It’s no secret that the Minnesota Timberwolves organization has enjoyed very little NBA success for going on nearly 20 years. Since 2005, the Wolves have the league’s worst regular season record with a .378 win percentage (the equivalent of a 31-win season). During that same time span, the Timberwolves are dead last in playoff appearances, and are one of only three teams to not have a single playoff series victory.
Something that has come with all the losing is turnover at pretty much every level of the organization. Over the past 15 years, the Timberwolves have had nine different general managers. The longest running tenure over that time frame was the infamous David Kahn with just four seasons.
A similar level of change has occurred with the coaching staff. The Wolves haven’t had the same coach for four straight seasons since Kevin McHale, then general manager, let go of the legendary late Flip Saunders during the 2005 season. Since then, the Timberwolves have had 10 different coaches over 18 seasons.
It can be very difficult, if not impossible, for a team to build any success when there is so much change with both the front office and the coaching staff. Continuity within an organization — from the roster to coaching staff to front office — is a necessary foundation to build upon a vision that leads to consistent winning at the highest levels.
Front Office and Coaching Staff
The Timberwolves now seem to have found continuity with their front office and coaching staff that the franchise has for so long needed. Last summer, new minority partners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez made a splash move by hiring then Denver Nuggets president Tim Connelly to be the Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations. Connelly was signed to five-year deal that even includes ownership equity in the team.
Minnesota is also going into its third full season with Chris Finch as Head Coach. Finch is only the second Timberwolves coach to have a winning regular-season record, joining the aforementioned Flip Saunders. Finch also led the Timberwolves to the playoff in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2004.
Karl-Anthony Towns is a good example of how a rotating cast of coaches can affect a player’s development. During KAT’s eight years with the Timberwolves, he has had four Head Coaches, who have each asked him to play a slightly adjusted role and focus on a different aspect of his game.
While Karl has had plenty of success, including three All-Star appearances and two All-NBA selections, he has not been able to take that next step into becoming a top-10 player in the NBA and a revered playoff performer in part due to inconsistency in the coaching he has received.
With Connelly and Finch in Minnesota for the foreseeable future, the Timberwolves look to enjoy the continuity that has eluded the franchise for almost 20 years. These two and their respective staffs should have the runway to create a vision for where this organization can go, and build a team with consistent habits that lead to winning games.
Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels
The final place the Timberwolves will look to find continuity, and probably the most important, is with the roster. After the departure of Jimmy Butler during the 2018 season, the Wolves roster was in complete flux, with only Karl-Anthony Towns still carrying over from that era of Wolves basketball.
Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels are the two players that will now bring stability and immense talent to the Wolves roster. Both were drafted during the 2020 NBA draft with Edwards being selected No. 1 overall and Jaden McDaniels being selected with the 28th pick. After Edwards signed a five-year, $217 million extension in July, McDaniels joined him on Monday by putting pen to paper on a five-year contract extension worth up to $136 million; now, both are under team control through the 2028-29 season.
Edwards has already shown to be a phenomenal talent, scoring 21.8 points per game over his first three seasons, and making his first All-Star game last season at the age of 21. Even more impressively, Ant has performed at an unprecedented level in the playoffs for someone of his age. The Atlanta, Georgia native is just the second player in NBA history to average 28 points per game in multiple playoff series before turning 22 years old (LeBron James being the other).
There are some players who seem to play worse in the playoffs than they do in the regular season, and others that seem to thrive under the brighter lights of the playoffs. Edwards has shown he lives for the biggest of stages and will only continue to improve as he matures on the court.
McDaniels, despite not making the All-Defense team last season, has shown to be one of the best defensive players in the NBA with an ever-improving offensive game. He already is the perfect pairing to any ball-dominant superstar that needs a teammate to pick up the toughest defensive matchups.
The Edwards and McDaniels pairing will provide a level of talent and consistency to the Wolves roster that they have not enjoyed in a very long time — maybe ever. While the Wolves have had plenty of talented players over the years, they have failed to surround their top players with more dependable players that can become the solid core of a consistent winning team.
Building for the Future
Minnesota has some big roster questions that will need to be answered next summer, The most pivotal being the Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns pairing, and whether to keep those two both on the roster, or move on from one of them at some point.
The pairing had little time to find a rhythm together as Towns missed 52 games last season with a calf strain. Add in the games Gobert missed while Towns was healthy, and the two only played in 27 games together.
When the two did play together, it was far from a seamless fit with the two having a barely positive net rating of only +0.6 when both were on the court. The pair did show flashes of chemistry in the Play-In Tournament and Playoffs, but ultimately the question of whether the two fit well on the court together was left, at best, unanswered.
It would be much easier to decide whether or not to break up the two-bigs experiment if they had gotten to see an entire season of the two playing together. As it stands now, trading one of them feels like an premature reaction given the lack minutes played together, but sticking with the pairing also feels ill-advised given the financial realities of keeping both on the roster.
Given the upcoming changes to the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and how it penalizes teams that go above the second luxury-tax apron, keeping both bigs, along with Edwards and McDaniels, will become very expensive, and will eventually require filling out the roster with a handful of league minimum players, like the Phoenix Suns are doing this season.
Having to trade either All-Star center would be an extremely difficult pill to swallow. Giving up on Gobert so soon after trading four future first-round picks and 2022 first round-pick Walker Kessler, among other role players, given they would almost certainly receive much less than they gave up, would be a very tough look as Connelly’s first major move with the Wolves.
The optics of trading Towns are equally as bad. Towns has been the Wolves franchise player for the previous eight seasons, has led the Timberwolves to the playoffs three times (something only Kevin Garnett has done), and has shown the organization a lot more loyalty than many other stars would have. Towns, ultimately, is the second greatest player in franchise history, and trading him for anything short of a haul because of salary cap ramifications and an ill-advised Gobert trade would be a disaster and a tough thing to sell to the fan base.
It is also important to mention that very rarely, if ever, that a team trading an All-NBA caliber player ends up better off in the short-term. It isn’t really possible to trade a player with that much talent and avoid a drop in wins. Given the draft capital the Wolves have out the door, and the amount of talent already on the roster, green-lighting a trade that makes the team worse does not seem like a smart option.
The Wolves also can’t just keep shuffling All-Star players in and out and expect the roster to gel and succeed. At a certain point, they will have to pick their core of players and build around them organically, no matter the cost.
How the question of the Towns and Gobert pairing — and whether to trade either one — gets answered will certainly have an impact on the potential re-signings of Mike Conley, Shake Milton, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Kyle Anderson, but most importantly Naz Reid’s future.
Reid is a huge developmental success story for the Timberwolves. After going undrafted in the 2019 NBA, the Wolves signed Reid to a four-year $6.1 million deal. Reid quickly became a solid rotation piece for the Wolves, averaging 10.1 points per game over just 17.6 minutes per game over the past four years. He also improved greatly on the defensive end, going from a complete liability to a very solid defender in the right matchup. The Wolves rewarded him with a three-year, $42 million extension in June.
If the Wolves decide to trade on their two All-Star centers, it then begins to make a lot of sense to retain Reid for the length of his contract. Without trading one of Towns or Gobert, keeping Reid and allocating even more money to a center position that already occupies such a large share of the cap sheet is a risky proposition. But then again, parting ways with Reid, the ultimate fan favorite, would be a tough blow to not only the Wolves, but the fanbase that loves him.
The Timberwolves have a very tight needle to thread of trying to keep as much roster continuity as possible, something this organization has been in dire need of, while also dealing with the financial and team-building realities of the new CBA.
Despite some upcoming tough decisions, the one aspect Timberwolves fans can hang their hat on is that the organization, the trio of Tim Connelly, Chris Finch, and Anthony Edwards are something the Wolves have never had before. They have had competent lead executives, good coaches, and All-Star players in the past, but never all at the same time. Now, it’s time for the Timberwolves to reap the rewards.