The Minnesota Timberwolves have several needs to address this offseason. That much is clear for a team that, once again, missed the playoffs.
General manager Gersson Rosas is still working with a rather dire cap situation, which was left in the wake of former head coach and general manager Tom Thibodeau’s disastrous tenure in Minnesota. Heading into the 2021-22 offseason, the Wolves are once again cash-strapped, so it will be hard to upgrade via free agency.
Rosas knows this. When he has been asked about how the Wolves will address their needs before next season, he has repeated the tried and true “we’re going to explore all options” adage. However, the most likely avenue of team renovation, given Minnesota’s financial constraints lack of a draft pick, is the trade market.
Armchair-journalist Timberwolves trade talks this offseason have largely centered around blockbuster deals for blue-chip players. Sure, it would be fantastic to see Ben Simmons or Myles Turner here, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I wrote about Kyle Kuzma‘s fit a while back, but that’s not happening. However, Jonah Maves looked at targets in the second round that could be worth trading back into the draft for, which is one of the first pieces I have seen that focuses on non-superstar players who could help the Wolves.
Minnesota’s trade expectations should be reasonable. The reality is that their two most tradable assets at this point are Malik Beasley and Ricky Rubio, both due to the size of their contracts and their level of play. However, each of these players comes with an asterisk. Beasley, of course, has his legal issues to deal with, and Rubio is now 30 years old and coming off of a down season.
If a “big” deal is going to be made, one or both of Beasley and Rubio will be shipped out of town. I would speculate that Beasley would be more likely to be traded given how much Rubio has helped Anthony Edwards blossom into one of the league’s most exciting young superstars. Beasley is on an affordable contract and averaged nearly 20 points per game on 39.9% from deep. He’s only 24 and would have immediate value on any team looking to add instant offense.
Jaylen Nowell could easily step into Beasley’s role and find success if Beasley were to be traded away. Nowell appeared more than capable of being one of the first players off of the bench. This makes the idea of trading Beasley while he still has value all the more enticing.
Rosas has showcased that he is masterful at filling out the fringes of the roster with quality role players. Last season, we saw players like Nowell, Naz Reid, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Jaden McDaniels greatly exceed expectations and play clearly defined roles in Chris Finch’s rotation. Nowell was a second-round pick, Reid was an undrafted free agent, Vanderbilt was a throw-in to the Covington trade, and McDaniels was a question mark coming out of college. This masterful execution of scouting and roster management makes it easy to get excited about any trades that the Timberwolves may explore this offseason.
If we figure Beasley to be the centerpiece of any package that the Wolves would offer to teams, it would be exciting to think about the peripheral pieces of the trade package that could have an immediate impact on the Wolves roster. This is where Rosas finds the most value, and Minnesota would stand to benefit from a few more proven role players on the bench. A Beasley departure, other Wolves trade inclusions notwithstanding, would leave the guard position thin. I would like to explore a few “throw-ins” for fabricated trade packages that would help address that need without it being the centerpiece of the trade. Let’s start with another franchise that has experienced a similar degree of woe as the Timberwolves: the Sacramento Kings.
To start, a trade for Marvin Bagley would not be the end of the world for a Timberwolves team that has distinct problems at the 4. It is easy to imagine a reality where Bagley starts to live up to his potential after escaping an anemic Sacramento culture that employs Luke Walton as its head coach. Buddy Hield would be a great fit on the Wolves, but trading for him becomes increasingly unlikely as the years go by.
Enter Wright. He was just traded to Sacramento from the Detroit Pistons this past season, but he averaged a modest 10.1 points and shot a solid 39.8% from three after landing with the Kings. Wright’s flexibility is also a major plus. At 6’5”, he has the size and tenacity to guard multiple positions while also being able to play both the 1 and the 2 himself. Ballhandling and playmaking skills are of the utmost importance in Finch’s fast-paced offense, and Wright has demonstrated that he is capable of controlling the tempo of play.
He’s also has a reputation of being a solid 3-and-D player, which is the exact archetype that should surround Karl-Anthony Towns on the court. It would seem that the Wolves have been searching for reliable 3-and-D players for the last decade, and making a move for Wright here inside another trade package would ideally plug that hole.
Wright will be entering the last year of a 3-year, $28 million dollar deal in the 2021-22 season. The Kings have their starting guards solidified and plan to build around De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, thus making Wright expendable for the right price. Expiring contracts are always desirable assets, and Wright would be an excellent fit to play solid rotational minutes for the Timberwolves.
Also, he has confidence. The Wolves could always use more of that.
Recency bias is afoot here as we watch the Milwaukee Bucks inch closer to their first NBA title in over 50 years, but Connaughton has been stellar off the bench for the Bucks. Another 3-and-D combo guard who comes on a cheap expiring contract should be exactly what the Wolves are looking to acquire.
Why is a Connaughton acquisition difficult? Well, Milwaukee has next to no reason to part with him. He’s playing solid minutes for a championship team, shooting 37% from three and playing just north of 22 minutes per game. He is making around $5 million per year with a player option in the 2022-23 season. That’s an extremely affordable contract for a solid role player that has been dependable throughout his career.
His performance in the Finals will only increase his value. The only way Milwaukee should even think about parting with Connaughton is in a deal where they would be able to recoup some of the picks they lost in the Jrue Holiday acquisition. The Timberwolves likely would not be able to swing a direct two-team trade, though if they were looking for a third team to facilitate a bigger deal it may be worth making a call about Connaughton’s availability.
Unrealistic scenarios and availability be damned, the Wolves sure could use a guy like Connaughton. If Rosas is doing his due diligence this offseason, he will be looking for a player who checks many of the same boxes that he does.
I lied — my research led me to the idea of trading for Fultz and it was a bit too exciting to pass up. This would definitely be a blockbuster deal. My apologies.
This would, admittedly, have to be a major trade that would include at least Rubio and Beasley. With the emergence of Cole Anthony paired with Fultz’s torn ACL, now may be the right time to make a move for the former first overall pick who has seen limited success in his young NBA career.
It was too bad to see Fultz tear his left ACL eight games into what had appeared to be a resurgent year for the young player. Fultz had finally displayed the talent that led the Philadelphia 76ers to select him with the first pick in the 2017 NBA draft. That talent is, of course, undeniable:
Why has Fultz struggled in his career? It lies within some strange mixture of repeated injury and confidence concerns after multiple surgeries. Still, the Timberwolves could theoretically roll the dice on Fultz like the Chicago Bulls did when they acquired Zach LaVine after he tore his ACL. Players return from torn ligaments significantly better than they had in the past, but some franchises remain leery of players never returning to form after an ACL injury. The opportunity may be right for the Timberwolves to make a move on Fultz as they look to turn the offensive keys over to Anthony.
In return, the Orlando Magic could receive a great mentor for Anthony in Rubio, and a bonafide flamethrower in Beasley. Depending on other parameters of this theoretical trade, the Wolves would be able to shed some salary and open up room in the rotation for Fultz to play solid minutes behind D’Angelo Russell. The expectations would be low, and the lack of pressure could create a welcoming situation for Fultz to rediscover the reasons that he was selected so high in the first place.
Addition by subtraction would seem to be the name of the game for the Timberwolves this offseason, as they have many mouths to feed and not much room in the rotation. Making a move for Fultz would at least partially unclog the logjam amongst the guards, and the upside is high enough that it is worth the risk for a Wolves team that is entering a make-or-break year.
Rosas likes to make splashy moves. He is bound to make one or a couple of moves with no transactions at last year’s trade deadline. If any of the aforementioned options are explored, the Timberwolves could stand to benefit as they look to approach playoff contention.