As the NBA trade deadline approached last season, Gersson Rosas decided to hit the detonate button on the Timberwolves’ roster. Rosas, who had taken over as the team’s president of basketball operations in May 2019, ended the day with only two players (Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie) remaining from the previous season. The flurry of deals involved six teams, a total of 14 players and three future draft picks.
This was the reset the Timberwolves had needed so badly, right? Not exactly.
More than a year later with the trade deadline again nearing — the pandemic-altered season moved it from early February to late March — not much has changed for the Wolves. A 128-108 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night at Target Center dropped Minnesota to an NBA-worst 10-34 and made new coach Chris Finch 3-10 since taking over for Ryan Saunders last month.
Rosas’ marquee acquisition at the deadline in 2020, guard D’Angelo Russell, has played in only 20 games this season and missed the past 19 since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. There still is no date set when Russell might return. The point of getting Russell — and sending Andrew Wiggins to Golden State — was to get a player who could form a dynamic combination with Towns. But because of the shutdown caused by COVID-19 last season and injuries or illness involving Russell or Towns this season, those two have played a grand total of five games together with Minnesota. Finch has yet to coach a game with both players on the court.
That makes it impossible to come to any conclusions about what the Wolves might have in the Russell and Towns combination. And it goes beyond that. The Wolves also need to see how Anthony Edwards, the first pick in the 2020 draft, and Malik Beasley, who will be eligible to return from a 12-game NBA suspension on Saturday, will fit into what Finch wants to do once everyone is available.
All of these unknowns bring us to the trade deadline at 2 p.m. Thursday. Rosas clearly loves to make deals but what’s his plan this time around and is it wise to make more moves with so many unknowns? The Wolves are among the teams that have been mentioned as a possible landing spot for Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon. Marc Stein of the New York Times reported the Wolves had “serious” discussions with Orlando in January about Gordon.
Gordon, 25, reportedly has requested a trade from the 15-29 Magic but it’s unclear if he would consider Minnesota an acceptable landing spot. The issue is Gordon only has a year left on his contract and will be a free agent in 2022. Gordon has the ability to give the Wolves much-needed help at power forward but this is not a franchise that will be turned around with one quick fix.
There also have been rumors that the Wolves are pursuing Atlanta power forward John Collins, who will be a restricted free agent after the season. The 23-year-old, however, has said he wants to stay in Atlanta and there appears a good chance that will happen.
In any deal that Rosas makes, the question is going to be what will he have to give up and would it be any of the Wolves’ young talent? One publication proposed a Wolves-Magic deal that would send Gordon to Minnesota for Ricky Rubio, Jarred Vanderbilt and a lottery protected 2023 first-rounder. Another had Jarrett Culver, Juancho Hernangomez, Ed Davis and a lottery-protected first-rounder going to Orlando.
The main reason Rosas, and the Wolves, are sweating the Russell trade isn’t the loss of Wiggins, it’s the fact that Minnesota sent a top-three protected 2021 first-round pick to Golden State. That means that if the Wolves get some bad lottery luck — and there has been plenty of that in the team’s past — Golden State will end up as the beneficiary from Minnesota’s futility. So does Rosas really want to risk dealing another first-round pick that has some lottery protection for a player like Gordon who could walk away?
Rosas reportedly has made it clear that rookie Jaden McDaniel won’t be included in any deals.
Towns, whom the Wolves have committed to building around, said he doesn’t try to be hands-on when it comes to what might be going on with trades. “I like to let everyone do their job,” he said. ” … We’re all just waiting and we all know that we may not all be together again. It’s always tough every trade deadline, especially here. It’s almost like you’re guaranteed to not have some stability, or to have change. So you just never know. You never know who the odd man out is.”
It could be Rubio or Jake Layman or Josh Okogie or Culver or Hernangomez or Vanderbilt. Perhaps a few of them could be headed elsewhere by Thursday afternoon. One thing that is certain is Rosas isn’t in a position to rework the roster like he did a year ago — no matter how disappointing this season has been for the Wolves.
Rubio, who returned to the Wolves in a draft-night trade after stints in Utah, Phoenix and Oklahoma City (where he never played a game), had some advice for those with less experience in dealing with the deadline. “Don’t think about anything until it happens,” he said. “This is the business we are in and you just have to be professional about it and keep doing what you are doing until you get the call. … I think I’ve been traded 20 times, and only for real like two or three.”