The Minnesota Timberwolves have not really been relevant in over a decade. In 2004, led by Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, the Timberwolves made it to the Western Conference Finals and gave the Los Angeles Lakers all they could handle before eventually bowing out in six games.
Since then, they have made a lot of questionable trades and their front office always seems to be in flux.
But today they announced a move that should put them back on the path to excellence sooner than a lot of people thought, and oddly enough it involved them trading their best player.
The Timberwolves agreed to trade superstar power forward Kevin Love in a three-team deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers that netted them Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. The Cavaliers acquired Love, while the Timberwolves sent Alexey Shved and Luc Mbah a Moute to the 76ers. The 76ers also were sent the Miami Heat’s 2015 first round draft choice from the Cavaliers.
Given the situation the Timberwolves were in when Love made it very clear he was unhappy in Minnesota and would probably be going elsewhere at the end of the ’14-15’ season when his contract had a player option for next season, President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Flip Saunders came away with pretty much the best package he could. It was clear that the Love/Ricky Rubio combination was not leading anywhere, as evidenced by the Wolves never making the playoffs once with those two players on their roster.
When this three-way deal was first announced, it was also heavily indicated that the Wolves would send Bennett for Young, a move which I did not understand from the Wolves side. But now, parting ways with Shved, Mbah a Moute, and a future first rounder instead of Bennett makes total sense.
Although this is clearly a move for the future, it is also one that puts the Wolves in “win now” mode if they want to hang on to Young, who was making the very same demands of the 76ers that Love was of the Wolves. Then again, anything can happen, and Young might be more willing to wait it out given the players surrounding him.
I do not think this trade stings even a little bit if you are a Wolves fan strangely enough. Yes, you lose possibly the best power forwards in the league, but he was going to leave anyway and you knew that. To get the last two No. 1 overall picks (Wiggins, Bennett) as well as one of the more underrated wing players in the league (Young), is a steal of a deal.
This will not solve all of the Wolves’ problems. Their rim protection remains a concern, which Love and post partner Nikola Pekovic were never able to help with. The Wolves will have a very strong perimeter defense, but their post defense still needs a ton of work.
One thing they will not lack now is depth. Between the players they acquired and named like Pekovic, Rubio, Zack LaVine, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, Mo Williams, Corey Brewer, and Gorgui Dieng to name only a few, the Wolves are pretty solid at every position on the floor. Their roster as it stands right now reminds me of the 2012-13 Denver Nuggets, who had an incredible collection of talent, won 57 games and finished with the No. 3 seed overall.
I am not saying the Wolves will have that kind of success right off the bat, but the pieces are there if they are coached and developed the right way over time.
In terms of predicting this upcoming season, I see the Wolves fighting and clawing for the eighth seed out West. In the East they would probably be a top 5 or 6 team, but the West playoff picture is still a massive dogfight where teams can win almost 50 games (like the Phoenix Suns did last year with 48 wins) and still miss the playoffs.
So continue to be patient, Wolves fans, but at the same time be thrilled with the team you have now. It will take a couple of seasons for it to come together, but when it does, this Wolves team will be an absolutely vicious, athletic beast out West.