Less than three years ago, I wrote a piece introducing several new faces of the Minnesota Timberwolves and declaring it was time to start getting excited about the 2012-13 Wolves. Today, of the fourteen players mentioned in that article, just three remain. Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and Chase Budinger. While I may have thought that 2012-13 team called for excitement in the Twin Cities, it was clearly nothing close to what Flip Saunders and the Wolves have assembled, coming out of last week’s NBA Draft. As a lifelong fan of Minnesota sporting teams, optimism is not something I’m accustomed to. However, this time it simply feels different. The Wolves are legitimately putting together something special and people around the league are beginning to take notice. With an extremely young core, the Wolves may still have a few years of growing pains, but there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel.
The 2013 NBA Draft Trade
Some may recall the heat Flip Saunders took for dealing No. 9 overall pick and 2013 NCAA Player of the Year, Trey Burke, to the Utah Jazz, for pick No. 14 (Shabazz Muhammad) and No. 21 (Gorgui Dieng), in the 2013 NBA Draft. Just a few short years later; the deal is beginning to lean heavily in Minnesota’s favor. Dieng has been a pleasant surprise in the middle and with the addition of Karl-Anthony Towns, can feel comfortable knowing he’ll no longer be asked to log thirty plus minutes a night, but instead, should enjoy the luxury of playing most of his minutes against backups, as Towns figures to be the starter. Shabazz, when healthy, has been instant offense off the Wolves bench. Before missing forty-four of the last forty-seven games due to injury, Muhammad enjoyed a nice twenty-one game stretch that saw him average 17.4ppg, while shooting 49% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc.
The Love Trade
What a difference a year makes. This now looks like one of the greatest moves in Minnesota Timberwolves history. Andrew Wiggins won Rookie of the Year last season and appears to have all the tools required for NBA stardom, while Kevin Love just opted out of his contract after a rollercoaster ride in year one with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although many believe he may re-sign with Cleveland for the 2016 season, it doesn’t feel like Love and the Cavs have the makings of a long-term relationship. Anthony Bennett has struggled, but under the tutelage of Kevin Garnett, hopefully he can turn things around.
The KG Trade
An underrated move that had casual fans baffled, asking why the Wolves would trade 26 year-old Thaddeus Young for the aging, Kevin Garnett, who at 38, seemed to have very little left in the tank. Here’s why. Because, Kevin Garnett is the greatest Wolves player there’s ever been, because twenty years ago, fresh out of high school, it was Minnesota who believed in Garnett, because despite leaving the team more than seven years ago, not on the best of terms, he still loved the city, he still loved the organization (or at least Flip Saunders), and he still loved the fans of Minnesota, because even with father-time working against KG on the court, Garnett could bring this team what they’ve desperately needed for over a decade and something that only KG could provide; Leadership, wisdom, a desire to improve every day, the determination to become the very best, and the knowledge and experience of the sacrifices made in order to reach the NBA’s pinnacle.
The 2015 NBA Draft
For once, the Timberwolves had gotten some lottery luck and owned the No. 1 pick for the first time in franchise history. Now all they had to do was not screw it up. As Karl-Anthony Towns’ named was called on Thursday, June 25th, Wolves fans everywhere breathed an enormous sigh of relief. Towns can do it all; shoot, defend, rebound, block shots, pass, run the floor. He’s the perfect fit for what Minnesota’s looking to do and along with Andrew Wiggins, he gives the Wolves what could be the scariest one-two punch in the league, in a few short years. After drafting Towns, the Wolves could have kicked back, celebrated their future star and ended the night by selecting a fringe roster member with the 31st pick and a Euro-stash with the 36th pick. Instead, they weren’t done improving. Frantically trying to move back into the first round, the Wolves found a familiar trade partner, in the Cleveland Cavaliers. They would swap their two seconds for No. 24 and select Apple Valley native, Tyus Jones, who said playing for the Wolves was a dream come true. Jones gives the Wolves a much-needed backup point guard behind Rubio and a very capable one at that. He’s smart, plays hard, doesn’t make many mistakes, and is a natural leader.
Building Something Special
If these Wolves can stay healthy and stay together, we’ve got something special brewing. Front office Flip has one job, keep the core of Rubio, Wiggins, Towns, Shabazz, Gorgui, LaVine, and Tyus together. Pek is expendable, if anyone wants to take on his ludicrous contract. Garnett will most likely play his final season this year and then clear up some cap space, as he heads to the front office. Projected starting five: Rubio, Shabazz, Wiggins, KG, and Towns. How fun would that be on opening night? The bench: Flip needs to ensure Kevin Martin and Pek come off the bench, as they’ll provide the second unit with a very nice scoring punch and will be much more effective working against opposing second-teamers. Other than Tyus Jones, Zach LaVine, and Gorgui Dieng, the rest of the roster could see some turnover, as free agency begins July 1st and the Wolves may look to make a move or two before the season begins. Whatever else happens prior to the season opener, the Wolves are definitely headed in the right direction…finally!!