Was D’Angelo Russell the Timberwolves’ Problem or Their Solution?

Minnesota Timberwolves, Mike Conley, D'Angelo Russell
Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

After nearly two decades of hardship, the Minnesota Timberwolves are back in the Western Conference finals for only the second time in franchise history. This monumental achievement marks a significant turning point for the team and their loyal fan base, who have endured years of disappointment.

This is the same franchise that hired David Kahn, who drafted Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio over Steph Curry. The same organization that tried to pay Joe Smith under the table and failed miserably to build around Kevin Garnett. Oh, and don’t forget about the more recent Jimmy Butler debacle.

In other words, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing in this basketball town, since the Timberwolves blossomed into existence 25 years ago. Despite some exciting moves like acquiring Jimmy Butler and Rudy Gobert, there have been mostly missteps and disappointments along the way.

But now, the Timberwolves are rewriting their narrative, demonstrating resilience and determination as they vie for ultimate basketball glory, which now lies just EIGHT wins away.

Sure, we can reminisce about the past all we like, but let’s dive into why this roster has real potential for success. Of course, it all begins with the fantastic draft picks like Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, and Naz Reid. But let’s not forget the significant trades that both boosted and challenged the Timberwolves’ journey to greatness.

Starting with the Rudy Gobert trade, which has faced criticism even to this day, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the Timberwolves owe a lot to him. Without Gobert’s presence and the defensive mindset he’s brought, it’s doubtful the team would still be playing right now.

Minnesota Timberwolves acquiring D’Angelo Russell changed everything

But what truly shifted the trajectory of the franchise was the acquisition of All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell in 2020. There was a lot of anticipation surrounding this move. It marked the end of Andrew Wiggins’ time in Minnesota, and the beginning of what many believed was a perfect combination between DLo and his very good friend, Karl-Anthony Towns. Then, they hit on Anthony Edwards with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Unfortunately, reality fell short of expectations in 2021 and 2022. Despite their collective talent, the team only managed to deliver frustrating inconsistency, a few play-in wins and two 1st round playoff eliminations.

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Then, enter Tim Connelly and the Rudy Gobert experiment, a couple of years after originally trading for D’Angelo Russell. Teaming up Russell and Gobert was intended to last at least one full season. It felt like a good marriage, given that the pick and roll was thought to be both players’ strength.

That’s no how it worked out in reality, though. DLo clashed with Rudy and seemed to openly pick on him in the locker room and leave him out to dry to media. Obviously, that caused fractures within the team.

Thus, the DLo Gobert experiment ended abruptly when Russell was traded in February 2023, before they completed one season together. Enter Mike Conley.

While D’Angelo Russell was a Wolf, the team posted a record of 85 wins and 88 losses. In the 2022-2023 season alongside Gobert, before he was dealt, the Wolves were exactly a .500 ballclub, at 27-27. That’s the epitome of average, right there.

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Since Tim Connelly orchestrated the trade that landed D’Angelo Russell in LA and Mike Conley + Nickeil Alexander-Walker in Minnesota, the team dynamic has undergone a significant shift. Suddenly, Gobert is a team leader and the point guard position is a connector, not divider.

The priority is now winning, above all else.

Mike Conley was exactly what the Timberwolves needed

In Mike Conley’s first full season as Minnesota’s starting point guard, the Timberwolves posted one of the most impressive seasons (56-26) in franchise history. And now, they are just eight wins away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

D’Angelo Russell may have dazzled with some thrilling moves and occasional standout performances, but let’s talk about Tim Connelly now there’s a guy who seems like he’s pulled off something truly brilliant with this trade.

As the saying goes, numbers speak volumes. So when you swap out one point guard for another and almost immediately go from one of the worst NET rating teams in the NBA to being on the verge of an NBA Finals appearance, the evidence speaks for itself.

Was D’Angelo Russell really that bad, or is Mike Conley just that good? But ultimately, the scoreboard tells the real story in the NBA, and Conley’s contributions have propelled the team to unprecedented success as they strive for a shot at the championship.

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But let us not forget that, by trading for DLo, the Wolves found what they did not want in their point guard. Then, they used that divisive personality to acquire the exact asset needed to put this Minnesota Timberwolve puzzle together properly, for the first time in two decades.

So, did we get what we originally were hoping for, when D’Angelo Russell was signed? No, but without DLo, there is no Mike Conley. And without Mike Conley, nobody would be bringing their asses to Minnesota this week. Sometimes, a problem can be a good thing because it helps you find the proper solution.

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