The same night the Timberwolves welcomed a new face of the franchise to the Twin Cities, they also welcomed back a certain Spanish one.
The Wolves ended months of speculation since winning the NBA draft lottery by keeping the top pick and selecting Georgia guard Anthony Edwards.
Shortly after, they swung a trade with Oklahoma City to bring back point guard Ricky Rubio, the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft who had spent the past three seasons out of Minnesota but not as far away from the hearts of many fans.
The Wolves and Thunder agreed to a deal in which the Wolves sent the No. 17 pick to Oklahoma City for the 25th and 28th picks after Oklahoma City acquired Rubio in a trade with Phoenix for Chris Paul this week.
After making another trade with the Knicks at No. 23 and relinquishing picks 25 and 33, the Wolves selected Argentine guard Leandro Bolmaro at 23 and Washington forward Jaden McDaniels at No. 28 to round out their night.
The night began with suspense for the Wolves as Commissioner Adam Silver officially put them on the clock shortly after 7 p.m. Central. President Gersson Rosas said the Wolves spoke with more than 10 teams about trading, but they didn’t find an offer they felt was fair and decided to keep the pick and take Edwards, an Atlanta native who went to Georgia.
The ESPN camera flashed to Edwards, who had paintings on each side of him. They were of his mother and grandmother, who both died of cancer when Edwards was 14.
“I’m feeling very joyful and excited just because of the fact I had my mother and my grandmother next to me,” Edwards said. “I feel like I’m going to fit perfect with those guys.”
Edwards recently met with Rosas and coach Ryan Saunders, and he compared the process to college recruiting in which the Wolves laid out just how he would fit in with their team and what his career trajectory could be with them.
“The energy they bring, it made me feel like I was headed to be the best player that ever played basketball,” Edwards said. “But it made me feel like I was doing something right, you know? Because I get criticized a lot. It made me feel like I was doing something right, and it made me just want to work even harder.”
Rosas said before they met with Edwards around three to four weeks ago, “everyone was still on the table.” But Rosas was equally as enamored of Edwards, and the meeting helped solidify Edwards as the pick at No. 1.
The Wolves spent about 24 hours with Edwards, Rosas said, starting with a dinner and a workout the next day. Rosas relayed a story that during the workout, Edwards’ trainer wanted him to take long two-point shots. Knowing the Wolves eschew those shots, Edwards told him they weren’t going to work on those.
“That was him on his own, unprompted,” Rosas said. “He gets what we’re doing here. He values what we’re doing. That’s what excites us. He’s a young guy who needs a lot of support, needs a lot of development and needs more experience. But he’s an incredibly intelligent young man who understands what’s going on, and he’s willing to work to be a very special player in this league.”
Edwards brings tantalizing athleticism and playmaking ability to the table and is the kind of guard who seems suited to playing off another more dominant point guard like D’Angelo Russell.
One of the criticisms of him is that his energy level tends to fluctuate and he could be a better defender. Edwards is aware of those criticisms and has vowed to improve in those areas. Rosas said he admired Edwards’ “grit” and “toughness.”
“None of these guys are perfect. We’re not looking for right answers,” Rosas said. “We’re trying to get to know them. His transparency, his humility, his reality is something that attracted us to him.”
Edwards said he could see himself playing alongside Russell since both like to play on the ball and off the ball at different times. He said he was excited by the prospect of playing with Rubio. Rosas couldn’t comment on the Rubio trade or the Wolves’ other picks because the trades haven’t become official.
Rubio will come back to a different organization than the one that traded him to Utah three years ago. The man who traded him, Tom Thibodeau, is gone. He also won’t have to be the franchise savior, as he carried part of that burden early in his career.
Rubio, 30, is coming off a season in which he averaged 13.0 points and 8.8 assists per game with Phoenix. He has two years remaining on a three-year contract that pays him about $17 million per year.
To make the money work on the trade and keep the Wolves under the luxury tax, because they have designs on re-signing Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez, it’s possible other pieces from the Wolves roster might be on the move, such as James Johnson, who has yet to officially opt in to a player option worth about $16 million. A source said the Wolves are expecting him to do that.
Rubio will be a needed veteran voice on one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, one that adds the 19-year-old Edwards.
Rosas has tried to temper expectations around Edwards, saying before the draft the Wolves didn’t need the No. 1 pick to be a franchise-caliber player with Karl-Anthony Towns — the only other No. 1 overall pick in franchise history — and Russell in tow. Edwards seemed to get the message.
“I’ve got two superstars alongside of me, so I’m not really going to feel too much pressure,” Edwards said.
Even if it’s impossible to deny that it’s there.