Will the Timberwolves Escape from NBA Purgatory?

Quinn Daley

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Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler are gone, and unless the Minnesota Timberwolves either lose or win the majority of their remaining games, they may end the season without much to show for it outside of the acquisition of forwards Dario Saric and Robert Covington from Philadelphia in exchange for Jimmy Butler. The Minnesota Timberwolves inarguably have had a tumultuous and mediocre season with only about a third of their games remaining.

The Wolves shouldn’t come anywhere close to competing for a championship even if they make the playoffs. They would have enormous amounts of trouble getting past teams like the vastly-improved Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City and Houston, where Paul George and James Harden are having MVP-caliber seasons for each of their respective teams, and there is very little hope for any of even these team to get past Golden State. The Wolves aren’t contending this season, and I feel they haven’t accepted this yet because they are failing to make roster moves to at least to be in a position to receive a decent lottery pick.

The Wolves are stuck in NBA purgatory— they aren’t talented enough to compete or bad enough to improve their roster considerably in the draft. What does this leave the Wolves to realistically do or expect? The trade deadline has passed, so they are stuck with their current roster, leaving them to look toward the offseason to first address the direction the team wants to head in and then to make moves to head in that direction.

The Wolves are going to have to decide whether they want to completely rebuild or try to “reload” and make a run with their current core. Unfortunately, outside of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, their current core may have already reached its peak and is only getting older. 

The front office is going to need to make tough decisions regarding whether or not to re-sign aging veterans like Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose. As well, they may want to take a look at the contract of guard Jeff Teague to see if there is a way to unload his contract because he likely will not be worth the $19 million the Wolves will otherwise to pay him next season if he’s not traded or agrees to terms on a contract buyout. 

The most intriguing salary issue the team will have to address is whether or not to hold onto Gorgui Dieng, who is slated to make over $33 million throughout the next two seasons, and Dieng is no longer worth the money former President Tom Thibodeau believed he was worth before the 2017-2018 season. If the Wolves are able to free up cap space and possibly re-sign Derrick Rose to a team-friendly deal, they should be in a decent position to “retool” this offseason and take advantage of the years they are guaranteed with their young stars.

As for their core, its potential is still a mystery for NBA fans and likely the Timberwolves front office. Karl-Anthony Towns isn’t going anywhere, and he should be a reliable and arguably permanent franchise cornerstone for years to come. Josh Okogie has shown encouraging promise and plenty of potential this season, and he should be a core piece for the franchise as well regardless of the direction the team wants to head in this offseason. 

The remaining concern for the Wolves front office that should affect their direction after the season centers around forward Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins hasn’t reached the potential or had the impact scouts, general managers, or even the Minnesota front office expected when he was drafted. Wiggins remains wildly inconsistent, and if he can’t find a way to become a reliable star for the franchise, the front office will need to evaluate whether he is worth keeping or not. This decision could and should come at the end of the season. 

Despite signing a long-term deal this offseason, the Timberwolves may want to consider surveying the trade market for Wiggins. Signing Wiggins to a max contract was arguably a gamble for the franchise, and deciding whether or not to auction off the gamble or not will be a key sign of the direction the team wants to move in this offseason. If they trade Wiggins, rebuilding is a certainty. If they hold onto Wiggins, Wolves fans need to invest all of their hope in Wiggins developing into the star he is being paid to be and the star his team needs him to be.