*Note: Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be posting grades for many of the Wolves decisions made this offseason, one by one. Previously we’ve covered Tyus Jones leaving for Memphis, the draft night trade to acquire Jarrett Culver, Derrick Rose walking, and now the pursuit of D’Angelo Russell.*
The Wolves had their eyes on a big free agent this summer. They wanted to take a swing to put the franchise into a relevant place amongst the better teams in the Western Conference. Despite a congested cap situation, there was hope that they could figure out a way to land D’Angelo Russell after his All-Star season in Brooklyn.
Now, we know how things ended there. Russell ended up in the Bay Area with the Golden State Warriors and the Wolves came away empty-handed. Ultimately, it was a failure because they didn’t come away with Russell, but getting themselves into the room with a second (or third) tier free agent is definitely a step in the right direction for this franchise.
The top goal for this franchise right now is, and should be, to win basketball games. But it’s clear that another goal the Wolves have is to keep Karl-Anthony Towns happy, and that’s rather important, too. Acquiring Russell would have helped achieve both of those goals, and pursuing him should at least help with keeping Towns happy.
Russell would have changed the trajectory of the Wolves for the moment. They’re projected to win 35 games at the moment, a number that certainly would have been boosted had they been able to land Russell this summer. How much would Russell have boosted that number? What would the rest of the team had looked like if Russell opted to sign with the Wolves?
We’ll never have firm answers on those questions just because of the number of variables in play. But it’s fair to say that the win projection – even in a loaded Western Conference – would likely be for the team to be at least above .500, if not a playoff team. The question of just how good Russell can be is also prevalent. He’s a one-time, injury replacement All-Star in the Eastern Conference that saw a spike in his shooting performance in his fourth year in the NBA. Maybe that’s who he actually is, but maybe he won’t be quite that good year in and year out.
At some point the Wolves will need to connect on one of these swings. Maybe it will be Russell in the future, maybe it will be someone better, maybe it will be the next superstar that becomes disgruntled elsewhere and asks for a trade, or maybe it’s via free agency. It’s fair to wonder whether or not past regimes in Minnesota would have found themselves in the same room with Russell. This one did, and that’s a step in the right direction.
Getting in the room with Russell is a step in the right direction, but not being able to land him was the biggest blow to the Wolves this offseason. Maybe it will be a good thing for the organization in the long run, but right now it stings.