2021-22 record: 46-36
Key additions: Rudy Gobert (trade), Kyle Anderson, Austin Rivers, Bryn Forbes (free agency), Josh Minott (2022 draft)
Key subtractions: Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt (trade), Josh Okogie (free agency)
Last season: Signs of prosperity were evident with the Wolves, who won 46 games in the tough West, scored an emotional Play-In Tournament victory against the LA Clippers, then went toe-to-toe with the Memphis Grizzlies before falling in the first round of the playoffs. Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards emerged as franchise pillars and Jaden McDaniels dropped hints of developing into a very solid player in the near future. Given their solemn history, this was very much an uplifting show by the Wolves, one of their best since Kevin Garnett was traded many years ago.
Summer summary: It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the Wolves pushed their chips to the table by swinging the biggest trade in franchise history since sending Garnett to Boston in 2007. That one didn’t work too well for the Wolves, though. KG made the Celtics a championship franchise while the Wolves began a tailspin that lasted more than a decade.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 15, 2022
Is Gobert an important piece for a future title contender, or merely a player who’ll keep the Wolves in the 45-50 win range but nothing more? That’s a massive question facing this franchise, which sacrificed its future in the form of multiple unprotected Draft picks for a defensively dominant center who can also excel on the screen-and-roll but whose offensive impact is otherwise minimal.
While the league trend has steered away from the big man for the last few seasons, the Wolves are going skyscraper with Gobert joining Towns. This trade wouldn’t have happened if Towns hadn’t signed off on it. Evidently, he and new GM Tim Connelly believe Gobert is the perfect compliment, a player who can protect the rim on defense and feast on screen rolls offensively while Towns — who views himself as the best-shooting big man in history — has the freedom to roam wherever he pleases.
Over the last few years, few have commanded as much respect defensively as Gobert. He makes opposing players think twice before venturing into the paint. Gobert isn’t the perfect defender (although the knock about his perimeter defense is overblown) but his length and reaction time are both stellar. He’s also a perennial top-five rebounder as well, lest we forget.
Minnesota hopes he can not only establish chemistry with Towns, but point guard D’Angelo Russell on the screen-and-rolls. Gobert does have suspect hands, though, and doesn’t always finish strong. If he’s setting screens above the key, he’s useless because he’s too far from the rim to get there without a catch and dribble (he can’t dribble). He also has zero shooting range or any desire to become a shooter, making him equally useless on the pick-and-pop.
But, that’s Towns’ job description anyway.
Bringing in Gobert brought in his heavy contract and cost the Wolves four (albeit replaceable) players and five first-rounders in the deal. Many around the league thought it was too steep a price. That said, give Minnesota credit for thinking big (excuse the pun) and being proactive. Were they reckless as well? The future will determine that. If they flirt with 50 wins over the next six or seven seasons, those picks won’t mean much.
Of the players surrendered for Gobert, Beverley, Vanderbilt and Beasley all had decent roles in the rotation … but none were stars. Thankfully, Minnesota has replacements at virtually every position and McDaniels — who will be 22 and shows lots of promise — wasn’t included in the Gobert trade.
The Wolves covered their losses by getting Rivers, Forbes and mainly Anderson, all at reasonable prices. Anderson is the best of the bunch, a quirky player who knows his way around the court and brings experience and smarts.
Minnesota also inked Towns to a max contract extension, which appears to be money well spent on the 26-year-old center who’s in his prime. Towns is a prideful player, anxious to be among the best in the NBA, and works on his game.
He’s obviously an important player, much like Edwards, who was tremendous in the playoffs and was, at times, Minnesota’s best player. But now the Wolves, with Gobert, have what they believe is the third piece of a Big Three.
For whatever reason, it didn’t work with Gobert in Utah as the Jazz never had a breakthrough with he and Donovan Mitchell. Also, the relationship between those two was prickly at times.
For Gobert’s sake, he needs better chemistry with Towns. The Wolves put their future on the line with this trade. Gobert will either push the club up a notch and among the best teams in the league, or the Wolves, much like the Jazz, will be a regular-season tease before falling flat in the playoffs.
In a sense, bigger needs to equate to better in Minnesota, or else.
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