Last year, the Minnesota Timberwolves decided to stand pat at the Feb. 10 deadline. Sachin Gupta had taken over as general manager at the start of the season after the Wolves dismissed Gersson Rosas for workplace misconduct. With Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore taking over ownership from Glen Taylor, nobody is sure how long Gupta will be GM. Furthermore, the team was vibing? Why risk team chemistry to make a potentially minor upgrade?
But Gupta will need to reshape the roster to keep the good feelings in the locker room. It will be a difficult task. He’s still the interim GM, and the Wolves finally have a core to build around. Anthony Edwards is the alpha star; Karl-Anthony Towns is the talented big who can open up the floor for him. Jaden McDaniels is the vital 3-and-D wing every team needs. But the Wolves could justifiably move everyone else.
The Wolves weirdly had too many viable players last year. Jaylen Nowell showed out in December when all of the starters got COVID. Josh Okogie went from starting at the beginning of the season to riding the bench, but he’s still a ball-stopping defender. Naz Reid could probably start on a rebuilding team because of his offensive abilities.
It’s hard to call it the “disease of more” when we’re talking about a team that blew three double-digit fourth-quarter leads to the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs. Still, the Wolves have guys on their bench who will want more playing time next year.
Pat Reilly first coined the phrase “disease of more” with the 1981 Los Angeles Lakers. They were coming off a championship, and the players became more self-centered. They wanted more money, TV commercials, and playing time. The ‘81 Lakers beat themselves.
We can’t directly compare last year’s Timberwolves to the ‘80s Lakers. But by Wolves’ standards, they were incredibly successful. They were an enjoyable team. How could we forget Patrick Beverley firing the t-shirt cannon in a blowout over the Portland Trail Blazers? Or Anthony Edwards calling himself Black Jesus while D’Angelo Russell jokingly distanced himself during a press conference? And let’s not forget about Towns’ 60-point game against the San Antonio Spurs.
The 2021-22 Wolves genuinely loved each other. Towns and Russell have a longstanding friendship, and Nowell and McDaniels grew up in Seattle together. Most of the other players bonded in training camp. Beverley asked them all to define roles for themselves after starting the season 3-5. Over time, they developed an appreciation for each other and what Chris Finch was trying to get them to do.
These weren’t Tom Thibodeau’s Wolves. The 2017-18 team may have won 47 games, one more than last year’s team, but they weren’t built to last. Jimmy Butler famously clashed with Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and Thibodeau’s aging ex-Chicago Bulls players didn’t mesh with the young core he inherited. Butler took a separate flight home after the Houston Rockets beat them in the playoffs and demanded out the following season. There is no such discord between Edwards, Towns, Russell, and their supporting cast.
Still, players are going to demand more playing time eventually. The Wolves need to establish a hierarchy, and Towns will need to accept that Edwards is 1a and he’s 1b. Furthermore, Minnesota is reportedly actively shopping Russell, who was upset that Finch turned to Jordan McLaughlin to finish Game 6. Changing the roster could sow discord, but standing pat could as well. Welcome to the most critical offseason in Wolves history.
To better understand how Minnesota’s chemistry could be disrupted, let’s look at each impact player who could be back and what they could want from this team.
He’s A1 from Day 1, the Wolves’ heartbeat. He looked ready for the pressure of the play-in game and the playoffs. The Timberwolves cannot become a contender if they don’t treat him as the center of their universe.
A unicorn big who can score from the outside, Towns has pledged his allegiance to Minnesota. We can’t take that for granted. But he’s also going to have to be okay becoming the No. 2 to Edwards and accept that it may be in the Wolves’ best interest to move Russell.
He faltered in the play-in against the Clippers and struggled against Memphis. Still, Russell is a gifted scorer who has endeared himself to part of the fanbase, and his teammates seem to like him. But he’s also prone to chucking up contested shots early in the shot clock and has some strange proclivities, like joining the huddle late.
Russell can’t be the alpha on this team and may not accept being the third option. The Wolves can’t afford to give him a max contract, but he may see himself as a max player. Trading him will be difficult, given that every team saw how he played in the playoffs, and few contenders want a ball-dominant point guard. However, keeping an unhappy Russell in the fold could disrupt team chemistry.
The second-year wing needs to shoot more consistently from deep, but he’s a defensive stalwart who doesn’t require high usage to score. He cleaned up his game after coming off the bench last year and showed out enough late in the postseason to indicate he has star potential. Not bad for a guy who the Wolves picked up at 28th overall because he received too many technical fouls at Washington.
A surprise starter given his inability to stretch the floor, Vanderbilt became a lethal cutter and a roadblock defensively. But would he start on a contending team? V-8 will have to be okay with a bench role if the Wolves acquire a starting big who complements Towns.
Arrested for marijuana possession and threatening a family outside of his Plymouth home, Beasley didn’t look like himself to start the season. It was likely a result of being incarcerated, but he also had to adjust to coming off the bench. With $15 million and a player option left on his contract, the Wolves could move him. But he’s also proven to be a floor-spacing shooter when he’s on.
The classic player you hate until he’s on your team, Beverley created a positive culture in the locker room and endeared himself to fans with his antics on the court. However, he will be 34 next year and will want to be on a team that takes the next step. They can’t do that if Gupta doesn’t iron out the roster’s flaws.
Like McDaniels, Reid is another example of Rosas’ scouting prowess. Reid’s stock dropped as a big-time prospect coming out of high school in New Jersey because some scouts saw him as a lazy player at LSU. The Wolves scooped him up, and he’s become a reliable backup for Towns.
However, Reid struggles to guard bigs, and he probably could start on a different team. It might make more sense for the Wolves to sign a defensive-focused big to put behind Towns and let Reid get more minutes on another team.
As the return in Minnesota’s second Ricky Rubio trade, Prince brought shooting, tenacity, and a veteran presence that this team needed. But he’s currently an unrestricted free agent and will be entering his age-29 season next year. He may choose to sign with a team closer to contending in the offseason.
A creative scorer capable of putting up 30, Nowell’s defense likely kept him on the bench last year. While Beasley has some shortcomings as a defensive player, Finch seemed to trust him more. And although Beasley is a one-dimensional shooter, Nowell’s crafty scoring ability can sometimes lead him to dominate the ball.
Nowell’s shooting makes him a viable alternative if the Wolves trade Beasley. But he’ll have to improve defensively and be able to score within a team concept.
Finch’s favorite player, McLaughlin stepped up when the Wolves needed him to, despite getting sporadic playing time. Still, he’s a sub-6’0” point guard who won’t take over as the starter if Minnesota moves Russell. Therefore, he must be okay with a backup role, knowing he may not get consistent playing time.
He is probably as good as gone, but Okogie is the longest-tenured Timberwolves player outside of Towns. He likely will seek more playing time on another team, but he was a beloved teammate committed to defense. The Wolves will lose something intangible when he goes.
Something has to give with this roster. Many players won’t be thrilled with their role and playing time from last season. Therefore, the Wolves need to take from surplus positions and add players who complement Edwards’ game. That’s a quixotic task, but one that the best GMs execute to win championships. It’s that much more difficult when Gupta may not be the long-term GM, and therefore, he may not be able to conduct certain trades.
Last season was fun, and the Wolves will be running a lot of it back. But they can’t treat the offseason like the trade deadline. Keeping last year’s group together was the right call in February. But they’ll need to adjust the roster this summer to have the good vibes they had last year.