After a decade of misery, perennial rebuilding and being the butt of all sorts of jokes, this year’s offseason moves have ushered in a new era of optimism. Thus, we can finally say with a straight face that the future is now for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
After a successful tanking effort in 2014-15, GM Flip Saunders won the draft lottery and then pulled off a Rick Spielman-esque heist in the draft by nabbing Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns with the first overall pick and trading back into the first round to select local product Tyus Jones.
Both moves are solid on paper and in reality. While myself and others T-Wolves pontificators had begun to question the conventional wisdom of taking Towns first overall, there is still much to celebrate as he is a proven winner with the potential to be dominant on both ends of the court.
The Tyus Jones move seems to be as much about drumming up enthusiasm locally by bringing in a popular Minnesota kid as his ability to actually play (reminiscent of the Kevin Garnett trade last winter). But he will be a good complement to Ricky Rubio at point guard and acquiring him only cost Flip a few second rounders – the NBA Draft version of the Zimbabwean dollar.
After watching Golden State’s success this year in pairing two dynamic scorers and three point shooters, Stephen Curry (who the T-Wolves passed on twice in 2009) and Klay Thompson, I found the possibility of taking DeAngelo Russell and putting him alongside Andrew Wiggins, Rookie of the Year, to be intriguing. But Minnesota was atrocious on defense last year, and Towns will greatly aid by giving the team a more balanced lineup at both ends.
With a projected starting lineup of Wiggins, Towns, Rubio, Kevin Martin and perhaps Kevin Garnett if he has any calcium left in his bones, the T-Wolves have finally constructed for themselves a roster that consists of more than cast-offs and bad David Kahn draft picks.
Make no mistake; this is a group that many other teams in the league will soon envy. Equally impressive is the second tier, which will feature Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammed – all of whom are recent first rounders that played well last year after being thrown into the fray.
Adreian Payne, Chase Budinger, Nikola Pekovic and Anthony Bennett will also factor into the equation. These players have either been hit with the injury bug or have been ineffective since joining the team, but it’s fair to presume at least one or two of these guys will step up to contribute this year.
As we can see, this team is oozing with quality players and potential superstars from top to bottom. “There is no team that has won 16 games that has as much energy as we do,” Saunders correctly noted in a post-draft press conference.
The challenge now is to teach all of these kids to play together as a professional squad rather than a collegiate one-and-done dream team.
This is where the Kevin Garnett factor comes in. It seems doubtful that he’ll play in more than 20 games this year, but his leadership, energy and championship pedigree means that he’ll be the de facto player-coach.
If this team can adopt the intensity, hunger and ferocity that have characterized Garnett-led teams in the past, this will be a fun team to watch for years ahead.