Wolves Quiet at the Deadline… And That’s Just Fine!
What a difference a year makes. The 2020 NBA trade deadline was a flurry of action as Gersson Rosas and his front office razed the Wolves sinking roster and brought in nearly an entire new roster. With that precedent set in his first deadline, fans expected at least some moves in 2021, but the deadline has quietly passed by the Wolves with no moves made. And for a team with a 10–34 record, that is just fine.
After appearing in contention to acquire nearly every player on the market, Gersson Rosas and the Minnesota Timberwolves decided to hold firm with their current roster at the deadline. To be sure, they were likely having plenty of conversations internally and with other teams about acquiring other players, but no deals materialized. Such is life for the worst team in the league. They were almost always going to be dealing from a position of weakness.
To acquire an impactful player that would have improved the team (John Collins, Aaron Gordon, etc…) they would have needed to deal future assets and young players. When you already owe a future 1st round pick AND have the worst record in the league, dealing more future 1sts for a non-superstar player is a carnal sin. Becoming “sellers” at the deadline would also have been difficult. Once again, who is going to offer anything of value for rotation players on the worst team in the league? Players like Jake Layman, Ricky Rubio, or Josh Okogie could have been appealing to a good team in need of depth, but they would not offer more than a 2nd round pick for any of those players. The lone trade-able player on the team with real value, Malik Beasley, was likely shopped around but his overall value is likely too volatile around the league to extract a fair return.
If you are Gersson Rosas, what is a future 2nd round pick REALLY going to do for you? Does the benefit of that pick outweigh the potential to finally establish some continuity and camaraderie on this team? That may sound cheesy, but the reality is this team preaches “culture” and “family” but has yet to lay the groundwork for those buzz words to take hold. Greater minds can disagree, but it seems without a slam dunk deal offered to them the smart play was to stand down at the trade deadline and work on the roster at hand.
So without utilizing a trade, how does this Timberwolves team improve? One thing fans can all agree on is that the team needs to get a lot better. For starters, they need to actually spend time playing together. It is no secret that continuity on a team is a recipe for success in the NBA. The Utah Jazz are a great example of this. They came in to this season with essentially the exact same roster as last season and exploded out of the gates. Their coaches, players, and front office are all in lockstep with everyone understanding the same goals. The Wolves will certainly not be able to establish that sort of chemistry anytime soon, but allowing the key players to share court time will go a long way towards building for next season.
There is another surefire way for the Wolves to improve heading in to next season. Hold on to your hats because this is groundbreaking… the players could simply get better! I know that seems obvious, but we often forget that players around the league consistently take leaps in performance level during the offseason, and it is hard to think of a team in the NBA that would benefit more from internal development than the Wolves. Players like Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels who have mountains of potential to be stars in this league have had very little time to figure out what they need to work on to become more valuable to a team. Giving them even a single offseason of an NBA training program is sure to bring them up a level or two. 2nd year players such as Jaylen Nowell and Naz Reid have already shown growth from year 1 to year 2, and we can probably expect at least another mini leap in performance after another full season in the system and a full offseason.
It seems naive to expect the Wolves worst team in the league to just develop their players over one offseason and magically turn into a good team. But that is not the complete picture. Once a team develops these players to become adequate to good NBA players, then you get to become real players in the trade market. The Phoenix Suns are a perfect example of this path. Players like Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, and Deandre Ayton were key pieces of several terrible Suns teams. It took time, but through internal development those guys took steps towards stardom, and opened up the opportunity for Phoenix to be aggressive in acquiring Chris Paul. If Booker and Bridges had not shown signs of being winning players, the Suns front office likely does not sacrifice a future 1st round pick to acquire CP3. But through internal development, they rose just high enough to become a destination for the Point God. The Chicago Bulls are a very recent example of this same trend. Significant player development led to the acquisition of Nikola Vucević.
Unfortunately the Wolves are not quite in the same position as the Suns and Bulls who could afford to be more patient with their approach. The clock is ticking on the team’s current best player, so the development of the young players is going to have to be expedited. The good news is that Edwards, McDaniels, Nowell, and Reid have all flashed some valuable attributes during this season, so any increase in performance level heading into the 21–22 NBA season should increase their on-court value and their trade value. By this offseason or next trade deadline it is very possible that one of those young players could be packaged with someone like Beasley to bring back a very valuable veteran player. If the goal is to add another star to this core, then Rosas was right to wait. With the right developmental program for his young players, he should get the chance to make a splash in the future if he desires.
With the trade deadline passing and the Wolves roster set for the remainder of the season, hopefully the players and coaches can settle into a rhythm to finish the season. No they still will not be a great team, but any type of continuity and positivity heading into the offseason will be welcomed. If they can make that happen, then standing pat at the deadline will have been the right move.