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What If The ‘17-’18 Wolves Stayed Together?

Let’s imagine how things would’ve looked if the last Timberwolves team to reach postseason never fell apart.

2017-18 Minnesota Timberwolves Media Day Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

At the time of writing this piece, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 41-30 which is good for a .577 win percentage. That means they have currently surpassed the 2017-2018 Wolves team .573 win percentage. As we all know, that season was the last time they made the postseason by squeaking in as an 8th seed. The vibes seems are obviously different with this roster because, as Anthony Edwards said best, “This ain’t the Timberwolves that ain’t have no swag.” That’s to be expected if the average age on the team goes from 27.8 down to 24.2, right?

But.

What if things weren’t blown up after the 2018 playoff “run”? The national media loves to punch down on small market teams and we’ve certainly heard it all. From All-Star starter* Andrew Wiggins, to NBA Finals Jimmy Butler, the casual NBA fan might think Minnesota really screwed it things up. “They should’ve kept that band together!” In the true spirit of Canis Hoopus, I decided to look under our shoes and see what kind of poop we would have stepped on in that alternate universe.

Jimmy Butler Isn’t Traded

The common story that’s told is that Jimmy Butler asked for a max contract extension during his initial season with the Wolves, but when he didn’t receive it from then GM/coach Tom Thibodeau (more on him later), he requested a trade on the plane back home after they were eliminated from the playoffs. Instead of going with the more boring scenario of Minnesota just trading him in the offseason, let’s imagine that Thibs doesn’t trade him to the 76ers. Or at all. The same damage would have already been done with his hell-raising media act which would have likely led to him just pulling a Ben Simmons. He was already picking and choosing which games he had too much “General Soreness” to play. It would probably get to the point where he’s asked to go home to “rehab,” attempting to avoid further public humiliation. Knowing Thibs, he’d probably continue burying his head further into the sand hoping that Jimmy just “shapes up” and signs a new contract. In this scenario, he ends up walking for nothing in the summer of 2019.

Even in our reality, despite reaching a Eastern Conference Finals on a loaded team, Jimmy G. Buckets still turned into Jimmy G. Upset-Until-He-Gets-What-He-Wants and forced his way to the Miami HEAT. In return, Philadelphia only got Josh Richardson, who’s now been on 5 teams in 3 years, and was later flipped for Seth Curry (Later a piece of the Harden trade), Tyler Bey, and a trade exception. Yikes. Compare that to what the Timberwolves got for The General. Robert Covington and Dario Saric ultimately led to Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Jaden McDaniels, Leandro Bolmaro (via RoCo & #17), Taurean Prince (via #17 & Johnson -> Rubio), and Patrick Beverley (via Hernangomez & Saric -> Culver) 3 seasons later. Not bad, I’d say.

Though Jimmy ended up making it to the NBA Finals less than 2 years after departing Minnesota, it seemed that his unification with Pat Riley was inevitable. Trading him in 2018 was irrelevant to that destiny.

Tom Thibodeau Isn’t Fired

After Glen Taylor hired search firm Korn Ferry to determine a long term GM/head coach combo, the Wolves landed Tom Thibodeau in 2016. The majority of pundits were pleased with that result, if not slightly wary of his methods. There was minimal improvement in his first season at the helm (Wolves record improved by just 2 wins), but it didn’t take long for Thibs to reveal what was underneath his trench coach the whole time: A Chicago Bulls jersey. He swiftly “reshaped” the roster to his liking, acquiring former Bulls players including Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Aaron Brooks, Derrick Rose, and Luol Deng. The Minnesota Timberbulls.

Let’s pretend in this alternate reality that Tommy T remained in control long after the Butler saga. The team surprisingly surpassed expectations by playing .500 ball as they were led by the strong defensive play of Robert Covington. Unfortunately, RoCo goes down with his mystery knee injury and the Wolves likely still earn close to the 17-25 record that Ryan Saunders accumulated. Maybe they pick up an extra win or two with Thibs in command. It still would’ve been highly unlikely that the Wolves finish with the .585 win rate necessary to make the postseason that season. Thibs would also likely push his iteration of the Wolves forward for another season or two. A mediocre roster with an average age of 28+ while refusing to (purposefully) tank. Instead of the Gersson Rosas Bahama Wolves, we get a situation similar to the Sacramento Kings where they’d continually vie for a 8th-12th seed in the West. No D’Angelo Russell. No Anthony Edwards. No future.

In our universe, Tom Thibodeau was rightfully severed from the organization. Though he would drift around NBA circles with that terrifying smile, Thibs would eventually trick New York Knicks sleazebag owner James Dolan into hiring him as the head coach. Similar to what he accomplished in Minnesota, Thibs would squeeze the life out of his Knicks team to end a 8-season playoff drought. In that process, he’d even earn the 2021 Coach of the Year award! Well, in year two, his Knicks are now 5 games out of the play-in tournament. Life comes at you fast. Meanwhile Wolves head coach Chris Finch is getting national attention for 2022 Coach of the Year votes.

Andrew Wiggins Isn’t Traded

Remember the days where we clung onto summer #MuscleWatch and Drew Hanlen workout videos of Andrew Wiggins? “This is the season he finally has the opportunity to step up! Wigs has the right team and coaching staff to reach his potential!” Hey, I was right there on Wiggins Island with many of you. In all seriousness, credit where credit is due. Sure, it felt like Andrew was never going to change, but his first full season under Ryan Saunders saw some marked improvement. He saw his AST% nearly double from 10.9 to 18.1 and his eFG% jump from .461 to .502, among a few other advanced numbers. Was he turning a corner? After seemingly swinging and missing on D’Angelo Russell (and Darius Garland) in the 2019 offseason, Gersson Rosas hangs on to this new and improved version of Wiggins. I don’t imagine our final record changes much in those 13-ish games of the season and the Wolves remain in the basement of the standings. Does the outlook of the Wolves look better with the cornerstones of the franchise still based around KAT, Wiggins, and their high 2020 1st round pick?

The only constant in this world is change. Unless your name is Andrew Wiggins. In our reality, Andrew Wiggins plays alongside future NBA hall-of-famers Steph Curry and Draymond Green where he gets to do what he’s always wanted to do - quietly stand around on the basketball court and do the bare minimum required. Perhaps more importantly, he now plays for a big market team where Korean popstars cosign your players which leads to things like getting voted in as an All-Star starter. National headlines loved dunking on Minnesota for “getting fleeced” in a trade based around D’Angelo Russell and Andrew Wiggins. What’s happened since his first All-Star bid? Surprise, surprise. Andrew Wiggins has regressed back to the Andrew Wiggins we all know and love. In that stretch, he’s averaging 14.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on .400/.319/.222 shooting splits. Remember those 2019-2020 numbers I mentioned earlier of 18.1 AST% and .502 eFG%? His 2022 post-ASG numbers are down to 14.8 AST% .465 eFG%.


You can all wipe away the cobwebs off your face now. The Jimmy/Thibs/Wiggins nightmare is over and the New Wolves™ are here, and they’re real. Many times, what-ifs are just ways to torture yourself by living out fantasies that never came true. However in this case, these what-ifs are pleasant reminders of worse situations we were once in.

Then again, you don’t need the reminders.

You’re a Timberwolves fan.

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images