The Minnesota Timberwolves took their first step toward long-term championship contention this season. After being out of the playoffs since 2018, the Timberwolves not only returned, but pushed the No. 2 seeded Memphis Grizzlies to six games in the first round of the playoffs. Of course, their relative youth and inexperience showed in the way that they lost. The Wolves blew three separate double-digit fourth-quarter leads to lose the series. Now, after their most successful season in well over a decade, Minnesota must figure out what moves need to be made in order to take the next step.
According to Marc Stein, that could be a change at point guard. According to the veteran NBA reporter, rival teams expect Minnesota to explore D’Angelo Russell trades this offseason. It would not be the first time they’ve done so. The Timberwolves were among the teams rumored to have been interested in Ben Simmons before he was dealt to Brooklyn. Russell’s enormous salary almost certainly would have been needed in that deal. Now Russell, due roughly $31.4 million next season, is on an expiring contract. That should make him easier to move if that is indeed what the Timberwolves want.
On possible roadblock, though, is the close friendship shared between Russell and Wolves superstar Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns has just two guaranteed seasons left on his contract, and is eligible for an extension this offseason. His feelings on remaining in Minnesota could easily be impacted by how the Russell situation is handled.
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On the other side of the equation, though, is second-year sensation Anthony Edwards. He is growing ready for a role as a primary ball-handler, and paying Russell close to max money under those circumstances seems like a poor use of resources. Russell’s scoring has declined three seasons in a row. He hasn’t made it back to an All-Star Game since being a surprise selection in 2019, nor has he garnered serious consideration. He is a weak defender, inconsistent jump-shooter and was benched for crunch-time of Minnesota’s season-ending loss to Memphis in favor of minimum-salary guard Jordan McLaughlin. When Russell was asked if he was OK with being benched, he responded by saying “No, not at all.”
The question Minnesota needs to answer right now if what sort of players are best-suited to supporting Edwards and possibly Towns. Russell’s big expiring salary could be used to acquire almost anyone in the NBA with the right draft picks and young talent attached. It’s just a matter of what sort of team the Timberwolves want to build. Their pursuit of Simmons suggests that defense is a priority, but ultimately, Minnesota needs to ensure that any player it fills the Russell salary slot with is capable of closing playoff games for them.