Timberwolves CANNOT Afford to Mess This Offseason Up.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – APRIL 26: Scott Layden, General Manager, Karl-Anthony Towns and Tom Thibodeau, President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves pose for portraits on April 26, 2016 at the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx Courts at Mayo Clinic Square in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Here we go again.

Another year in the lottery.

As Timberwolves fans, we are clinging to memories of game winning shots by Sam Cassel and KG jumping on scoring tables… and HOPE.

Once again, as Minnesota Sports Fans, we have hope.  Luckily for all the billionaire Minnesota sports team owners, that’s all you need to create here, to get tax payers to fund half your stadiums. It is pretty incredible to think about.  However, we Minnesota Sports Fans do have a breaking point.

When it comes to the Timberwolves, we are at that breaking point. We Minnesotans get like that every once in a while, with our sports teams.  After a long enough streak of frustration, the animosity finally becomes palpable. In cities like NY and Boston, it takes just one or two losing seasons to feel that frustration.  Look at LA with the Lakers, for example: They havent been to the NBA Playoffs for 4 years (Made it the previous 8 years) and Jack Nicholson is about to punch the Buss’ in the face. Magic Johnson to the RESCUE!  You get my point. Enough about the City that stole our lakes.

We are forgiving in Minnesota. It has been 13 seasons since we have seen our beloved Wolves in the postseason. However, the fan base knows the talent is now there to start something special.  Our talent is part of what is causing fans to get to that “breaking point”.  That talent, plus the RIGHT OFFSEASON MOVES, should have the Wolves PLAYOFF BOUND in the 2017-2018 season and the fans feel it.  But wait… no moves have been made yet.

If you have been a Wolves Fan throughout their existence you are probably waiting for something to go wrong this summer.  Me too.

The history is there: No Shaq, Marbury gets jealous, Cassel gets hurt, Kahn doesn’t want Steph, Love doesn’t want us, Kahn trades everyone for nothing…etc…

Fortunately, before he passed so sadly, Flip Saunders was able to save this franchise from an out of control spiral into absolute franchise failure (76ers style). He was able to “Flip” Love for Wiggins and more. He drafted Zach LaVine, in the top 15, when he was coming off the bench at UCLA. Then, when most thought it was a 50-50 coin toss on who should be number 1 between Towns and Okofor, Flip did what most of his predecessors couldn’t: He made the right choice.

That’s right people.  The last time the Wolves were in a situation where they were making a choice that could blossom or kill their franchise, THEY DID THE RIGHT THING.  The Towns decision will likely prove to be the more important move, in comparison to what they can pull off this summer.  So, take some solice in that.

Then, MORE good decisions.  This time from the owner Glen Taylor.  After Flip passed, Taylor wavered a couple of times, but ultimately made the right choice.  He went all in.  He brought in the best option available, at coach, and gave Tom Thibodeau all the power he desired. Then, Thibs brought in one of the people responsible for the Spurs dominance over the last decade: Scott Layden.

Take this angle: The main pieces are in place.  What do most teams covet? (Other than LeBron James) Teams want those 2-3 star players.  Having a top 5 NBA talent is just a bonus.  We have both.  Towns WILL be a top 5 NBA player if nothing knocks him off his current path. Wiggins should be a star in his own right.  Also, to all you LaVine haters: Zach is THE most exciting player on the Wolves roster.  On the floor, before his injury, he was on the same level as Wiggins.  Nobody works harder than he does.  Barring another knee (or any body part) injury, he should be a star too.  This is the best drafted “Big 3” since Durant, Westbrook, and Harden.  Where would that team be right now?

Teams also want a top-tier coach.  Because of our top young talent, we pulled in a top 5 coach.  Tom Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the NBA. For the Thibs haters, I have a message for you too: You’re wrong.  I’m not even going to explain myself.  I don’t need to.  He is yet to have much of an opportunity when it comes to his front office acumen, but that is where Layden will hopefully come in.

So here we are.  A BUNCH of years full of bad decisions but a recent streak of good ones. Again, this summer isn’t “KAT summer” important. It will, however, shape the future of this franchise and where it is heading. We, as fans, are sick of watching (or NOT watching) the NBA Playoffs without Minnesota being represented.

Fans know our team is close and they can smell it.  Fans want to pack the renovated Target Center next spring, and release all of the pent-up frustration and anger and animosity and tax dollars spent and David Kahn’s demons, and jealousy, and sadness, and…. patience.  Fans have been patient.  VERY patient.

But that is over now.  The time for patience is over.

The Wolves are not the playoff team we are hoping for, as things stand right now. They need more pieces. Most importantly, they need a bonafide starting big man to compliment KAT and his continued growth.  Gorgui Dieng is a really good big man off the bench. He is not a starting big man on a playoff team. Not right now anyway.  They NEED to fill this need for it to be a successful offseason.

They can go two ways.  They can go with the old school, defensive minded, shot blocking, and rebounding big man. Possible options here include Serge Ibaka (UFA) or Greg Monroe (RFA) in Free Agency or Andre Drummond via trade with Detroit.  They could look for a stretch big. If they do go this route, their best bet might just be staying where they are, in the draft, and taking Lauri Markkanen out of Arizona.

I would prefer the “old school” big man.  It would give Towns more freedom offensively and a crutch to help him defensively, as he comes along.  However, I just touted the hiring of Thibs and Layden so being honest, I trust they will do the right thing and come out of this summer smelling like fresh Minnesota pine trees, with a roster that is ready to surge us back to the Western Conference Playoffs.

We don’t have as many options as some have been touting, when it comes to trade options. Let’s look at the likely scenarios quickly: The Timberwolves, to cut a blockbuster deal, will need to include a point guard (Dunn or Rubio) and their #7 draft pick.  So, there it is.  Sure, you might see Pek’s contract go, Shabazz is on the table, Tyus likely stays, Bjelica is in play (but Thibs seems to like him), and Aldrich probably stays since he is on a team-friendly deal for a veteran depth big man.  But remember: Thibs drafted Dunn in the top 5 and he plays defense.  It would be a shock to see him go.

That leaves Ricky + the 7 pick + depth pieces if Thibs is going to make a big trade.  Unless he were to get an offer he just can’t turn down, for someone else.

It is also well-known that the Timberwolves are in desperate need of an outside shooter, who can knock 3’s down at a 40% clip, from the wing position.  LaVine is the only player the Wolves had inside the top 50 in 3-pt percentage last year at 38.7%, according to TeamRankings.com. Towns cracked the top 100.

Some people… or person… here at Minnesota Sports Fan would be waiting at the airport waiving a Duke Flag, while crying and screaming like a teenage Beleiber, if the Wolves were able to land JJ Redick. As much as I hate that guy, I must admit, he would be the perfect addition; but $17M/year is a hefty price to pay. He isn’t the only guy out there though.  We NEED to land a good one.  NOT a Brandon Rush.

What happens if the Wolves miss this summer?

This is what scares me.  I keep having flashbacks to the early 2000’s.  Having KG was great but not puting the right pieces around him ultimately pushed him out of the city he loved, and loved him back.

Bottoming out after trading Love, got us KAT. Contained mediocrity, in the late 90’s to early 00’s, was a slow burning, torchuring, empty dream-filled ball of frustration.  It eventually led to KG’s departure and 13 years of no playoffs.

This summer could be the summer, where we put the pieces in place, to be sure we avoid that frustrating mediocrity.  The core is in place, and should be, for the forseeable future.  You can thank the NBA CBA Agreement for that.  Stars can get a lot more money for staying with the team that drafted them.  Here is some context: According to this NBA.com article by David Aldridge, if Russel Westbrook opts out of his OKC contract in 2018 and signs an extension instead, he will be up for $219M over 6 years, with OKC.  If he went to Unrestricted Free Agency in 2018, he can only get $162M from another team….  With Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine only coming off their rookie contracts, they won’t be eligible for that much money, but the $ comparison for staying or leaving is relevant.

Wiggins will likely be extended, for 4 additional years, sometime this summer.  We have two max-extensions to give out to expiring rookie contracts.  Those were going to Wiggins and KAT even before LaVine went down with his knee injury.

However, it is clear to me (and this is what excites me so much about this team) that this young core 3 want….wait…. NEED to win. Marbury cared about the money and how he looked compared to his teammate KG, and it ruined “what could have been”.  These guys aren’t like Starbury.  They are more like KG.  All 3 of them seem to want to be great.  They carry themselves like winning is what matters.  They know, no matter the market — if they win — they will be STARS, at levels that Marbury could only reach in China.

With the expectations that the Wolves should make the Playoffs this year, it would be a devastating blow to that young core if we miss again. LaVine will be a restricted FA next summer, since we don’t have an extension for him.  But again, he can sign for more here than elsewhere.  KAT will be going into his summer extension year. It is likely both re-sign… unless things really go sideways.

This core will be making regular playoff appearances starting in the next couple years.  They are too talented.  Eight teams from both conferences make it.  But, Minnesota Sports Fans, DO NOT LET THAT BE ENOUGH.  We saw what happened with KG.  The Wolves “Big 3” NEEDS a supporting cast over the next 5 years if they are going to make legit runs.  If they don’t, we will be right back to the early 2000’s.

Flip created this core knowing they were “The Ones”. With the right help, they can win NBA Titles in Minnesota. This summer, and leading into next season, may not be the most crucial step, but it is one they CANNOT mess up.  Otherwise, we could be wasting the top end talent most teams don’t have.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

Eric Strack

MinnesotaSportsFan.com

@RealMNSportsFan

Sources: NBA.com – David Aldridge, Spotrac.com, Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN.com, TeamRankings.com, HoopsHype.com

Image Courtesy of SI.com