playoffs. Not to mention, he already has Edwards’ approval.
Anthony Edwards was asked back in high school who the hardest player he had ever guarded was.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) March 22, 2021
His answer? Cam Reddish.
Would be fun to see them suit up next to one another pic.twitter.com/9HBBueAqqT
Leo Sun: Does targeting a lifetime contract extension for Ricky Rubio count? I’m kidding (actually I’m not). If we’re talking about other realistic trade targets, I really think there’s an opportunity to take advantage of the glut of frontcourt players in Orlando. Jonathan Isaac, who hasn’t played basketball in forever, is about to start a 4-year $69.6M contract (flat $17.4M per year) and although his health concerns make him an extremely risky long-term risk, the payoff could be huge as he would fill the biggest needs of this team. I, like a lot of Canis, have an infatuation with Chuma Okeke who really proved himself as a quality 3&D player. Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba don’t make as sense as they’d have to play behind your modern-day Duncan/Robinson in KAT/Naz, but I’ve been fans of both these players at varying points in the past as well. All 3 of these players are still on their rookie-scale contracts.
Mike O’Hagan: Well, with the recent news that Pascal Siakam is at least somewhat available, the Wolves might as well make that call and see if they can get in the ball game. That’s doubtful, though, and I would also love the Larry Nance, Jr. idea. He’d be a phenomenal fit on this roster as someone who can defend, rim-run, and pass. Jack and Leo mentioned many of the other players I’d be interested in, but of players who haven’t been suggested yet, the Harrison Barnes suggestion from Bleacher Report would top my list. As the resident LeBron stan in the group, Harry B is arguably the Greatest Warrior of All-Time to me. He wouldn’t fix all of the Wolves’ problems, but he’d fix many of them with his versatility defensively and strong outside shooting. Also, I’ll be brave enough to mention Kyle Kuzma, depending on what the Lakers are looking for in return as sort of a Harry B-lite.
I’m not sure how he would take going from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, but I think he would help this team as a capable two-way player. The Lakers are evidently shopping Kuz to pretty much every team in the league, and I wouldn’t completely hate either on this team, although they’d admittedly be significantly lower on my list than the guy's Jack and Leo (Orlando is a fascinating team to watch this offseason) mentioned. I’m blaming them for taking the good answers and forcing me to resort to Kuz. I’ve seen the Kuz-discourse on Twitter enough to know how the comments will turn out on this suggestion.
On a cheaper deal, and more in line with ideas that won’t get me banished from this site, either Jeff or JaMychal Green, as well as Nicolas Batum would be a really nice fit here as well, although I imagine they might get chased by championship contenders. Nance and Barnes would still be my first choices of the non-star options, though, by a mile.
Brendan Hedtke: Just a couple of weeks ago, I penned a piece that detailed three “mid-tier” options to fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns. Those players were Brandon Clarke, Maxi Kleber, and PJ Washington.
Who are some mid-tier targets that could fill the void next to Karl-Anthony Towns?— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) July 15, 2021
Great stuff here from @B_HedtkeNBA https://t.co/7r5RTbG9dj
Outside of those three, there are a few more names that would get me more excited for next season. The first name is one that Jack mentioned above: Larry Nance Jr. I’ve talked about Nance’s fit on the Wolves numerous times dating back to the pre-trade deadline 2021. I won’t go into deep detail, but Nance is a player who knows his role and is a star in that role. He may be often forgotten on a middling team like the Cavaliers, but surrounded by talent like Towns, Russell, and Edwards, he could be the glue that holds it all together.
Another player that I would thoroughly enjoy in Minnesota would be Sacramento’s Harrison Barnes. Barnes would slot in nicely next to Towns in the frontcourt. This past season, he averaged 16.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per night while shooting 56.7% from two and 39.1% from three on 4.4 attempts. Minnesota has tried a number of smaller power forwards next to Towns over the years and they have all failed at solving the never-ending puzzle. Barnes certainly isn’t a massive player (6’8”, 225 pounds), but he measures out better than previous attempts like Robert Covington (6’7”, 209 pounds), Jaden McDaniels (6’9”, 185 pounds), and Josh Okogie (6’4”, 213 pounds). Barnes’ size puts him in a category with the one power forward who seemingly did work next to Towns in Taj Gibson, who is 6’9 and 232 lbs. Outside of size, Minnesota has also lacked rebounding at the power forward spot. Barnes pulled down 6.6 rebounds per night last season, which would certainly help the Wolves’ rebounding woes.
John Meyer: A lot of interesting names have already been discussed. I’ll continue to hope and dream of frontcourt players who can actually compliment Towns. That sounds like such a basic wish, doesn’t it? If I had to throw out a random trade target—realistic or not—a sign-and-trade for Richaun Holmes would be sweet. Those two would kick ass together! (I think.)
3. Let’s assume finding KAT’s frontcourt partner is priority number one, what comes next on the list, for you?
Jack Borman: Add size and shooting on the wing. Like I mentioned above with Cam Reddish, he’d be a perfect fit in Minnesota. It’s been reported that Utah could potentially move off of a role player such as Joe Ingles or Royce O’Neale in exchange for a first-round pick (a casualty of signing Rudy Gobert to a horrid five-year, $205M contract). Both would fit perfectly in Minnesota with their defensive versatility and shooting, while Ingles’ secondary playmaking would be a huge boost for the Wolves if Ricky Rubio doesn’t return and they need D’Angelo Russell to split time with the 1s and 2s like he did after returning from injury.
Leo Sun: Figuring out the wing situation. We know that D’Lo and Ant aren’t going anywhere and although it’s not written in stone that Ricky or JMac will be back, I would guess at least one of them will be. That said, what do we do with Beasley, Okogie, Nowell, and Culver? Will we go out guns blazing (no pun intended) with Malik and Ant at the 2/3? Is Big Mac going to be SF of the future (yes please)? Either way, there’s a bigger than necessary pool of one-way players so trimming a lot of that fat off the roster is high on my list of priorities.
Mike O’Hagan: I think Jack and Leo nailed it. They have to upgrade on the wing. They have plenty of options, or question marks, on the wing, depending on your point of view. Outside of what we think Jaden McDaniels will be, the wing rotation is chock-full of one-way players. They have to start making decisions on guys like Okogie and Culver, although I’d imagine Culver’s fate in MN is all but decided. If this team wants to be serious about playing meaningful basketball late into the season, it’s time to find a way to upgrade on the wing.
Other than that, I think they have to pick a lane for what type of team they want to be defensively. Is this a team that’s going to continue trying to play a deep drop? Will they bring KAT to the level of the screen, or even switch? Can they make this roster versatile enough to play a mix of coverages defensively? That’s what I want to see.
Brendan Hedtke: I’d love to come here with a fresh idea and not follow suit with the rest of the crew so far, but it is insanely obvious that the Wolves need some two-way players on the wing, preferably with some size. These players don’t have to be stars or even starters for that matter, but they need to be able to contribute on both ends. I’d love to find a way to get Robert Covington back to Minnesota and playing a bench role. Danny Green would be another great player to have on the team. The trouble is, 3&D players come at a premium price, and Minnesota will struggle to attain those players. But, that doesn’t they should be aggressive in their attempts.
John Meyer: The other thing to mention in this space is quite simply internal development. What a boring answer for those imagining big-time moves, but it’s an undeniably crucial summer for the Wolves to straight up get better in-house without a ton of flexibility to tweak the roster. They have to grow from within and jell with the core they’ve got to some degree. I don’t see a lot of room for growth next season unless the youth that’s already in place takes some serious steps forward.
4. How much faith do you have in the current core being able to get Minnesota back into the playoff picture in 2021-22?
Jack Borman: It’d be difficult for Minnesota to have worse injury luck than they did last season. Throw in the Western Conference outlook I laid out above, and you’ve got yourself a damn good opportunity to make some noise and get back into the top-10 teams in the West. I have a good amount of faith in Minnesota at the very least being in the playoff picture (top-10); they have more top-end talent than teams like New Orleans, Memphis, San Antonio, Sacramento, Oklahoma City, and Houston. If they simply play up to the talent level they have, that’s a play-in berth right there. With a great offensive mind in Chris Finch now leading the pack, and Anthony Edwards hopefully taking another leap, I feel confident Minnesota will be playing meaningful basketball into April.
Leo Sun: If someone walked up to me and said, “Hey how much faith do you have in the Wolves making the playoffs next year,” my very first reaction would be to put my hands up in a field goal post shape just inside my shoulders and say, “Eh... About this much.” As the resident expert of quantifying scientific data in imaginary between-hand spaces, that amount of space is equal to roughly 31.6%. It’s unlikely, but there’s certainly a shot. That belief is largely based on KAT’s health, Finch’s coaching, Ant’s progression, and Ricky’s continued leadership.
Mike O’Hagan: Sometimes I feel like the resident pessimist in the group, but barring a significant move to upgrade the wing/PF spots, I’m just not very confident. It just feels to me like we are putting all of our optimistic eggs into the last 20-or-so games of the 2020-21 season while banking on growth from Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels. Those guys should get better, but growth isn’t always linear and I get a little nervous counting on second-year players to the degree Minnesota will be. I think the current roster is fine. The value in relation to the cap situation they’re in is ugly, but I don’t think they’re that far away. They need at least one more impact guy to be taken seriously as a team who could realistically challenge for a playoff spot, in my opinion, although the play-in tournament does change that calculus a little bit.
Brendan Hedtke: I like to think of myself as one of the most optimistic voices in Wolves land and that isn’t changing any time soon. I believe with relative health, the Wolves will find themselves in at least a play-in position. The offense will be good. I mean REALLY good. The talent on that side of the floor is unquestionable and it will be coupled with a full offseason of Chris Finch’s hands all over the playbook. If the team figures out how to scrap their way to a top 20 defense, then the results will be very promising.
Meyer: Playoffs? Smart money is on no, but I’ll always have faith and believe ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. If Ant and Jaden take massive steps forward, KAT and D’LO stay healthy, Beasley comes back and sticks around, and the rest of the roster comes together with various guys shining in their roles, I think it’s certainly possible.
5. Was there anything you saw this postseason to apply to the way the Timberwolves should alter their scheme or roster construction?
Jack Borman: Playing in a drop will kill you if you don’t have excellent length, size, and defensive awareness on the wing. Minnesota would be much better off leaning on their three hyper-versatile defenders in Okogie, McDaniels, and Jarred Vanderbilt (as well as Towns, who is a better defender in space than he is in the paint) and switching as much as they possibly can. A drop just didn’t work for the Timberwolves last season, even when McDaniels came on strong as a back-side 4 that played the “Giannis” role in the scheme for the Wolves. That’s not to say they shouldn’t completely abandon the drop, but it shouldn’t be the primary defensive scheme they deploy.
Leo Sun: Nope. I fully believe we have/will develop the perimeter scoring/creation talent in Ant and D’Lo that was so necessary for teams like the Suns or Clippers to thrive. We also have athletic freaks like Jaden McDaniels and Karl-Anthony Towns to make up for the rest which a team like the Bucks have. Okay maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but I don’t think we’re on some Tommy T crash course with the harsh reality of modern basketball either.
Mike O’Hagan: I think it just reinforced for me that this team has a long way to go. They have to figure out what position Karl-Anthony Towns plays defensively. He’s been inconsistent playing drop coverage, but I took note of how Milwaukee brought Brook Lopez further up towards the level of the screen without entirely abandoning their drop coverage and thought that might be something Minnesota could try. That was a nice adjustment to see that might work here.
I also became a bit warier of Towns as a PF defensively. Can he navigate screens against smaller 4s? Watching John Collins in Atlanta brought this to my attention. Would a frontline of KAT with another big be able to punish small lineups on the glass enough to make up for that hole? The Wolves just have a lot of questions to answer on that end of the floor, and a lot of it starts with KAT. Ultimately, how they address their defensive issues will probably determine how much this unit improves next season.
Brendan Hedtke: For me, these playoffs affirmed that the Wolves made the right pick in 2020’s draft. Year after year, players that can take over a game with the ball in their hands usually come out on top. We saw Devin Booker, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Trae Young, and many others shine on the brightest stage.
As for scheme-wise, I think that these playoffs showed how much good coaching mattered. Sure, the Bucks won the title with some questionable moves by Mike Budenholzer, but he truly coached well in the Finals to get that ring. Monty Williams, Ty Lue, and Nate McMillan all put on coaching masterpieces in the postseason and led their teams on deep runs. Perhaps Chris Finch can do the same for Minnesota.
Thoughts? Criticisms? Concerns? Leave your responses below and let’s discuss what we think the upcoming offseason will look like for the Timberwolves.