About a week ago, Timberwolves fans around the world linked arms and braced for the ensuing onslaught of slander that was coming their way. Andrew Wiggins, the former supposed savior of the the Wolves, shined in the NBA finals and played a key role during the Golden State Warriors fourth championship run in the past seven years.
That meant Wiggins would become the third former “face of the franchise” to win a ring within two seasons of being traded away, joining Kevin Love and Kevin Garnett.
Oh, how the media had a field day with those “Minnesota is a trash franchise that always trades All-Stars too early!” takes. To be fair, the evidence seemed stacked in their favor. Aside from those three, one could easily recall when legendary Timberwolves lottery pick, Corey Brewer, won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. That’s right. In his first season after being traded away (He was part of the convoluted Carmelo deal that resulted in him getting cut by New York before getting signed by Dallas), he had a hand in helping the Mavericks raise their first ever championship banner.
Though the correlation is a few more degrees separated, Ricky Rubio also presents a similar case. After the former number five pick spent six seasons in Minnesota, he got his first playoff experience (including a first round victory) with the Utah Jazz in 2018, just one summer removed from getting traded. Fast forward another year, Rubio would lead the Spanish national team to a FIBA World Cup championship and even earn tournament MVP honors.
That should do it, right? Surely, the Minnesota Timberwolves must be a cursed franchise where every former lottery pick that’s traded goes on to win a championship after leaving.
In fact, I present to you eight players in my recent memory who have bucked this trend.
1) Rashad McCants
Draft class: 2005 - 14th pick
Timberwolves peak: 2007-2008; Averaged 14.9 points per game on .453/.407/.748 splits. Wolves finished 22-60.
Trade return: Bobby Brown & Sheldon Williams (Sacramento Kings)
Career result: McCants played 24 games for Sacramento to wrap up his rookie contract before bouncing around on training camp and overseas rosters. Though he never played another NBA game, McCants eventually played in Ice Cube’s inaugural BIG3 season (2017). He also wore funny face masks to every game! He ended up winning a championship during his first season as well as championship MVP honors. Wait... does that count?
2) Randy Foye
Draft class: 2006 - 7th pick
Timberwolves peak: 2008-2009; Averaged 16.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. Wolves finished 24-58.
Trade return: Ricky Rubio (Washington Wizards)
Career result: Foye went on to have a fruitful career as a journeyman, playing eight more seasons for six different teams. Though his average numbers never usurped his best days in Minnesota, “4th Quarter Foye” still had some memorable moments including a game winner for his hometown Brooklyn Nets during his final campaign in 2016. The 38-year-old “shoint guard” has been off the radar since then.
3) Jonny Flynn
Draft class: 2009 - 6th pick
Timberwolves peak: 2009-2010; Averaged 13.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.0 steals per game. Wolves finished 15-67.
Trade return: Brad Miller, Malcolm Lee, and cash to pay off Kurt Rambis (Houston Rockets)
Career result: Oh, boy. After a solid rookie season that culminated in 2nd team All-Rookie team honors, Flynn suffered a debilitating hip injury prior to the start of his sophomore season. This is the same type of injury that has doomed the careers of similar small guards in NBA history. After getting sent off to Houston, he lasted just 29 more games in his NBA. He ultimately failed to resurrect his career overseas in China, Australia, and Italy, last seen in action in 2014.
4) Wes Johnson
Draft class: 2010 - 4th pick
Timberwolves peak: 2010-2011; Averaged 9.0 points and 1.4 stocks per game. Wolves finished 17-65.
Trade return: Lorenzo Brown and cash considerations (Phoenix Suns)
Career result: After being dumped for essentially cap space, Johnson played just one season with Phoenix before toiling five years away in Los Angeles with both the Lakers and Clippers. He fluctuated between a starter and a bench player, but was never more than just a defensive specialist. Johnson ended his playing career in 2019, but surprisingly popped up on the Clippers coaching staff last season. That said, he was most remembered for some gaffes on the basketball court like getting embarrassed by James Harden, or this:
5) Derrick Williams
Draft class: 2011 - 2nd pick
Timberwolves peak: 2012-2013; Averaged 12.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.1 stocks per game. Wolves finished 31-51.
Trade return: Luc Mbah a Moute (Sacramento Kings)
Career result: Williams, much like Rashad McCants, wrapped up his rookie contract with a season and a half in Sacramento. The Knicks offered him his final multi-year contract (2 years, $10M), but he ended up bouncing around five different teams in the next four years. The “Caged Lion” struggled to get playing time, never surpassing 20 minutes per game, as the modern NBA game seemed to pass him up. Williams never rounded out his three point shooting and never found a home as his NBA days ended in 2018. However, he did find success overseas with a number of different teams in recent years, including a championship with Bayern Munich of the Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) in 2019. Shoot... I guess that makes him a champion too.
6) Zach LaVine
Draft class: 2014 - 13th pick
Timberwolves peak: 2016-2017; Averaged 18.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game on .459/.387/.836 shooting splits. Wolves finished 31-51.
Trade return: Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls)
Career result: LaVine made a full recovery from a torn ACL that may have scared the Wolves enough to choose Wiggins over him during the Jimmy Butler trade. He has ascended to become one of the NBA’s premier scorers and still likely has his best days ahead of him. LaVine, still just 27 years old, earned two straight All-Star nods in the last two seasons.
7) Kris Dunn
Draft class: 2016 - 5th pick
Timberwolves peak: 2016-2017; Averaged 3.8 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.5 stocks per game. Wolves finished 31-51.
Trade return: Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls)
Career result: The counterpart to LaVine in the Butler trade, has not had quite the same career arc. A plethora of injuries has kept Dunn from from seeing the court consistently enough, averaging just over 33 games per season in his five years after leaving Minnesota. His potential as a feisty point-of-attack defender earned a reported two-year $10 million contract, but he was eventually waived due to his health woes. He’s now struggling to make a roster, relegated to mostly 10-day contracts.
Draft class: 2019 - 6th pick
Timberwolves peak: 2019-2020; Averaged 9.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.5 stocks per game. Wolves finished 19-45.
Trade return: Patrick Beverley (Memphis Grizzlies)
Career result: At times, Gersson Rosas’ favorite draft pick gave us belief that there was a rotation player buried underneath his constantly wavering confidence. His defensive chops and surprisingly athletic rim attacks were pleasant surprises, but alas he was shipped off for a win-now culture-setter. Culver spent the majority of last season on the Memphis bench, appearing in just 37 games in garbage time. He still got the last laugh against Minnesota in the postseason.
Hornets announcer obliterates former Timberwolve Jarrett Culver pic.twitter.com/UICQihp4F8— Zach Rudeen (@CountryTwolves) October 8, 2021
BONUS: Shabazz Muhammad
Draft class: 2013 - 14th pick
Timberwolves peak: 2014-2015; Averaged 13.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game on .489/.392/.717 shooting splits. Wolves finished 16-66.
Trade return: Cut
Career result: Though he wasn’t traded, Flip Saunders’ favorite draft pick is still remembered for notoriously rejecting a four-year $40 million extension with the Timberwolves in 2017, as his playing time was diminishing in Minnesota. Instead, he signed a one-year minimum with the Wolves before getting cut. The Bucks picked him up for 11 more games that season, but he never earned another contract. From there, the 29-year-old has been putting up video game numbers in China and the Philippines, hoping to cling to a NBA team.
There you have it. In your face, pundits! The Timberwolves have traded several high draft picks that didn’t end up winning a NBA championship - they just flat out busted. So next time you catch yourself having to defend the Wolves prematurely trading a lottery pick, remind them:
“This player has a higher chance of just being a bad player instead of becoming an NBA champion.”