NBA Draft Night 2017 didn’t take long to get crazy. There had already been a trade atop the draft with the 76ers and Celtics swapping top three picks. All week there were rumblings that more moves were coming and that top shelf talent like Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Indiana’s Paul George would be changing jerseys. Then a major chip fell:
My Wolves splashed! As far back as last year’s draft there were rumors that Chicago and Minnesota were close to pulling the trigger on a trade like this. It took a full year, but it finally came to pass. Coach Thibs stole one of his former players from the Bulls and handed over some building blocks in a “win now” move. And the NBA is sent spinning again.
The Wolves were streaky last year, but showed definite signs of improvement. Drafting Kris Dunn threw the future of Ricky Rubio into question, but Rubio had one of his best seasons ever. Meanwhile, Dunn struggled mightily in his limited minutes (while 3rd PG Tyus Jones showed some real flash at times). Wiggins and Towns were solid all year and Lavine was showing some breakout potential before he tore his ACL. What the team was really missing was a veteran scorer who could also provide some legit defensive play. Thibs seemed convinced that Jimmy Butler was that missing piece, but surely the Bulls would demand a king’s ransom for him, right? It was always somewhat assumed that Wiggins plus parts was the asking price. Still, when the trade was finally announced, it was the 7 pick/Lavine/Dunn for Butler. No Wiggins! I was a little worried as that deal started popping up on Twitter. But then it came out that the Bulls’ 16th pick was also part of the deal and everything changed. This was a lopsided deal in favor of the Wolves.
Here’s the thing about the NBA in 2017: the Golden State Warrior exist. In the ’14-’15 season, they won it all. In the ’15-’16 season, the Warriors posted a best-ever 73-9 regular season record, but ultimately collapsed in the Finals to LeBron James and the Cavs. After that failure, they added Kevin Durant – one of the top 3 players in the NBA – and gave up very little to get him. From that moment, it was almost assumed they would win the title in ’16-’17 – and they did, losing only 1 playoff game in the process.
All of that led up to this off season where teams needed to decide how they were going to compete with one of the most dominant NBA teams ever. How do you beat a super team? With another super team? The Cavs are clearly the next best team, having three extremely good players in James/Irving/Love, but they just got beat. So do they add another all star? Actually, they started by firing their GM. Not a good look. How about the Celtics? They were angling for Jimmy Butler, but lost out. Will they add a big chip like Paul George? The Spurs? Will they move Lamarcus Aldridge and try to add a piece? That’s not really their style, is it? Who else even has a prayer?
What’s really fascinating to me is how teams decide if they should try to win now against teams like the Warriors and Cavs or if they should quietly build a young core and time it to explode as the Warriors and Cavs are aging out. The problem is that some teams might feel like their young core could compete now with a little help and then they might mortgage part of their future to take their shot now against an almost unbeatable superteam. The question boils down to this: how much do you believe in your young stars? For Coach Thibs – he believes.
By all accounts, as the dust settles a bit, the Wolves should be a near-lock to end their playoff drought next season (the longest active playoff drought in the league). That alone is exciting. But Coach Thibs wouldn’t have made this deal if he didn’t think this group could actually challenge in the West at some point in the next few years. He’s cutting the fuse on this bomb and accelerating the timetable. It’s a bold move, but when you’re giving up the 7th draft pick in a year when there are 6 players considered sure things plus an underwhelming PG and an injured sparkplug guard – you don’t hesitate.
I’ll surely miss Zach Lavine. He was a great player and a great guy. I’ll be rooting for him to splash in Chicago. That’s the one bittersweet part of this deal for me.
But I’m excited about the future of the Timberwolves with Butler on board along with Towns and Wiggins! It’s been a long road since Garnett/Spreewell/Casell lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals in 2004. We’ve suffered through a LOT of tough times. We’ve watched Al Jefferson and Kevin Love move through as our franchise stars without reaching the playoffs. We’ve endured David Kahn’s incompetence (which cost us Steph Curry). We’ve celebrated Kevin Garnett and Flip Saunders returning to the franchise and then mourned the Flip’s death and seen KG retire in a huff. Has it all been building to this moment?
I sure hope so. I can’t wait for next season!