The Timberwolves just spent eight months doing practically nothing interesting, followed by an intense week where they added a great deal to their roster via the draft, free agency and trades — all of which will lead to training camp starting in a week and a season starting in less than a month.
So naturally, I’d like to talk about … their quest to add a third All-Star to a roster featuring Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, an endeavor that might not ever bear fruit and which could take, at minimum, at least another year.
Sure, I’m interested to see how all the current parts fit together, including the return of Ricky Rubio. But long-term, I’m more intrigued by President Gersson Rosas and his staff’s pursuit of the highest-level talent. Because that is the only thing that ultimately will mold the Wolves into anything other than a fringe playoff team.
As such, here is a primer for the paths the Wolves can take to unlock another transcendent player in the relative near-term, in order of easiest to most difficult.
1 Top overall pick Anthony Edwards becomes that guy and does it quickly. History tells us that the No. 1 overall pick has a good chance to become a franchise player. A total of 18 former No. 1 overall picks are in the Hall of Fame.
More recently, the drafts from 2003 (LeBron James) through 2016 (Ben Simmons) have yielded 10 out of 14 players who made either at least one All-Star or all-NBA team.
As the Wolves’ luck would have it, they acquired two of the four who didn’t (Anthony Bennett in 2013 and Andrew Wiggins in 2014) in the Kevin Love trade. But they drafted Towns No. 1 overall in 2015, and he has delivered two All-Star appearances, one all-NBA nod and the right to be considered a franchise cornerstone.
The dilemma with Edwards is that he’s only 19 and doesn’t match up with the KAT and D-Lo timeline so often referenced by Rosas. The Wolves don’t just need another All-Star caliber player. They need one by the 2021-22 season in order to keep those other two players happy and interested.
Will we really learn what we need to learn about Edwards’ future outlook during a hurried 72-game season in a pandemic? Maybe. But if not, another option could be in play.
2 The Wolves gather up their best assets and make a run at a franchise-altering trade for a star next offseason. Next summer will be interesting. Some of it will depend on what happens this season, but some of it requires only a look at contracts to see what could happen.
Namely: Rubio’s feel-good return could become a dilemma for Rosas as it turns into a juicy $17 million expiring contract before the 2021-22 season. Combine that with, say, Malik Beasley’s $15 million or a couple smaller contracts, and you have enough – plus draft picks and/or young players – to match both salaries and assets in the pursuit of another mid-20s star.
Just who would be available – and whether the Wolves get traction with their current lineup and don’t want to change the core — is again likely dependent on what happens this season. But if you’re a Wolves fan you are watching to see if Phoenix (Devin Booker) or Philadelphia (Ben Simmons) does a major faceplant this season.
If one of those players was available and Rubio was a logical trade chip, it would set up the possibility of him being traded away for a second time.
3 The Wolves, by some combination of luck and development, find a player on their roster other than Edwards who elevates and becomes a star. Beasley seems like the most likely candidate after thriving in a small sample after last February’s trade (20.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 42.6% on three-pointers in 14 games). He turns 24 on Thanksgiving and, with a larger role, could develop into a bona fide All-Star thread as a third option.
That said, Beasley has already been in the league five seasons. If he had star potential, he likely would have shown it already in Denver. It’s more likely he’s a solid starter on a good team. And the Wolves might really need more like a No. 1 or No. 2 option instead of a No. 3-level star to add to their mix.
Other options theoretically include Jarrett Culver (still only 21), who is coming off of a rookie season that would be described, if you were giving it a compliment, as uneven. The Wolves other 2020 first-round picks Leandro Bolmaro (No. 23) and Jaden McDaniels (No. 28) could be home runs, but we probably won’t know that for at least a couple years.
Then there’s always someone way out of left field – like, say, undrafted guard Jordan McLaughlin, currently a free agent, who was the subject of an amazing email I received Tuesday: “My husband and I are asking you to use any influence you may have, to keep Jordan on the team. He is a fan favorite and without him, I don’t think we will attend any future games.”
It’s not unheard of for a player to make that sort of transformation. But it’s not something for which the Wolves should plan.
4 The Wolves wind up in the lottery again this season and nab a top-three pick that they convert into a star. The 2021 draft is said to be quite deep. The problem is the Wolves will owe their first round pick to Golden State as part of the Andrew Wiggins trade unless it’s a top-three pick – in which case it stays with Minnesota.
The bad news is a top three pick would likely mean the Wolves had a disaster of a 2020-21 season – further clouding their path even with Towns and Russell – unless they happened to just miss the playoffs and get lucky in the lottery drawing.
And even if they did get such a pick, it might be another young unproven player who takes time to develop. By the time it happened, KAT might be frustrated enough that another rebuild was ushered in.
All that said: Rosas has proved to be patient. He didn’t give up in his pursuit of Russell after losing out in free agency, instead circling back several months later via trade.
Adding another top-flight player could require similar patience and perhaps even more acumen from Rosas to pull off.