By: Brian Simonson
The NBA offseason is officially underway, and new Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas continues to fill in those checkboxes on a long list of to-do items before the 2019-2020 season kicks off.
After retaining Ryan Saunders as head coach and filling out the front office staff, the latest checkbox was the NBA draft June 20.
In summary, the moves the Wolves made on draft night:
-Traded the No. 11 overall pick and Dario Saric to the Phoenix Suns for the No. 6 overall pick
-Drafted (by the Suns) Jarrett Culver with the No. 6 overall pick. Due to the moratorium period, this will not be finalized until July 6th.
-Drafted Jaylen Nowell with the 43rd pick in the second round
-Signed C Naz Reid from LSU and G Tyus Battle from Syracuse
-Signed former University of Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy to the Summer League roster
Reviewing the moves
Much to their benefit, the Wolves didn’t have to give up much trading up to No. 6. There were other reported trade discussions involving Robert Covington, which would have been a devastating loss on the defensive end. Instead, they were able to move Saric, who was more than likely going to end up commanding a salary higher than the Wolves would be willing to offer once his current deal expires after next season. Consequently, parting ways with Saric was wise given the risk of him jolting next offseason and receiving nothing in return.
With the No. 6 pick, it was presumed Minnesota was building their backcourt of the future by selecting Darius Garland or Coby White. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Garland with the No. 5 pick, leaving Rosas scrambling to find trade partners for No. 6 as the clock on the pick was winding down.
Finding no suitors, the Wolves ended up using Phoenix’s pick to draft Big 12 Player of the Year Jarrett Culver, a sophomore shooting guard from Texas Tech. One of his strengths that will be heavily leveraged with the Wolves is his strong defensive abilities. One of his primary weaknesses is his shooting range, which is expected to improve over time in the NBA.
We’ll have more on “Butterburger” Culver (we have given him this new nickname) throughout the Summer League.
With pick No. 43, Minnesota selected Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaylen Nowell. Nowell was remembered for his success in clutch situations while playing for Washington. Let’s hope that the third time 's a charm when it comes to drafting Syracuse products (see Johnny Flynn and Wesley Johnson).
What it means moving forward
Drafting Culver resulted in a glaring logjam at the wing position for Wolves players currently under contract, which scratched a few heads. This also did not solve anything at the point guard position. With this in mind, we feel that Rosas is not done making moves. There is much speculation that Andrew Wiggins is on the trade market and moving his contract would help eliminate the wing overload and potentially clear enough cap space to facilitate a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn RFA D’Angelo Russell.
Moving Saric means there are currently no power forwards under contract. Robert Covington’s primary position is small forward, but he is expected to move to play some power forward next season in what projects to be a position-less roster. Wiggins, if on the team, may also be asked to play there some. With that said, it's fair to suggest this team could have some rebounding issues next season.
If there’s one thing we know for sure about Gersson Rosas, he is certainly putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to the organization and its fans feeling change is on the horizon. The front office acted in what seemed to be a more proactive manner than displayed in many previous drafts. They seemed well prepared, assertive, confident, and had backup plans in place on draft night.
Personally, I love how Rosas is not settling, doing his research and challenging the status quo on everything within the organization. He is someone who sets out an action plan and executes rather than running his position in a reactive manner. We trust that this is just the beginning of his moves this offseason. His next set of checkboxes to fill are addressing the point guard situation (c’ mon, D’Angelo Russell!), trades and free agency to round out the roster. Like Dan said on draft day, their number one priority needs to be doing everything possible to land Karl-Anthony Towns a star sidekick.
Until then, we’ll see you at the Summer League, which the Wolves should have a fun roster to watch.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
Happy draft day, everyone! Thanks for clicking. I will get into draft talk quickly, but first, want to begin with a prelude.
I'd like to apologize for our non-existent NBA draft coverage. We have essentially been ghosts, and are the first to admit it. In a time of transition for a lot of us, we’ve all been simply busy. I’m fresh off college graduation working full-time while trying to find full-time work in sports journalism, which, if you’ve ever attempted, know is an exhausting and periodically dejecting journey. Zach recently had a wonderful, precious baby girl, so he’s basically working two jobs. Lastly, Seth is working about 55 hours per week so he hasn’t had much time to contribute.
As a result, the blog has inadvertently taken a bit of a backseat in our lives. We’ll do our best to get back into things and churn out fresh content on the state of the franchise throughout free agency and the 2019-20 season, and I’m sorry I’ve let you down over the past few months.
Now, what you came for!
The Wolves currently enter tonight’s NBA Draft with the No. 11 overall pick in the first round and No. 43 pick in the second round. Many are quite intrigued at the potential outcomes President of Basketball Gersson Rosas could swing for tonight’s NBA draft.
The most recent update regarding Minnesota comes from The New York Times’ Marc Stein, reporting Minnesota is aggressively trying to acquire the No. 4 overall pick from New Orleans. This suggests they have their sights set on Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, who is projected on most boards to go top seven.
It makes sense why the Wolves would be highly attracted to him. Their biggest hole is a star level perimeter player that can create out of isolation and the pick-and-roll. Garland projects to be that and checks off a lot of boxes NBA executives are looking for. Restricted free agent Tyus Jones may be an otherworldly ball protector and solid team defender, but he doesn’t move the needle. The Timberwolves need a backcourt presence with a playmaking ability to complement Karl-Anthony Towns. If Rosas and co. believe Garland get there, they should go get him and pay the necessary price.
The problem, however, is the Wolves just don't have much to offer. Would Saric/Okogie and No. 11 be enough? Or Covington and No. 11 if they believe Garland is the real deal? Whatever it would be, it’s fair to suggest the Celtics or Hawks - both of whom have been reported interested in the No. 4 pick -- could create a better offer. Atlanta could package No. 8 and No. 10, while the Celtics could offer multiple future first round draft picks.
If not Garland, who should Rosas be eyeing?
In exploring avenues the Wolves could take in the draft and free agency, acquiring restricted free agent guard D’Angelo Russell remains the best and most exciting outcome. No other player on the free agent market possesses both the upside and KAT-concentrated timeline. There is no easy path to acquiring him, as it would likely require a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn -- a team likely not wanting to take money back given their ambition to sign two max players. The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski examines in further detail how the Wolves could make a play for the all-star.
If the Russell interest never materializes, the Wolves would be wise to attempt to acquire Washington’s Bradley Beal or New Orlean’s Jrue Holiday. Neither player projects to fit the timeline of their respective team’s window, making it probable each team will test the market on their all-stars. Acquiring a player of this caliber would take quite a lot from Minnesota, likely Jeff Teague (to make money work), Robert Covington, Dario Saric/Josh Okogie, and two to three future first round picks. Giving up the few assets the Wolves currently own would be incredibly risky. However, as we step into KAT’s max extension years, pairing him with an all-star caliber player is essential to raising Minnesota's ceiling and convincing him things are progressing around these parts. Could Garland or the potential No. 11 pick become that? Perhaps. But the Wolves don’t have forever to watch them develop and if they don’t (worst-case), the Towns clock in Minnesota will speed up faster than Byron Buxton on the basepaths.
The Wolves need to acquire a needle mover this offseason, or, at minimum, shake things up. Consequently, they should select the player with the highest upside if they stay put at No. 11. Flip did it right by swinging for the fences and selecting Zach LaVine in 2014. The current cap-strapped Wolves will need to do the same and pray he quickly develops into the star sidekick they are looking to pair with Towns. I’m not going to pretend I know who that could be, but it suggests to be the best route if they stick at No. 11. If Rosas is unable to move up and isn't enamored with anyone at 11, there is the option to trade down and attempt to attach Jeff Teague or Gorge Dieng's contract to a deal -- which could open up space for a potential Russell sign-and-trade.
Given Minnesota’s lack of upside on the current roster, their ceiling looks to be a second-round exit. If the new regime can unleash Andrew Wiggins’ potential, that changes. However, from what we’ve seen from the former No. 1 overall pick in five years here, It's fair to be skeptical of him materializing into a premier player.
KAT needs a star sidekick for the Wolves to compete in an ever-improving Western Conference. Let’s hope Rosas has the kahunas (and brains!) to acquire one in the near future.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the draft. Go Wolves.
By: Brian Simonson
The first round of the NBA playoffs is underway. 16 teams get to continue with the 2018-2019 season, but this also means the rest of the league is getting a head start on their 2019-2020 plans.
One of these teams getting a head start is the Minnesota Timberwolves.
There are several items to address and vacancies to fill within the organization over the next few months. From the top, the President of Basketball Operations is open. Then, you have two positions currently filled at general manager and head coach which are Scott Layden and Ryan Saunders respectively. The uncertainty here is, we are not sure if they will retain their respective positions into the following season.
With that said, the first of the offseason moves we thought occurred was on April 9th, where news broke out that General Manager Scott Layden and Interim Head Coach Ryan Saunders were going to be retained for the foreseeable future. This was quickly retracted and instead, it was made public that the Wolves were searching for a new President of Basketball Operations first.
On the business side, it certainly is imperative that Glen Taylor gets the POBO hiring correct this time, and hopefully, they will be the person deciding the GM and head coach positions. But while that is in flight, let’s point our attention to the front lines of battle in this column, which is the head coaching vacancy.
While there are several candidates available for the vacancy, we’re going to specifically focus on several angles for the current front runner and favorite of the position: Ryan Saunders.
While a fan favorite and had many positives, we have learned Saunders also has some negatives in his early head coaching career. This article will summarize a case for both angles of why Saunders is and is not the right head coach for the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Human Element
One thing you noticed during the Tom Thibodeau era is that there was a lack of transparency and communication between coach and players. Thibs implemented a “my way, or the highway” culture with his game plans, practice routines, and rotations, without any room for deviation. It left players to feel stuck, unsure of what their true role was, what they brought to the roster, how many minutes they would get, and ultimately some players were unhappy. Ryan Saunders is a complete 180, where he has an open-door policy with each and every single player. He has one-on-ones with the roster, he’ll have post-game conversations with players to discuss positives, negatives, or simply be there to listen. Saunders has given each player a specific role and clear-cut expectations within their game strategy. Saunders makes you feel like you play an important part of the process, rather than treat you like a pawn.
Buy-In from the Players
The human element that Saunders projects has certainly resulted in high praise and buy-in from the Wolves players. Many of the Wolves—Dario Saric, Tyus Jones, and Karl Anthony Towns to name a few—have gone on the record to express their extreme support for Saunders and hope to have him back for years to come. The players believe in him and will fight for him, which is a breath of fresh air and something we have not seen since Flip Saunders was at the helm. This can ultimately and hopefully lead to great team unison, chemistry, and on-court effort.
He’s an Inexpensive Hire
Saunders is just starting out in his head coaching career and has a lot to prove. This means he necessarily and hopefully won’t be able to demand too high of an annual salary.
He Utilizes the Bench
For two and a half seasons, Wolves fans begged Tom Thibodeau to use his bench, leverage different rotations, and balance the minutes distribution. It left players who accumulated heavy minutes exhausted, and our bench’s potential was kept a mystery. Enter Ryan Saunders, who was forced to use his entire bench to simply keep five bodies on the field as the Wolves were decimated with injuries all season. While injuries are certainly an unfortunate part of the game, it also enabled Saunders to be creative with his rotations and tap into the bench to find their hidden talents. We would have never known that Luol Deng could have been such an integral player for the team. Another example of the bench’s success due to Saunders using the bench is Cameron Reynolds. “Cam” was called up from the G-League and has become a vital role player off the Wolves’ bench with his respectable 3 point shooting. His efforts resulted in landing him an NBA contract with the Wolves (but we’ll see how long it lasts).
The Saunders Legacy and Wolves Culture
One word that many Timberwolves fans, writers, and analysts continuously talk about is “stability”. This team has never had an identity outside of the KG era. The Wolves now have a taste of consistency in their core with Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones, and Karl Anthony Towns. It may be time to cement the stability by inking Ryan Saunders, where his father’s legacy will forever be praised. Signing Saunders would solidify a sense of real organizational culture and is a coach that fans and the players will get behind.
Ryan Saunders has nine and a half years of Assistant Coaching experience, followed by a 17-25 record as head coach. Although it’s unfair to bash his head coaching record because he had to put up with player injuries, it is still a concern that there is more unknown than known facts about his ability to run a team.
The Wolves’ defensive took a serious dip when Saunders took over in January. In his 42 games, the team’s defensive rating went from 109.1 (17th) under Tom Thibodeau to 115.0 (27th) this season. The Wolves have a high-octane offense that is ranked 11th in the league, but their inability to defend the ball has proved costly. 13 of their 25 losses under Saunders were decided by 10 or more points.
Late-Game Strategy Needs Work
As a derivative of Ryan Saunders’ lack of head coaching experience, comes the lack of experience in handling late-game situations. There have been several instances where a bad play has been drawn up, or the ball was put in the wrong player’s hands. Handling clutch situations is quite the concern, but hopefully with future experience will bring scenarios where, if given the keys, Saunders will eventually learn to execute effectively.
Other Head Coaching Candidates are Available
Numerous names are floating around for potential head coach hires. One name particular that has created buzz over the past few days is Minnesota native Dave Joerger. During his last season in Sacramento, De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield had their best seasons. This helped result in the Kings’ best record since the 2005-2006 season at 39-43, nearly missing out on the playoffs. This might be the only competition. Many Wolves fans and analysts have pointed to the Minnesota native to have a possible stake in the Wolves’ head coaching vacancy, but only time will tell.
If you’re looking for my opinion, I’m leaning towards Ryan Saunders getting that Interim tag removed and becoming the next head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Not only do the fans and players have his back, but the social media posts that broke out saying that Saunders would be hired (before being quickly withdrawn) signal towards the move. This alone makes it almost feel like a shoe-in. It’s difficult to gauge what he’s truly capable of, as he dealt with the player injuries for 42 games. I’d like to see him get a fair shot with a healthy roster. The shorthanded Wolves certainly didn’t produce many wins under his tenure, but they fought hard regardless and showed serious heart. They even surprised many fans with impressive wins over the likes of the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. It leads me to believe things could be different when the team is at full health. We hope that the Wolves will do their due diligence and not settle on the first option. Either way, our group still hopes for the best for the franchise, regardless of who is appointed as head coach moving forward.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
The Minnesota Timberwolves are playing good basketball.
Since the start of play on February 11, they have won four of their past five games. Karl-Anthony Towns is playing like a man who wants an additional 32 million on his max extension (which he will earn if he makes an All-NBA team), Tyus Jones has given them a nice boost since his return, Anthony Tolliver has been Mr. Automatic from deep, and Luol Deng has rose from the ashes to give the Wolves a productive backup wing in the absence of Robert Covington.
Speaking of that man! RoCo is close to returning and currently getting his legs back underneath him practicing with the Timberwolves’ G-League affiliate Iowa Wolves. He will likely return to the NBA hardwood by the end of the week.
Getting Covington back for one last playoff push will be huge and it’s hard not to be excited about his return. When healthy, he impacts the game on both ends like nobody’s business covering up mistakes on defense and providing sharpshooting ability from the perimeter.
Three games behind the Spurs with 21 games to play, the 29-31 Wolves do have a chance, maybe even better than the 5.2 percent the computers at ESPN BPI's playoff odds give them.
So, what will it take for the Wolves to get there?
Win the games you should win
Out of the remaining 21 games, there are only 4 “gimmes” left on the schedule. That includes tonight’s road game at Atlanta, one home and away versus Washington, and a home versus New York. If you want to include games against bad-but-not-terrible teams in Charlotte, Memphis, and Dallas, then there’s seven. But after following the Wolves extensively for a decade now I can’t seem to automatically chalk those up as wins.
Going 6-1 here seems probably necessary.
Stand your ground
The remaining slate is pretty brutal for the Wolves. 15 of the remaining 21 games are versus current playoff teams. The good news, at least, is that eight of those games will be played in the Target Center confines along with two road games at Detroit and Charlotte. That’s 10 out of 15 games that are at home and/or winnable. Going 9-6 here seems probably necessary.
If Minnesota keeps winning and inches closer to a playoff spot, it will be interesting to see if Wolves fans respond and pack Target Center for the final stretch.
As every team needs when fighting for playoff seeding, the Wolves need help from anyone playing the Clippers, Spurs, Kings, and Lakers the rest of the way.
A deeper look at their remaining schedules, color-coated by games corresponding to the level of difficulty (via Reddit’s u/beefrombeemovie).
The good news is the Spurs are struggling right now. The bad news is the Kings aren't. The win over Sacramento Monday night was huge for closing the gap on them, but I still think they're a tad better than Minnesota right now. The Kings making it over the Wolves wouldn't be so bad. They are wildly entertaining, employ a head coach with Minnesota roots, and their fans deserve it.
From what we've seen recently, the Lakers don't deserve to make the playoffs and LeBron James' "activate playoff mode" switch doesn't appear to be working at the moment. Overall, it should be really interesting to see where these teams end up when the fat lady sings.
7. Clippers - 34-28 - +1 GB
8. Spurs - 33-29
9. Kings - 31-29 - 1 GB
10. Wolves - 29-31 - 3 GB
11. Lakers - 29-31 - 3GB
Long term, it'd likely be better for the Wolves to lose more than win the rest of the season as a top 10 draft pick could prove to be a game-changer for the future. However, it's undeniably more fun to root for the playoffs and earn a bid to get walloped in the first round (why that's more fun, I don't know). Whether that’s the wise choice of action or not, that’s what I’ll be doing the remainder of the season. The quest to 44 wins, which might just do it, begins now!
Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful Wednesday. Go Wolves.
By: Brian Simonson
The NBA Trade Deadline has passed, and once again the Minnesota Timberwolves were quiet throughout the process. Andrew Wiggins is frustrating fans more and more with each passing game through his lack of work ethic and questionable decision making on the court while earning a max deal. Key rotation players continue to be held out due to injuries. Luol Deng is starting games. The Wolves complete their most recent road trip in extremely disappointing fashion with a 0-4 road trip to mediocre teams, with the exception of the Denver Nuggets.
Following the road trip, Dario Saric makes the switch to starter, which results in the Wolves closing out their final home stretch before the All-Star Break with impressive wins over the LA Clippers and the Houston Rockets; both Western Conference playoff candidates.
In summary, everyone is uncertain on which Timberwolves team will show up on a nightly basis. Everyone is also uncertain about what the future holds after the season. Their record is currently at 27-30, which is four games out from the 8th seed in the Western Conference with three teams to jump. They are not looking like serious playoff contenders at this point in the season unless they go on a serious run. They also are not mediocre enough to land a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft. Looking past the season, there is little room with their cap space, and they have few assets, meaning less opportunity to make significant trades or free agent signings that push the franchise in the right direction for the long term. Everything feels...stuck.
What should Minnesota fans make of this? How do you output value with the remaining 25 games? How do you set your franchise up to sustain long term success past the season and avoid an Anthony Davis-esque situation with Karl Anthony Towns? Where do we go from here?
If you’ve been a Timberwolves fan for any period of the franchise’s 30-year existence, then you are no stranger to these roller coaster situations.
There is a large and growing laundry list for the Timberwolves to start addressing these questions, so we’ve centralized a summary of objectives and thoughts that we feel should be on everyone’s radar for the team moving forward:
CHECKLIST FOR REMAINDER OF THE SEASON:
• Give your young players experience – Typically, the Wolves drafts picks turn to busts, but they got one right in the 2018 NBA draft by landing Josh Okogie with their first-round pick. Okogie is getting valuable experience through extended minutes and seizing a starting position while there are injuries on the team. His efforts on the floor earned him a spot in the All-Star Weekend. While his defense has improved as of late, his offensive decision making still requires work. Okogie will continue to make rookie mistakes. Continue to groom him and he will learn to further understand the game through his minutes. 2018 Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop has rarely seen minutes since being called up from the G-League. See what the young players have to contribute rather than waste it. Perhaps their skills can be leveraged while on very cheap contracts. Since the Wolves can’t make serious splashes elsewhere, their best bet is to develop the core through their young talent.
• See what you have with Dario Saric – Dario Saric has become quite comfortable with his new starting role, and the Wolves have won the two recent games by 10 with him there. The team’s offensive rating in those games jumped from a 109.8 average for the season to 126.8 with Saric in the lineup (not to mention Luol Deng was also starting). Dario likes to start and Taj Gibson is OK with the switch. He is someone to keep an eye out for to stay in this spot long term, especially with a cost-friendly contract with two years remaining and Taj Gibson entering free agency. After Saric’s sample size with starting increases, there will be a better outlook on whether or not it will be a fit.
• Continue to evaluate Andrew Wiggins – Wolves fans are finally fed up with his lack of consistency and inability to take the next step in his craft after five seasons. It’s time for ownership and the coaching staff to start making Wiggins accountable, or perhaps the action item is to find a way to move his contract. Some people suggest that he is moved to the bench. Notice how the team has played well without him in the lineup due to illness? There are many questions surrounding Wiggins, but the best strategy at this point is hoping that we get the best version of Wiggins possible on a nightly basis.
CHECKLIST AFTER THE SEASON ENDS:
• Find your GM – With Scott Layden being one of the remaining front office members stemming from the Thibodeau era, it’s unlikely he’ll be retained past the offseason.
• Find your Head Coach/Giving Ryan Saunders a legit chance – While Saunders’ record as head coach is currently 8-9, there’s plenty of reason to give him a real chance at the position long term. Six of those losses were decided by five points or less; and mind you, the Wolves have been severely depleted. The Wolves can hang despite its injuries and miscues, and it is certainly reasonable to believe that when at full health, Saunders can build the team chemistry to output a solid performance on the court. Saunders connects with the players at a human level, which is something we did not see with Tom Thibodeau, and the players play for him. It will be an objective to monitor team performance when his players are finally at full health, and then decide if he is the one to run the position moving forward.
• Nail your draft picks – The franchise has historically been poor at drafting high-level talent through the draft (see Ndudi Ebi, Johnny Flynn, Wesley Johnson, Derrick Williams, etc.). With little cap room for the foreseeable future, the Wolves’ best option is to get their picks right in order to create a pool of potential assets or core players. This subject derives from why most fans want to see the team miss the playoffs, and try their hand at better positioning in the draft.
• Address your point guard situation (free agency) – All four point guards on the Wolves’ roster are on expiring contracts and will hit the free agent market this offseason. Jeff Teague has a player option, and many expect him to pick it up. Tyus Jones has been a very effective backup. Jerryd Bayless has held his own during team injuries. Derrick Rose has provided a veteran voice and is a scoring punch off the bench. Along with addressing the point guards and Anthony Tolliver, take a look at the list of mid-level free agents for this upcoming offseason.
• Ensure KAT’s happiness w/ franchise – This is the most important task in the list for this franchise. Karl Anthony Towns is the franchise for the long term, and the accumulation of the above action items correlate directly with his happiness.
The biggest question for fans and the franchise at the moment is deciding whether or not a 2019 playoff berth is worth it. Glen Taylor wants playoffs; fans want to tank. While a deep postseason run is quite unlikely, regardless of the outcome, there is little room for error with the front office and must make sure they nail every move that is made moving forward to ensure a bright future for the franchise and keeping their star player KAT happy.