In a place where its most famous basketball player might be a musician, Minnesota’s basketball team is poised for a championship run–in five years.
While everyone in the NBA is caught up in the Golden State arms race, the young Timberwolves are not constructing their team to compete now. Minnesota’s got next.
In January of this year, the food, drink and travel website Thrillist ranked Minnesota’s winters the worst in the country. The obvious demerits centered around its sub-zero temperatures. Also included, the dismal output of its winter sports scene. It’s very rare for Minnesota’s winter teams to play deep into the spring. Even when the weather almanac calls for spring, Minnesota has the unique distinction of having baseball games postponed due to snow. The NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals both take place in June, something Minnesotans have yet to experience.
No city with four professional sports franchises has had a longer drought than the Twins, Timberwolves, North Stars/Wild and Vikings. The Twins were the last to pop champagne back in 1991. 26 years is a long time with four opportunities a year to win. Then add in the way some of the ways they’ve lost and it’s no surprise Minnesota continually finds itself on the list of most tortured fan bases.
That has a chance to change.
What Golden State has done in the NBA is something never witnessed before. Their roster, comprised of four of the top 25 players in the NBA, including two of the top four has put every other franchise in a panic. Teams are buying, selling, trading all in an attempt to match what is unmatchable. The problem is, much like no one is going to outspend the US in its military investments, no one is gonna outperform the Warriors in the way they are currently constructed. This offseason, four of the Warriors’ impactful players were on the market.
They somehow convinced Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston to take less money to stay in the Bay. The Warriors front office also got Kevin Durant to restructure his deal to accept way under market value for his talent. This allowed the Dubs to not only maintain their strengths but also add to them with signings like Nick Young. While teams like Houston and Oklahoma City have traded for big name talent, they still pale in comparison to what Golden State brings to the table.
Not so quietly, the T-wolves have constructed a roster to set them up for a fantastic run, just as Golden State’s reign is projected to end.
When you look at the current NBA landscape, the teams that have continually stood at the top of the leaderboard will soon fall (maybe not the Spurs, they churn out 50+ win seasons like Jay-Z produces hits). It will cost Golden State somewhere over a billion dollars to keep its team of superstars and role players together for the next four years. Many rumors are circling that LeBron James’ days in Cleveland are coming to an abrupt end. The Clippers just lost their point guard and the team looks in transition between good and not-so-good. The other contenders in the East have all taken a step back outside of the Celtics who are question mark with newly acquired Gordon Hayward. Boston is still trying to fill pieces while simultaneously ridding itself of players to create space.
When you look at the future only two teams stand out, the Sixers and T-Wolves. As much talent as Philadelphia has acquired through the draft, there has been no team who has watched their collection of Ferraris break down with such regularity like the ‘6ers. Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and Joel Embiid have all entered the league with injuries. Jahlil Okafor has been on the trading block for some time, and will stay there until he is dealt. They have yet to play cohesively as a unit for any stretch of time and there’s no assurance that any of them will stay healthy. Their lone free agent signee, JJ Reddick is already declining. His numbers began to dip last year.
The Timberwolves on the other hand have made all the right moves to set themselves up — in 2020. In June, ESPN’s Amin Elhassan talked about the seven year milestone. Basically, NBA Franchises have seven years to surround their young talent with other pieces to lure them to stay beyond their rookie extensions, signed after year three. The Timberwolves have two such stars who fall under this category; Andrew Wiggins who was drafted and then traded to Minnesota in 2014, and Karl Anthony Towns, the top draft pick in 2015. Given Elhassan’s theory, Minnesota has until year 2021 when Wiggins is up for free agency to reach its apex.
Minnesota made a big splash this offseason as well, signing two All Stars; Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler. Both will significantly impact the Timberwolves win-loss record. Both will take pressure off Towns and Wiggins to produce the majority of the team’s points while they continue to learn how to navigate the NBA. Both are signed through the 2020 season. That means the foursome of Towns, Wiggins, Butler, and Teague will be together for the next three years. They have three years to do enough to keep the group together and challenge for a title. They also added Jamal Crawford. While he is also on the decline, much like Redick, what Crawford offers is professionalism rarely found in the NBA. The Timberwolves average age is 26 years old. When you add 37-year-old, 17-year veteran Jamal Crawford, the hope is he will lay the foundation mentally for this team to succeed.
One thought @JCrossover reminded me today: he emailed thanks after I voted him 6th man in 2015, only time athlete did that in all my time
— Jerry Zgoda (@JerryZgoda) July 20, 2017
Remember that number for Golden State: approximately $1.3 billion through 2020. And that’s if they keep their roster as it is currently constructed with just their core players. What will happen when Klay Thompson hits free agency? What about Draymond Green? Both are max players who will probably demand it. Even if they do take less to keep their core intact, how long will Warriors ownership continue to pay an increasing luxury tax?
There are question marks abound in the NBA as the league continues to shift like the tectonic plates under California’s San Andreas Fault. How will next year pan out with LeBron headed to free agency? Will Paul George head further west? Minnesota knows all too well how things can flip in an instant. In the midsts of famously horrible winters, they’ve watched sure Vikings Championship victories stolen in heartbreaking fashion. Give it three years, however, and the Timberwolves just might lead Minnesota out of the winter and into sunnier times. I hear June is beautiful in the Twin Cities.