It feels like the same narrative year after year. Things seem like they are trending positively until the season starts. The Minnesota Timberwolves then typically win about five of their first 20 games. At this point, fans only can begin to think about next year and try to meld together some sort of optimism…
As Wolves fans know, that optimism is usually a house of cards year after year after year.
But since I am really an eternal optimist about most things in life, here I am writing the same piece I do every year about how things could perhaps get turned around for our Minnesota Timberwolves.
Karl-Anthony Towns is the real deal
This season was doomed once KAT was out. That’s just a fact. The Timberwolves, when perfectly healthy, would’ve been flirting with a .500 record in my opinion. Take away the key to everything they do, and this is one of the worst teams in the entire league.
However, when Towns has been healthy, the Wolves have actually looked competent. KAT is still recovering from his difficult bout with COVID-19, but as he gains his wind, things have been better.
Honestly, since the month of February started, Minnesota has looked slightly better. Their losses have been closer, losing by 2, 3, 2, 5, 3, 7 and 6. This may seem like a pointless observation, but they are figuring some things out as we go. A healthy KAT is a tremendous value to this team. If the Wolves are going to be relevant in any way next year, they need him around. But he needs help…
Malik Beasley and Anthony Edwards could be legit
Beasley has been a pleasant surprise this season to me. When the Wolves re-signed him, I was nervous that he was a little pricey at around $14 million per year for a guy who only plays offense. While he still doesn’t play defense, he has been quite impressive on offense, averaging 21 points per game while shooting 40% from 3-point range. If Russell can return to some form of his All-Star season self, a core of Beasley, Edwards, Russell and Towns is intriguing.
On that note, 1st overall pick Edwards is starting to come into his own. After struggling to begin the season, the rookie is up to 14 points per game and is looking more confident as he goes. It’s difficult to try to find your path without Towns on the floor as Edwards has been looked to as the main guy at times. He’s going to fail with this role as a rookie but the experiences are good for him and he can be a starter alongside those other weapons.
The Cap Situation needs some work
The Wolves have essentially no contracts coming off the books for the 2021-22 season. This is a big bummer. Touting the youngest roster in the league, the Wolves could certainly use some reinforcements this offseason. Two things will determine how much help they get.
First, the Golden State Warriors hold the Timberwolves first round pick unless it is in the top three. Right now, the Wolves would be in a position to have the highest odds to be in the top three, even though those odds wouldn’t be that good. Hopefully Minnesota can be in the top three this season, get a top end draft pick and stay healthy going into next season.
Second, the Wolves will have a decent amount of expiring contracts next season. Expiring contracts are one of the hottest commodities in the NBA, as teams who have realistic chances of signing star players can use expiring contracts to open up cap space. Let’s be real, the Wolves are never signing a free agent that is more than a bench player.
Contracts that will perhaps be juicy to other teams include: Ricky Rubio ($17.8 million – this is a little rich, but so few players in the league have middle level contracts like this, somebody might bite), Jauncho Hernangomez ($7 million, please someone take him) and Jake Layman ($4 million) and Josh Okogie ($4 million) whose contracts are probably too insignificant to matter.
Hopefully the Wolves can parlay those expiring deals into good picks and/or veteran players that can help the team win some games now. I’m not overly optimistic but there are pieces there to figure something out.
Is Ryan Saunders a good coach?
This is one of the biggest question marks going into next season in my opinion. This is also perhaps one of the most difficult aspects to assess. Saunders has not been successful as the head coach of the Timberwolves in terms of wins and losses. At the end of the day, that obviously is the most important stat.
However, there are a lot of things working in his favor. First, he has yet to really coach a consistent group of players game after game, where Towns and Russell are both available. It’s hard to truly assess his abilities when he is stuck with half of an NBA roster.
Additionally, he has the trust and support of key players like Towns and Russell along with GM Gersson Rosas and current owner Glen Taylor. This is not insignificant in today’s NBA as being liked is sometimes more important for job security than the results.
I’m not sure what the right answer is but Wolves management will have a lot to discuss this offseason. Hopefully, the rest of this season gets a little better and the path becomes clearer. Hopefully Russell can return and he can finally play a stretch of games with Towns. Hopefully Beasley and Edwards continue to improve and the offense really starts to take place. Hopefully the Wolves start playing some defense.
With one playoff appearance since 2004, all we can really do is hope.