Under the new management of Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden, the Timberwolves hold an air of unpredictability. There is no precedent to judge the validity of rumors; there are no previous mishaps that we can assume will repeat themselves. Instead, we are left with a fleeting hope. For once, the Wolves may have stumbled into astute management—and this chaotic trade deadline will offer management their first test.
Evaluating the Roster
As Minnesota fans have grown accustomed to, the roster is packed with youth. While fans often find themselves in a never-ending battle with patience, there is growing sentiment that the playoffs are becoming genuinely attainable—perhaps even by next season.
The youth is rapidly developing into a complementary mixture of All-Star, Starting, and Role-Player level talent. There is a slight lack of veteran presence, with the exception of 26-year old Ricky Rubio, and role player Brandon Rush, but that is easiest to come by in free agency. Veterans are typically willing to sign with an organization that boasts competent coaching and playoff expectations—just look at Utah.
Adding another young, but somewhat established NBA player is the Wolves best option at the trade deadline. Giving away draft picks and younger pieces for veterans is wasteful. Moreover, trading away larger contracts for cap space is unnecessary. The Wolves have abundant cap space and furthermore trading away their best players will only become a detriment to the team’s success.
As for where the Wolves stand in today’s trade market, they don’t have a lot to offer. They have untouchable pieces such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine. You can assume Gorgui Dieng is safe after recently signing his extension. Then, there is Kris Dunn, Shabazz Muhammad and Tyus Jones—three young players with plentiful potential. However, one can imagine that at the right price, they could suddenly become expendable.
And finally, we have our yearly trade-rumor resident: Ricky Rubio.
Once again, Minnesota is tip-toeing the trade deadline by dangling Ricky. While Ricky receives flack for his shooting ability, he remains an underappreciated and above-average point guard. He currently ranks 5th in assists per game, and 8th in steals per game, and 8th in DPRM for all point guards. While Ricky struggles to score the ball—to put it kindly—he still is night-in and night-out one of Minnesota’s most consistent players. He runs an efficient offense and leads a quietly improving defense.
So what would justify trading Ricky?
Monetarily, Minnesota would clear cap space, but at $13.4 million and two years remaining, his contract is beyond reasonable. As for the playing rotation, it would open additional playing time to further develop both Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones.
However, rumor has it that Thibodeau wants Derrick Rose. Firstly, Rose has been awful. He’s struggled in New York—often playing with a mentality of the MVP he once was, but never with the skill he once had. Secondly, Rose carries an expiring contract. Theoretically, Rose could enter as a placeholder. Dunn has done little to bolster his resume thus far. He plays prematurely on offense, often appearing unprepared to facilitate an NBA offense. But this is to be expected from a rookie point guard. It would be beyond foolish to wave the white flag so early—he has proven himself more than capable on defense—he is just yet to earn more minutes than a backup deserves.
Minnesota should aim to retain Ricky. He is a steady voice, a calm presence, and a locker room leader. He plays an unselfish brand of basketball, something Rose surely cannot claim, and consistently makes those around him better. If Thibodeau is serious about maintaining and developing his roster while winning basketball games, Ricky is the right point guard to do so with.
Now as for a proposal or two.
The ESPN Trade Machine
Feel free to ignore this section if you are a Minnesota fan. It will likely only give you momentary hope, and lasting disappointment—something I assume you are used to by now.
If you are Tom Thibodeau, Scott Layden, or any human who has their ear, please read on.
Wolves Receive: Derrick Favors
Utah Receives: Shabazz Muhammad, Tyus Jones and Brandon Rush’s expiring contract
I’ll admit, it is a longshot at best. Minnesota put themselves in a bind by trading away their 2018 first-rounder with lottery protections until 2020. Due to the Stepien Rule, no team can trade back-to-back first round picks. Therefore, the Wolves cannot guarantee a first round pick until 2022.
However, Utah is reportedly shopping Favors and he would fit seamlessly in Minnesota. His playing style is a perfect contrast to Bjelica’s, offering Thibodeau a coveted level of line-up flexibility alongside KAT and Dieng.
On the other side, Utah is vying for a 4-seed in the Western Conference. Despite their newfound success, they have no reason to trade Favors for a rental—they still remain a tier away from the championship conversation. Instead, Rush brings a championship pedigree on an expiring contract. Muhammad is destined for a playoff team’s bench—heating up in a moment’s notice, never fearing the largest moment. Finally, Tyus is the extra ball-handler and offensive-minded guard Utah needs—but the issue remains: would they trust someone so young?
Minnesota Receives: Iman Shumpert
Cleveland Cavaliers Receives: Deron Williams
Dallas Mavericks Receive: 2018 Minnesota 2nd Round Draft Pick
With Lou Williams off the market, Cleveland must resort to finding a new playmaker. Deron Williams is a seasoned veteran prepared to serve his role. He is in the last year of his contract and presents a steadier (and frankly better) option at backup point guard than Kay Felder. As long as LeBron is in Cleveland, they will remain in the win-now mode. Realistically, giving up Shumpert for Williams is a bit much, but the organization knows the value of going all in to support their King.
In Dallas, the Mavericks should prepare to tank. With the Pelicans and Nuggets as clear favorites for the 8-seed, their playoff window is dwindling. Williams is on his contract's last year and will be ready to leave town at season’s end. For Dallas, receiving a second-round pick is ample return for an expiring contract.
As for Minnesota, Tom Thibodeau comes away with a personally coveted player. While Shumpert has had a volatile career, his young age (26) and defensive prowess attracts a coach like Thibs. Additionally, he would bolster a struggling bench, provide defensive depth, and not to forget, his shooting lines have been steadily improving this season.
The pessimist in me hopes the Wolves sit tight. While I may hold low faith in Minnesota making the right transaction, I also believe roster continuity goes forgotten during frantic times like these. One could argue that the Wolves are unlikely to make a major splash in free agency, but that’s not what the roster needs. Unless you’re adding a superstar, this roster is years away from the championship conversation—but it’s on the right track.
For the right price, Thibodeau can attract veteran role players—which the Wolves can afford between a low salary expense and an expanding salary cap (plus Pekovic should soon be medically waived from the salary cap). A boost to the bench and another step forward from the likes of Towns, Wiggins and LaVine are what remains for the Wolves to enter the playoff conversation. Consider Boston and Utah—two teams that entered the playoff conversation through organic development. Both teams now rank in the upper-half of their conferences due to additional free agent signings (sans-superstar) in addition to their natural growth. Minnesota can follow this track, but trading away an established NBA point guard will only deter their current progress.
Above it all, Minnesota’s first trade deadline with Thibodeau at the helm will say a lot—especially about the balance he hopes to hold between the short-term and the long-term. Either way, the Timberwolves are entering a defining period for the organization's future. And on Thursday afternoon, fans will gain their first perspective of what is happening with the man upstairs.