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Minnesota Timberwolves Are Finally Going for It After Rudy Gobert Trade

Sean Highkin@@highkinFeatured Columnist IIIJuly 2, 2022

Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves took what will be the biggest gamble of the offseason on Friday, with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reporting they swung a blockbuster trade for All-Star center and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, whose time with the Utah Jazz and partnership with Donovan Mitchell had run its course.

It was a move worth making, despite the super-high price.

The reported haul for Gobert was five players, including last week's No. 22 overall pick Walker Kessler, as well as four future first-round picks, three of which are unprotected. That's one of the steeper prices in a star trade in recent memory, up there with the bounty of picks the Thunder got for both Paul George and Russell Westbrook in 2019, and that the Rockets got from the Nets for James Harden in 2021. George and the Clippers aside, none of those deals worked out all too well for the team trading the future picks for the player.

Despite the obvious risk, it's hard to fault where the Timberwolves are coming from here, and in fact their willingness to go for it is admirable.

After nearly two decades of doormat status, the Timberwolves have finally achieved something resembling competence. Former Walmart executive Marc Lore and baseball star Alex Rodriguez bought the team from Glen Taylor with the intention of turning around one of the worst-run and most dysfunctional franchises in professional sports. It's hard to argue with the early results.

Chris Finch, in his first full season as head coach, guided the Wolves to the playoffs for just the second time in the past 18 seasons and was rewarded for it with a contract extension. Anthony Edwards, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, built on a promising-but-uneven rookie season and established himself as one of the league's fastest-rising stars. And they just threw the bag at Tim Connelly, the executive who built a consistently very good Denver Nuggets organization, to lead their basketball operations department.

Making all those moves and signing Karl-Anthony Towns to a reported four-year, $224 million maximum extension would, for a lot of organizations, be enough for them to feel like they've improved things. Going out and getting Gobert, even for what they had to give up, represents a bet by Connelly, in his first few weeks at the new gig, on his new organization. Too many teams are scared to bet on themselves in this way.

Since Kevin Garnett's departure in 2007, there have been some Timberwolves groups that looked promising in the beginning only to fizzle out. The Kevin Love-Ricky Rubio era was never able to overcome injuries and some bad draft picks. The Towns-Andrew Wiggins team briefly returned to the playoffs with the arrival of Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler before Butler wore out his welcome there and forced a trade during the 2018-19 season, with Thibodeau getting fired the same year and the organization plummeting back to irrelevance until the arrival of Edwards.

Now, for the first time in the post-Garnett era, Minnesota has a good thing going that doesn't feel like a fluke. Edwards is only going to get better, and Towns, for all his flaws and the valid questions about his aptitude as a first option, is one of the most offensively skilled big men in the league and still only 26. They have a good coach everyone seems to like and a new top basketball executive whose track record in Denver speaks for itself.

Even with their return to the playoffs ending with a first-round exit, the entire Timberwolves organization ended the season with good feelings about where things are headed.

This is why now was the time to make this move. Slow-playing the growth and development of Edwards while holding on to those draft picks would have been more prudent, and it would have been more than understandable if Connelly had taken a conservative approach while feeling out his new job. But he saw an opportunity to make a statement and significantly raise the Wolves' ceiling, and he took it.

On paper, Gobert is an ideal frontcourt partner for Towns. His dominant rim protection can cover for Towns' weaknesses on the defensive end, and Towns' versatile offensive game can make it harder for opponents to play Gobert off the floor the way they did the last few years in the playoffs in Utah. It's not just trading for a big name, it's trading for one that's a near-perfect complement to a somewhat reluctant franchise centerpiece.

At worst, this is a playoff team, which is something the Timberwolves haven't been for multiple years in a row since the Garnett days. And if Connelly's bet pays off that Gobert and Towns fit together as well as they should, and that Edwards develops into a true superstar in a year or two, all of those picks will be in the 20s anyway.

Taking this swing can't be called a "no-brainer." It's a definite risk and could set the franchise back for the next decade if things go sideways. But it's hard not to respect a team seeing a window to truly go for it and just saying "screw it."

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