The Minnesota Timberwolves finished the 2021-22 season in a disappointing way. Despite this, I choose to take the perspective of this season being a roaring success, given the expectations set in July and August. After his rookie season, this fan's view and goal of the season was to get Anthony Edwards to the playoffs and get him as many reps as possible. 7 total games with huge learning experiences like putting the team on his back with a fouled out KAT, hitting a clutch shot to tie the game in the final seconds, giving up the game winning layup on a bad defensive play, among others was better than I could have imagined. I fully believe Ant will come into the 22-23 season with a hunger to get back to the playoffs, and will have a better idea of what it takes to win.
My perspective on the Wolves is that Karl Anthony Towns is a top 10 talent in the NBA, but the mental hangups in his game prevent him from being a top 25 guy. If there is a way to get Towns to be your 2nd best player it is a problem for the rest of the league. That is why I came into the year wanting and hoping that Edwards would continue his upward trajectory, and I think in the 2022-23 season he may already be ready to take the role as "the guy" from KAT.
So with 2 future All Stars and All NBA guys as the pillars of the franchise the window is open. I'm a firm believer in the window can close at any time and happens sooner than anyone expects it to, but given the age of this core, it's hard to see this being anything less than a 4 year run, with the potential to be a 7 or 8 year run.
I break this core down as follows:
Anthony Edwards and Karl Anthony Towns: Your Stars and Pillars
D'Angelo Russell: Your 3rd scorer
Jaden McDaniels: Defensive Stopper / 3 and D guy
Malik Beasley: 3 point specialist
Jarred Vanderbilt: Energy/Glue guy
Naz Reid, Jaylen Nowell, and Jordan McLaughlin all fit into this timeline as well, but you can only pay so many guys; and with Naz and Nowell being on expiring deals and essentially being KAT/Ant backups and poor man's version of those players I view them as dispensable. I love both those players, but it doesn't make sense to pay a premium for players that cap out around 10 minutes a game given the minutes you want to give your stars. McLaughlin is a bit of an outlier here; backup PG is an important role, and he's on an incredibly team friendly deal so he's gonna be here through the window; but I feel a bit silly listing a backup PG as a core member of the roster.
Going into the offseason we have these 9 guys, along with Patrick Beverly and Leandro Bolmaro under contract already, and 4 draft picks in the upcoming draft. That's a full 15 man roster before even getting into resigning Taurean Prince and/or Josh Okoge. The Wolves would also have the full Mid-Level Exception at their disposal. Personally, I don't see a big enough difference between Prince and the top available free agents in Rocco and SloMo to burn the MLE, and instead would opt to use Prince's bird rights to resign him to a new deal.
Resigning Prince leaves the Wolves at 16 players following the draft. They could of course draft a draft-and-stash player to avoid this issue, but the optimal way to deal with this is to try to facilitate a trade. One trade I would love to see is a sign a trade of Josh Okoge to the Spurs. The Spurs would get Okoge, and 2 2nds (40 and 51) for Okoge's trade exception and the 25th pick. Okoge working with the shot doctor in San Antonio gives him a chance to really become a legitimate 3 and D impactful guy; and the Wolves don't have the roster space to see that experiment through.
That's pretty much all the action the Wolves can, should, and likely will do this offseason. Given the roster age and contract statuses it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to make dramatic changes. I think you wouldn't want to trade 5 of the 6 core guys I listed above, with Russell being the obvious exception to that rule.
So that gets us to the elephant in the room: What to do with D'Angelo Russell? Russell had a pretty good year all things considered last year, but flamed out in the playoffs. He will be on an expiring deal next year, so you can either trade him, sign him to a new near maximum contract, or let the asset walk for nothing. I'm going to eliminate that final option; because I don't think it ever makes sense in the NBA to let a good player go for nothing when you can prevent it. Russell, Naz Reid, and Jaylen Nowell will all be UFAs following the 22-23 season; which complicates your leverage in this scenario. In a perfect world Nowell takes a big step forward and can fill Russell's role for the most part; which would come at a cheaper price and a younger player. Given the UFA status you likely would have to extend him during the season, and prior to him proving he is ready for that responsibility; so there's risk there where there wouldn't be if he were a RFA.
The 2nd part of this discussion is what can you get for Russell? Given his down playoffs, you likely aren't getting a better player in the trade. To actually upgrade on D'lo you are attaching future assets, or fringe rotation guys like Reid, Nowell, or Bolmaro. Some deals I see as possible is:
Wizards for Kuzma/KCP
Rockets for Gordon/Wood
Utah for Gobert (would likely cost us more than D'lo)
Knicks for Randle
Clippers for Morris/Jackson
I'm not particularly fond of any of those options, the Wizards deal would really be the only one I would consider. So on the other side of the coin, what would the Wolves want for Russell? I think Atlanta for John Collins, or Indiana for Myles Turner and Hield or Brogdon would be the main two options. Neither of those teams would want, or really even have a role for Russell, so additional assets and a third team would be required. How far into the assets pool do we want to dip for this theoretical upgrade?
The other big elephant in the room is the Wolves' size. Vando is the only PF on the roster, and we saw in the playoffs energy guys don't work on that stage when every player on the court plays with 100% energy. The Wolves desperately need to upgrade this position, both to push Vando to the bench, but also to have a contingency plan for KAT when he gets in foul trouble in the playoffs.
Given this I think acquiring Turner or Collins is what the Wolves should strongly look at. I think the Knicks make sense as the natural Russell landing spot given their roster and historical inability to find a PG. So what assets can be pried from the Knicks to flip to Atlanta or Indy? There's not a whole lot there. The best deal I can come up with is:
Wolves receive: John Collins, Kemba Walker (most likely waived), #44 (from Atlanta)
Knicks receive: D'Angelo Russell, #19 (from Wolves)
Hawks receive: Leandro Bolmaro, Alex Burks, Nerlens Noel, #11 (from NY) #40 (from MIN) 2024 FRP (from MIN)
There just doesn't seem to be enough there for Atlanta to even consider this deal. They would need to get a PF back in this deal I think, and Minnesota and New York just don't have one available to deal. If the Hawks did acceot this trade or one similar the Wolves could either roll with Bev as the starting PG, or use the MLE on Ricky Rubio or Tyus Jones. The worst option would be to keep Kemba and have a Beverly/Kemba/McLaughlin PG rotation; but this would save the MLE for a better free agent class in the future.
What do you think Canis? Is exploring the Russell trade market worth it? Or do you hope with 3 draft picks you can solve the PF problem? Do you give Russell an extension? Do you flip him for veteran parts to avoid paying him his 3rd contract?