The struggling Minnesota Timberwolves are building for the future with a significant move to bolster their lineup.
The Timberwolves have acquired star point guard D’Angelo Russell from the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, a protected 2021 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick.
The Timberwolves will also receive Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman from the Warriors, the teams announced on Thursday.
Wiggins has been one of the key faces of the Timberwolves organization since his rookie year in 2014, when he was acquired by the Timberwolves in a trade with the Cavaliers after Cleveland drafted him 1st overall.
Wiggins showed significant promise his rookie year as he demonstrated great athleticism and offensive skill, but the hope was that he would continue to develop defensively.
Wiggins has displayed the athletic ability to drive to the basket and be a threat toward the score, but he has done this a lot less the last couple seasons, as he tends to play much less aggressively on offense.
There are very few players in the NBA who average around 20 points a game as Wiggins has and still seem to have so little impact overall.
His defensive development has never materialized and his body language on the court is sluggish much too frequently.
In 2017, the Timberwolves signed Wiggins to a five-year, $148 million contract extension with the hope he would eventually develop further as a two-way player, as he was still only 22 years old at the time.
The Timberwolves’ management likely soon regretted this decision to commit this amount of money to him.
The Timberwolves were a much better team when Wiggins was engaged on the court, but his flashes of potential have become increasingly rare.
Minnesota was tied to Russell in the off-season when he was a free agent, but signing him would have potentially been a challenge financially while they kept the Wiggins contract and others on the books.
Finding a team to trade for Wiggins, under his current lucrative deal, appeared to be quite difficult, but the Warriors appeared to sign Russell solely to use him as a trade piece.
The brief experiment to play him and Stephen Curry on the court together, both as point guards, did not have good results, as the team did not look playoff caliber even before Curry was injured.
The Warriors’ management must feel the Wiggins deal was the best offer they would get.
Wiggins’ place in Golden State’s future starting lineup is not an ideal fit at first glance. Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors’ all star guards, are both currently injured.
When they return, which for Curry will be later this season and for Thompson will be next season, they will essentially be starting three guards, with Wiggins to defend a lot of larger small forwards that he will struggle to keep up with.
The Timberwolves played Wiggins as a small forward early on in his career, but he is a liability on defense at this position so he has been a shooting guard for the last couple of seasons.
Golden State hopes Wiggins will thrive in their system, but he doesn’t seem like an ideal fit, as they play fast and shoot a lot of threes, which are not his strength.
However, it is possible that being around good veteran leaders like Curry and Thompson will serve as a good motivator for Wiggins to stay engaged and grow in their system.
The Warriors’ three-point heavy system is somewhat similar to the offense that Gersson Rosas, the President of Basketball Operations for the Timberwolves, is trying to transition the team to.
Wiggins has very rarely looked like a natural fit in this system.
A huge part of Russell’s appeal on the Timberwolves was his close relationship with Karl Anthony-Towns, the team’s star center.
There have been many recent rumors that Towns is unhappy in Minnesota, so to acquire another all-star that happens to be close to Towns will be a good motivator for him to stay committed to Minnesota long-term.
The Timberwolves will undergo a full-scale rebuild, which will not be complete overnight.
Acquiring an all-star like Russell will likely serve to raise the morale of the fan base and garner some excitement around the team again, which has been a lack since the Jimmy Butler debacle in 2018 that resulted in him eventually being traded and head coach Tom Thibodeau being fired.
Current Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders has yet to have proven his ability to win as an NBA head coach, but the roster he was given this season was not playoff caliber by any means.
Next steps in the rebuild of the team will surely be made in free agency and through the draft, but with the acquisition of Russell, the Wolves are at the very least headed upwards again.Janssen can be reached at [email protected].