By: Jonah Sprinkel
Free agency for the Minnesota Timberwolves can be compared to going for a run; it’s slow, slightly painful and most of all, disappointing. After acquiring Jimmy Butler via trade, it appeared to many that the Timberwolves would continue to make big moves. The hope was that these prospective moves would set the Wolves up to compete at a high level in the wild, wild Western Conference. The move that would catapult the team to a top four seed never came to fruition.
My inspiration for this piece came from Wolves fans as well as other writers. As a whole we seem to have worked ourselves into this sort of, mini frenzy. We're worried about the bench. shooting, the fit of some players and even to a slight degree, the direction of this team. Those worries or frustrations are justified. We want to see the Wolves succeed and perform to the best of their abilities. But, if I can have your attention for just a few minutes I want to invite you to simply enjoy basketball.
I’m not here to discuss what went wrong, or to guess as to what Thibs plan could be, or even to speculate the level of success the Wolves will achieve. No! I’m here in this this string of text to tell you that the Minnesota Timberwolves are going to be fun! Really and truly fun! And yes, I wrote these words with a clear mind.
Sadly, there is no statistical way to measure fun. Maybe in 20 years we can peer into history at the 2016-17 Timberwolves and know without a doubt that this team ranks in the upper echelon of my obviously made up Fun Above Replacement Team statistic. In the meantime, we can still enjoy the thunderous dunks, veteran craftiness, buzzer beating buckets, flashy dimes, infectious smiles and the moment that can’t come fast enough; a playoff game at Target Center.
Anyone who has tuned into a Wolves game recently already knows how fun Andrew Wiggins is. However, let’s remind ourselves very briefly.
If you don’t care much about the outcome of a Wolves game, Andrew is reason enough to flip on your TV at night. He brings high energy, jump out of your leather recliner type plays to the court on a consistent basis. But, the quality I find to be the most enjoyable in Wiggins is his fluidity.
Seriously, watch that highlight clip and pay close attention to the way Wiggins’ body moves. He glides up the floor. He doesn’t jump, that would require pushing himself upwards. No, he levitates himself above everyone. The moments where Andrew appears to be straining or pushing himself are few are far between. Not because he doesn’t care, but because he is typically the most athletic guy in an NBA arena.
I’m of the mindset that Towns was deserving of an All-NBA nod last season. 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 100 made threes has never been produced by another player in the history of the NBA. Ever.
Quick reminder, Towns doesn’t turn 22 until November.
Rumor has it that Towns is a direct descendant of the Sphinx cat from Egypt. I can prove it. Watch Towns on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. His blocks, footwork, passing, heck even his shooting form are cat like. He's quick, efficient, powerful and even playful. Here's to KAT getting even more yarn this season.
Jimmy Gets Buckets. Somehow, he combines sheer power with a Downy soft touch. However, Butler doesn't make a living on his physical abilities alone. It's very rare to see Butler out of control. He's calculated yet fiery. He uses his physical abilities to compliment the thousands of hours he's spent on training. This allows Jimmy to just get buckets.
Jimmy’s talent is worthy of a second clip. This one is not so much a highlight, it’s more of a comedic testimony to who Jimmy Butler is. Sit back, enjoy, and I apologize in advance for getting this song stuck in your head.
If you don't think four-point play is fun then you're reading the wrong article. I don't know what else to say here. Of all the common basketball plays, the four-point play is possibly the most exciting outside of a buzzer beater. Jamal Crawford is the four-point play godfather. He’s also the closest thing the NBA has to a playground hooper.
Note, these highlights are from the 2015-16 NBA season. Because Crawford is the NBA’s version of Benjamin Button the Timberwolves will see the same type of highlights.
Passionate, energetic, motivated, high motor and emotional are just a few of the words that describe Taj Gibson. These character traits have been craved by Wolves fans since KG's departure. Gibson doesn't quite fill The Big Tickets shoe's but he is more than qualified to be the emotional backbone of this squad.
I’m not condoning kicking another NBA player but sometimes in playoff basketball a team needs shots of energy directly into their veins. Moments like Taj had against Cleveland are exactly that. Minus the ejection of course.
Let's just hope Gibson doesn't take his role too far and kiss another NBA player a la Tristan Thompson and David West.
By: Louie Vicchiollo - 7 minute read
The Timberwolves didn’t make the playoffs last year.
Or the year before that.
Or for the last 13 years.
With the addition of Jimmy Butler, many Wolves fans, and NBA fans alike, agree that this might be the year the thirteen-season drought is finally broken, and the Minnesota Timberwolves return to the NBA Playoffs. The addition of one player, even if it is someone as high-impact as Jimmy Butler, won’t get a team to the playoffs; it takes a lot of moving parts, and a little bit of luck to finish in the top 16.
What do the Wolves have to do this year to make that monumental leap? The way I see it, we need to improve in three main categories: defense, rebounding, and three point shooting. Let’s dive in.
The Wolves suck on defense. Bad. Last year, teams playing against the Wolves shot 47.5% which was the third worst opponent FG% in the league, just ahead of the Nuggets and Lakers. To give that some context, the average playoff team’s opponent shot 45.2% and the champion Golden State Warriors only allowed their opponents to shoot 43.5% from the field. The Wolves need to drastically improve their defense. Andrew Wiggins was recently on the hot seat for his defense when FiveThirtyEight released its NBA Haters’ Ball – showcasing the fact that opponents only shoot 0.3% worse when being guarded by Wiggins than when they are left alone. It isn’t just Maple Jordan’s fault though; of the 16 players who logged time for the Timberwolves last season, only seven of them had a positive defensive box plus/minus, and of those seven players, only three are still on the roster: Cole Aldrich, Gorgui Dieng, and Karl-Anthony Towns. The best way to wrap up the defensive struggles of the 2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves is this: every single playoff team had a better defensive rating than the Timberwolves last season.
The next thing that has to be addressed is rebounding. Now of course, when you allow opponents to make almost half their shots, there aren’t going to be as many rebound opportunities, so the Wolves are already at a disadvantage there. This can be shown in the numbers as well, the Wolves ranked a very respectable 7th in offensive rebounds per game last year, but a lowly 29th in defensive rebounds. Even when there were shots coming off the rim on the defensive end, the Wolves weren’t grabbing boards nearly at the same rate they do on offense; their defensive rebound percentage was 75.9%, ranked 20th, compared to their offensive rebound percentage which was 27.2%, third best in the NBA. Not to pick on Wiggins again, but it should be noted his rebounding isn’t… well… great. In 2016-17, there were eight players who played more than 35 minutes a game and averaged less than five rebound per game; Wiggins was one of two non-point guards in that category. Oh, the other player? Harrison Barnes. With such a sharp drop from the Wolves top rebounder Karl-Anthony Towns (12.3 rebounds per game) to the second best Gorgui Dieng (7.9 rebounds per game), it only gets worse from there: Ricky Rubio was the next best rebounder, at 4.1 per game. The middle position players need to start rebounding more to take such a heavy workload off of Towns. This can be fixed partly by playing better defense which will lead to more rebound opportunities, but it also has to be a focus for the Wolves on the defensive end.
The final aspect I want to cover, and the other half of the elusive “three and D”, is three point shooting. Its no secret that the Wolves were really bad when it comes to three point shooting, so lets just get the stats out of the way.
As you can see in the graph above, the NBA average for three point attempts per game has (basically) increased every single year since 1999, and it doesn’t look like it will be stopping anytime soon. The Wolves need to get better, and that doesn’t mean jumping into the top ten for three point shooting, but moving much closer to the average in 3PA, 3PM, and 3P% will help. To praise Andrew Wiggins, his 3P% increased by 5.6% from his sophomore season to last season, and if it continues to increase that will significantly help the Timberwolves work their way towards the league averages. Karl-Anthony Towns also has increased his 3P% from his rookie season to last, and last season he shot 43.4% from three after the all star break. Something should be said about the league trend of shooting more and more threes, while the Wolves seem to be going in the opposite direction: big. The issue for the Timberwolves wasn’t their offense last season, they had the 10th ranked offensive rating in the league, and had the 8th best field goal percentage. If the Wolves needed to choose one half of the “three and D” to improve for next season, my hopes would be that they focus on the “D”; getting bigger will help with that.
While there are some obvious issues that need to be addressed immediately for the Timberwolves, there are also many positives that the fans of Minnesota can turn to. Karl-Anthony Towns’ career is quickly projecting into a “top 10 player in the NBA” type career, and he is only 21. Andrew Wiggins has one of the highest upsides in the NBA and he is also just a young pup at 22 years young. The Wolves have a highly regarded head coach, and a front office who seem willing to do whatever it takes to win. We got a new logo, new jerseys are on the way, and the rebrand looks exciting.
Oh, also, Jimmy Butler is a Timberwolf.
Yep, it still feels really good to say that. Just checking.
I do have one last issue to address, but it has nothing to do with the players, the coaches, or even the front office. It has to do with us, the fans. The Timberwolves had the second worst attendance record last year, only ahead of the Phoenix Suns. Maybe one of the reasons we lost more games at home than we won was because on average the Wolves played in front of 3,000 less fans at home than they did on the road. We have an exciting team, with one of the brightest futures in basketball. It is time we start filling the Target Center and giving our team the support, crowd and love they deserve.
After all, we’re going to have to show the NBA what a playoff crowd looks like in Minnesota this year.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
It’s true. Ricky Rubio, Spanish unicorn and wonderboy sensation, is no longer a Minnesota Timberwolf.
I’ve dreaded writing a farewell for some time now (over a year), but the time has come. Let’s do this.
The year is 2010. I’m on my couch as a 14-year old teenager watching the Michael Beasley and Kevin Love-led Timberwolves. I’m surely getting way too excited about the prospect of those two being able to lead an NBA team deep into the playoffs. Again, I’m 14. I’m probably eating Lucky Charms two meals out of the day and rooting for Tim Tebow to make it in sports. Oh wait, I’m still doing those things today. *Sigh*
Deep down, though, I knew I was watching some terrible basketball. That Timberwolves team finished 17-65, so it wasn’t any secret they needed major talent upgrades throughout their roster. The one outside glimmer of hope I had for the team came from an 18-year old teenager playing professional basketball in Spain.
His name - Ricky Rubio.
The words ignited feelings of hope. Consoled feelings of frustration.
The Wolves fifth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft played in the EuroLeague at age 16 and was considered the Spanish Pete Maravich, with dribbling and passing skills that were eye-popping. He played against the U.S. in the gold medal game at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 at age 17.
Fast forward to 2011. Ricky Rubio is on center stage in Minnesota, dealing dimes in front of a rejuvenated fan base at Target Center. His game was different. It was flashy. It was entertaining. A pass-first point guard with the ability to draw “ooh’s and ahh’s” out of the crowd was exactly what the franchise needed.
Rubio had that team on track to break a seven-year playoff drought. Unfortunately, the spark-provider suffered a torn ACL in the team’s 42nd game against the Lakers at home, ending his season and ultimately the team’s playoff chances as Minnesota went 5-20 in its final 25 games after the injury. The date was March 9, 2012. I don't even have to look that up because it's been ingrained into my mind ever since the night of the injury. That's the kind of effect Ricky has had on my life.
Regardless of the outcome, Ricky’s rookie year was the most fun I've had watching the Timberwolves. They weren’t deep and filled with top-tier talent. However, they meshed greatly together and had phenomenal team chemistry. This led them to success when Ricky was healthy.
Unfortunately, the next five years of Rubio’s career in Minnesota would be the culprit of exhausting discussion regarding the point guard’s value. The main flaw, of course, being his suspect jump shot that never fully improved for a long stretch of time.
Rubio was an incredibly contentious player in Minnesota. But through it all, his positive attitude, selflessness, and loyalty to make his team better shined through a failed rebuild and being asked to run the show for incredibly inexperienced and young rosters.
People seem to forget, but Rubio was healthy for his last two years in a Wolves uniform. He could have easily demanded his way out by asking Flip Saunders or Tom Thibodeau to trade him. Throughout his time in Minnesota, Rubio never truly had a realistic chance to heavily compete with the teams surrounding him.
But he never complained. He was always a shining light during the dark times. Sad part about it, he was underappreciated through it all.
As Drew Mahowald (former OTP writer) once said following the 2015-16 season:
"The most disappointing thing about this season is the fact that Wolves fans still bash Ricky Rubio. I just don't understand it. It gave me an idea, actually. I created a Timberwolves basketball knowledge test, a test that proves how much you know about basketball, specifically Wolves basketball. Here's the test:
Do you think Ricky Rubio is a valuable asset to the Wolves moving forward?
If yes, you pass.
If no, you fail. You have little knowledge of basketball. "
There are so many, but my favorite moment of Ricky Rubio’s career in Minnesota was his game-winning three on March 12, 2016 in Oklahoma City. It was a joy to see him shut his haters up for one night.
Another favorite memory of Rubio was on March 3, 2013 against San Antonio when he registered his first triple-double, which included a beautifully epic two-times-behind-the-back-layup. Boy oh boy that was filthy.
It would take far too long to retrieve the ample amount of fond memories Ricky Rubio has given to myself and the rest of Wolves nation, so I’ll just move on.
Although Rubio was never fortunate enough to make the playoffs in Minnesota, he still put on a show each and every night. A show that catapulted him up to second place on the Wolves all-time assists and steals leader-board.
From the bottom of my heart, I just want to say thanks for everything.
Thanks for being incredibly loyal. You could have easily complained and went public in your dismay of the way you were treated by management here. Heck, you had the best year of your career last year and wounded up hearing about a washed up player (Derrick Rose) replacing you when the season finished. But you didn’t because you aren't wired that way.
Thanks for being an awesome teammate. I will never forget the moment when Tyus hit that game-winner against Toronto. Nobody was happier than you. It exemplified how selfless you are - a great teammate who truly only cared about winning.
Thanks for giving us hope in the darkest of times. There was many times over the years that I would literally only turn on the television just to watch you distribute the basketball. You made me fall in love with this team. You are the reason I’m a Wolves fan.
And last *wipes tears*, thanks for being Ricky. Our Ricky.
You truly weren’t like anybody else.
Good luck in Utah. We’ll be rooting for you.
By: Louie Vicchiollo
With the beginning of free agency less than 24 hours away, NBA fans can start to get excited. Hell, they should already be excited; Chris Paul is a Rocket, Phil Jackson isn’t a GM anymore, rumors continue to fly, and most importantly, Jimmy Butler is a Timberwolf.
Yep, it still feels really good to be able to say that. Just checking.
July 1st is arguably one of the most exciting, fun, nerve wracking days of the entire year when it comes to the NBA, especially with this year’s underwhelming playoffs. Free agency begins, players begin to get snatched up, and every fan can wonder what moves their team will make before all of the big name players are gone. The beginning, the big name, superstar, rumor filled players are the most exciting, but that does not mean the end of free agency doesn’t matter. You could be one Andre Igoudala away from making the playoffs, or one Paul Millsap away from being a contender. Now, I’m not saying Ben McLemore matters just as much in free agency as Blake Griffin, but that isn’t to say he won’t have a significant impact on the team that signs him.
Teams often dramatically change during free agency, and this is what I want to dive a little bit deeper into in this piece: what effects do major changes to a roster have on winning? Roster continuity is an amazing stat provided by Basketball-Reference.com (which is where all the statistics in this piece come from) that details what percentage of minutes played by a team come from the players on the previous year’s team.
A huge part of winning basketball games is having good team chemistry, which can only be developed the more you play together. This is why we see teams like the 2010-11 Miami Heat start 9-7 when they added LeBron and Bosh or the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers starting 5-7 with the return of LeBron and addition of Kevin Love; it takes time to get used to playing together, that is just the nature of basketball. Draft picks, free agency, retirement, injuries and more can affect team chemistry and roster continuity in major ways.
So what effect does this roster continuity have on winning historically? Since the 2000-01 season, the average roster has had a roster continuity value of 66%, meaning that 66% of the minutes played that year were played by the players on the same team’s previous year’s roster. Check out the graph below detailing every team since the 2000-01 season and how their roster continuity and win percentage relate.
The trend is pretty clear: the higher the roster continuity %, the more likely you are to win. It also makes sense that the average team with a roster continuity rating of 66% should win 50% of its games, which the graph indicates. Now of course, this graph isn’t perfect. There isn’t a perfect relationship between roster continuity and win percentage, but it is very interesting to look at. Let’s look at a few of the outliers, indicated by the green data points and labeled.
Starting with the most fun one, the 2015-16 Warriors. Ah, yes, the 73 win team. While it should never be understated how difficult it is to win 73 games in a season, when you look at roster continuity it makes sense why they won as much as they did. They had 95% rating for their roster continuity that year, only adding Ian Clark, Anderson Varejao, Jason Thompson, and Kevin Looney’s minutes to the previous year’s roster. It probably didn’t hurt that the Splash Brothers hit a combined 678 threes on the way to Steph’s second, and unanimous, MVP. Give us a reigning champion, the reigning (and about to be back to back) MVP, and a 95% roster continuity rating and watch the wins pour in. Like I said, while 73 wins is amazing, it isn’t too surprising when looking at the 2015-16 Warriors.
The 2006-07 Seattle SuperSonics (Marked OKC on graph) should have been really good if we are going off the roster continuity prediction, so what happened? They should have won 49 games but they only won 31?! Injuries. Ray Allen only played 55 games, and Rashad Lewis only played 60. It should also be noted this isn’t come in and shoot four threes Ray Allen that we saw late in his career, this is 26 points per game, four and a half rebounds and assists per game, shooting 44 percent from the field Ray Allen. Losing your top two players to injuries won’t help you win games.
Now, the champion 2007-08 Boston Celtics. With a roster continuity rating of 50%, how did they win more than even half their games, let alone a championship?!? Remember that guy who we just talked about on the Seattle SuperSonics who got hurt when they were supposed to be really good? He joined the Celtics. Yeah, roster continuity can work the other way too. With the addition of Ray Allen and, sigh, Kevin Garnett, two superstars at the time to the already very strong core of Rondo and Pierce, the Celtics were able to overcome the low roster continuity rating with their superstar talent. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!
Finally, this is a Wolves blog, so let’s talk about the 2003-04 Timberwolves. Similar to the 2007-08 Celtics, the Timberwolves added some really good talent this year in Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell and Fred Hoiberg (yes, I’m letting my Iowa State bias come into play here). Sam Cassell finished the year with 12.1 win shares, Sprewell with 5.7, and “The Mayor” with 6.1. Much like the 2015-16 Warriors, it probably didn’t hurt to have your best player playing in MVP form. This is yet another example of how talent can outplay the low roster continuity when you have a high level of talent.
So, now that we have looked at the individual seasons of every team since the 2000-01 season, you might be thinking “sure, low roster continuity can be outplayed by talent for a season” or “just because you have high roster continuity for a season doesn’t mean you will be good” but that doesn’t mean roster continuity means anything over longer periods of time (which, of course, is what roster continuity is measuring, continuity over longer periods of time) so how about we look at the averages for every franchise since 2000-01? Check out the graph below.
Hmm… what a surprise, the higher the roster continuity rating, the more likely you are to win games even over multiple seasons. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but I do want to mention a few quick things before we leave this graph for the internet archive to swallow up. Miami, Dallas, and San Antonio all have win percentages way higher than what their roster continuity would suggest, and Minnesota, Washington and Oklahoma City all are significantly below what we would expect. What could be the cause of this? I don’t have an exact answer, but one thing that I think is interesting is the front office of each of these teams. The teams above the prediction curve all have front offices that are widely regarded as great, and the teams below… well… but the front office is already indirectly involved in the continuity ratings because they are the decision makers in what players are on the teams, so is there another factor that changes this dramatically?
One thing that isn’t factored into roster continuity is coaches, and they play a big, big role in it. Like I mentioned before, roster continuity is calculated by the percent of minutes played by players from the previous year’s team on the current year’s team; a change in coaching can drastically change who plays, how much they play, and how often they play. Even if you only bring in three new players, a new coach could play those three players much more than the previous coach would, or vice versa.
Long story short, coaches affect minutes a lot (who woulda guessed?)
Let’s look at another graph, this time how the number of coaches for every team since 2000-01 has affected the win percentage since that season.
Another clear indicator of how our response variable (win %) changes with a new explanatory variable (number of coaches from 2000-17). You probably didn’t need the graph to guess, but the more coaching changes you make, the less likely you are to win. This is another factor that can be forgotten when thinking about team chemistry, not only do the player on the court have to gel together, but the coaches and players have to make a good connection both on and off the court.
There is one thing that needs to be said not only about coaching changes, but about this whole roster continuity concept in general: try to be like the Spurs. One coach since 2000 and an average roster continuity rating of 78% is a formula for a really good team for a really long time. Granted, they have had some okay draft picks and their coach is decent, but regardless this is just another thing the other teams in the league should take note of that the Spurs do and follow suit.
Yes, free agency is exciting. Really, REALLY exciting, and it should be! Your favorite team, the hometown team that you know and love could land a superstar, or add “that one piece we need to get to the next level”, but that doesn’t mean it is all sunshine and rainbows. The more you change your roster, the less likely you are to win, and that why you pay the front office the big bucks to know when to keep someone, or when to let them go. I don’t think anyone can argue the sheer awesomeness of the Jimmy Butler trade (exception: Bulls fans), there is no denying that and I won’t even try to. But I will also be the first to say that attempting to keep your roster continuity rating high will almost always help, and it should be done. With all of that said, I have a prediction for you, Timberwolves fans.
We will be just fine. No, better than fine! We will be good, potentially really good.
Remember that guy who got hurt for the 2006-07 Seattle SuperSonics, then joined the championship 2007-08 Boston Celtics? Or how about the guy who took the 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves and their 27% roster continuity rating and gave them 58 wins? Jimmy has the talent to do what they did. Be excited Timberwolves fans, Jimmy Butler is a top 15 player who can help the Wolves reach that next level, who can help bring the Wolves to the playoffs, who can help bring Minnesota a championship.
By: Cal Colbert
“I'm excited to be back with the Timberwolves and want to thank Glen Taylor for this opportunity. My goal is to help the Wolves achieve the success that we experienced during my tenure with this organization. We have a strong nucleus in place and will look to add assets that will allow us to make the playoffs and eventually compete for an NBA Championship.” Flip Saunders said this at his first press conference with the Timberwolves when he returned to the organization in 2013.
Flip was great for this team. He put this organization on the map when he took over as general manager and later head coach in 1995. He, and Kevin McHale, did so by immediately drafting the hard working, competitive, high energy, and very athletic, 6’11” Kevin Garnett. Before hiring Flip, the Timberwolves had never had a winning season.
In his first season as head coach, he coached 62 games with a record of 20-42. Flip, who was then the GM, replaced then head coach, Bill Blair, after 20 games in the 1995-96 season. During his first full season as head coach, 1996-97, he led the Timberwolves to their first ever playoff appearance with a record of 40-42, which unfortunately in a first round exit. It’s easy to see why Timberwolves fans everywhere were excited. They had a young and very talented star in Kevin Garnett, and a new coach that seemed to be doing all the right things to get this organization where it needed to be.
Flip Saunders was the head coach from 1995-2004. In the nine and a half seasons Flip was head coach, the Timberwolves recorded only two losing seasons, both of which took place at the beginning of his tenure. Flips highest level of success with the Wolves came in the 2003-2004 season when the team made the Western Conference Finals. They were knocked out by a stacked Los Angeles Lakers team, that fielded a starting lineup of Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Shaquille O’Neal. Can you really blame him?
Flip Saunders had a lot of success in the NBA, and he knows how to put a winning team on the court. It makes sense why Wolves fans were excited to see Flip Saunders return to Minnesota. The man was a basketball genius. Not only did he know how to put a team out on the court that can execute and win games. He also saw the potential in players, when many others didn’t.
When Flip returned to the Timberwolves organization in 2013 he was hired as the Director of Basketball Operations. By doing this, the Timberwolves organization entrusted him with the future of this team, whose only identity at the time was Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. This was a great move by the organization. Flip Saunders had proven himself in the NBA, and he was familiar with the organization. It just made sense.
Unfortunately, his second time around with the Wolves was cut short after he lost his battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Though his return to the Wolves was short-lived, Flip made many noticeable changes to the roster that have been a big part in forming the team we have today.
In 2013, he drafted Trey Burke with the ninth overall pick. Burke was flipped to the Utah Jazz in return for Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng.
2014 saw Flip draft Zach LaVine with the 13th overall pick. He then proceeded to trade Kevin Love in a blockbuster trade to Cleveland where the Wolves acquired potential star Andrew Wiggins, who was the first overall pick that year.
In the same year, Flip signed Ricky Rubio to a team friendly, four-year extension worth $55 million. At the time, many people criticized Flip for giving Rubio what seemed to be an overpay for a player of Rubio’s caliber. In retrospect, this deal proved to be very fruitful for the Wolves. Rubio is a franchise main stay, and has continued to prove his worth. Due to last year’s cap spike, Rubio’s contract is now seen as a bargain to many teams.
In 2015, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Flip Saunders won the NBA lottery. It was the first time the Wolves had ever won the lottery, and I'm sure you all remember Flip and his gang jumping up and down after finding out they would have the number one overall pick.
Flip used this pick to secure the rights of Karl-Anthony Towns. A young, big man out of Kentucky, Towns had all the potential in the world. Later that season, Flip traded Thaddeus Young to Brooklyn for Kevin Garnett. This brought a much-needed veteran presence to the roster as well as a courtside mentor for the young pups, especially Towns. Flip never saw Towns play a minute in the NBA, or see this team progress the way it has.
Flip's contributions provided the Wolves with all the parts to be successful. They had the experienced point guard in Rubio, two highly athletic wings in Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins, and who could forget about Karl-Anthony Towns? We also had Gorgui, who was slowly proving his worth on the defensive end and had the top Win Share for the Wolves at 4.9.
Even though Flip was building a team for the future by forming a potential “Big 3” in LaVine, Wiggins, and Towns, it didn't quite work out that way. However, it may have worked out for the better. Had Flip not seen the potential in LaVine, the Wolves would have never had the trade pieces they needed to acquire the All-Star SG/SF from the Chicago Bulls, Jimmy Butler. Who would have thought that Zach LaVine, a player that didn't even start for UCLA and averaged less than 10 points per game, would turn into the high flying, two-time dunk contest winner and the smooth scorer he is today?
As much as it hurts Wolves fans to see LaVine go, I think we can agree that acquiring Jimmy Butler was the right move for this organization. Also known as Jimmy G Buckets, he is one of the best two-way guards in the league and debatably a top 15 player. He brings everything that the Timberwolves need to the table as far as a leader, a veteran with playoff experience, a lockdown defender, and a go-to guy in the clutch. Jimmy is exactly what this team needed, without Flip, and of course Tom Thibodeau, it wouldn't have been possible. If it wasn't for Flip and all he did in acquiring these young assets, hopeful future stars, and role players, the Wolves would not be in a place to succeed like they are now.