Before and after Thursday's draft, Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly did what a lot of general managers do — he tried to take the heat off his incoming picks.
After drafting Auburn center Walker Kessler and Duke forward Wendell Moore Jr. on Thursday, Connelly played the game of lowering expectations.
"I'm not going to put unfair expectations of what they're going to do on the court," Connelly said. "Most rookies don't make a huge impact, but I do think when you add the type of people we added, I think the organization got better."
Just after Connelly said this, he was asked how these picks might affect how the Wolves attack free agency, which begins July 1.
"I don't think it has a huge impact," Connelly said. "Again, the draft is for the next two, three, four, five, six, seven years."
But not for the next year.
Now the Wolves turn their attention from one chaotic event to the other. Near the top of Connelly's to-do list for the offseason is figuring out what's going to happen with point guard D'Angelo Russell. Russell was lobbying for an extension on his contract ever since the beginning of last season, when he said he was entering a de facto contract year.
Rumors about Russell's status with the Wolves have swirled even before he was benched for the final minutes in the Wolves' Game 6 loss to Memphis. At the time, teams around the league believed the Wolves would look to trade him. Those rumors have persisted even after Connelly took the job.
Connelly was asked Thursday if he has been able to determine Russell's long-term fit with the organization in the few weeks he has been in Minnesota. He said he still needs to get to know Russell.
"D-Lo was huge to the success of this team last year," Connelly said. "I think he's an elite passer, elite shot maker. He loves basketball. The most exciting thing about this job is getting to know guys I've been fans of from afar. You don't want to force it. You don't want to come off as insincere or not be organic.
"I'm excited to get to know him. I know how important he was to the success of this team. He's a guy that is supremely talented and it's hard to believe how young he is. He's seen everything this league could possibly throw at you."
That includes multiple trades in that young career. Russell has never spent more time with one team than he has with the Wolves (parts of three seasons). For all the angst over how his season ended, the Wolves were 7-10 when he didn't play in 2021-22, though his availability is one of his question marks and was something that frustrated the Wolves at times this past season.
He was still valuable when he played. He posted 4.4 win shares, according to Basketball Reference, his best season in that advanced statistic since 2019, the year he made the All-Star team as an alternate in Brooklyn.
The situation with Russell has a lot of tentacles. Can he and the Wolves find an agreeable number in potential contract talks? Can the Wolves find a trade partner and not give up a significant chunk of draft capital? The Wolves and Russell could also just play it out, with Russell coming back to the team on his actual contract year. Russell still feels he and Karl-Anthony Towns have untapped potential. After the season, he said the chemistry between them was "rocky."
"I think we were figuring it out and then we had either COVID or something happen and it kind of caused him to be out, caused me to be out," Russell said. "… You didn't know how was going to be out there as far as that window when every team was getting hit with the COVID bug, so that kind of stunted our growth. I think we're such fans of each other that we found a way to make it work in moments where you probably didn't have the chemistry because we didn't play together as much as we would have thought."
Who knows if they will play any more together?
As for who the Wolves may be targeting either to replace Russell or in addition to him, ESPN's Zach Lowe mentioned the Wolves had discussions with San Antonio about All-Star point guard Dejounte Murray, but that the cost was "prohibitive."
The Wolves are still looking to add size. They had interest in gauging the trade value of Atlanta's Clint Capela and Utah's Rudy Gobert, as the Jazz ponders its future with Donovan Mitchell and Gobert. Their potential interest there, even if there's no pathway to a deal for those specific players, could at least signal a willingness to shift Towns to the four on a more permanent basis and could open up the pool of potential free agents they target.
July 1 will be just over a month since Connelly took the job. Connelly has said he doesn't want to reinvent this Wolves team and instead will try to keep it on the upward trajectory it began last season. The next week will show just how he intends to do that.