A Roller Coaster Season
It was a year of ups and downs for this Minnesota Timberwolves squad. With all of their free agency signings and acquiring Jimmy Butler, it seemed as if the Wolves would finally go from the lottery to the playoffs. Thankfully for the fans, they didn’t let them down. The Wolves finally made the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season. Many believed Minnesota could be a potential top-four seed in the West when the season started. However, with an injury to Jimmy Butler, they slipped down to the eighth seed. If Minnesota would have lost to the Denver Nuggets in the last regular season game of the season, the Wolves would have fallen to the ninth seed and missed the playoffs. Thanks to an early return from injured Butler, the Wolves made sure that wouldn’t happen.
This Timberwolves team has many great pieces in Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. One of the biggest issues with the Wolves is that those players are basically all they have. Off the bench, the only decent pieces I see are Jamal Crawford, Derrick Rose (at times) and Taj Gibson, who is the fifth starter. This is a weak supporting cast and needs to be improved drastically. If Derrick Rose can do what he did against the Rockets at a more consistent rate, he would give a huge boost to the bench. I expected a little more out of Gibson and Crawford this year, but they are also two out of three of the oldest players on the roster.
Tom Thibodeau needs to get this group on the same page when it comes to defense. He was brought here for that exact purpose and yet his defense was ranked in the bottom five in the league this year. The offense is great, but just imagine how much better their offense would be if the defense could produce fast break opportunities through more blocks and steals. Far too often the Wolves fell asleep on defense and lost their man. This leads to teams passing all over them and helps opponents stay in the game even with Minnesota’s top-10 offense.
To me, Tom Thibodeau is one of the worst coaches in the league, and I think the Timberwolves would be better off firing him now rather than later to get a better head coach for this team.
Recent reports of Karl-Anthony Towns being unhappy in Minnesota have teams drooling for a potential trade. Towns is clearly upset with his lack of use in this Timberwolves system. Thibodeau consistently ran the offense through the guards in Teague, Butler and Rose in the playoffs. Far too often, Towns was pushed to the corner instead of in the paint. Towns dropped from averaging 21 ppg to 15 in the playoffs, not exactly something you want when in the playoffs. This was not his fault, but rather was the coaching staff’s misuse instead.
Andrew Wiggins has also expressed disinterest in the Wolves because he has become the third option. The young pieces are upset and it is because of Thibodeau still using Butler and Rose so much in the offense. Forgetting you have Towns and Wiggins is unacceptable. Butler was injured because of overuse and Thibodeau needs to change that philosophy.
Changes Needed this Summer
This offseason, I would look for the Timberwolves to search for some better role players, and they need some that are better defenders. However, they have good news and bad news when it comes to their salary cap. The good news is that they will be finished paying off Nikola Pekovic’s contract of $11.6 million. The bad news is that they don’t have a single contract expiring that’s worth more than $4 million. Their total amount of expiring contracts comes to $11.7 million now that Jamal Crawford opted-out of his contract.
If I’m the Wolves, I’m letting Crawford walk so I can invest in some younger talent that helps with more than Crawford did, especially on the defensive end of the floor. I would expect this Timberwolves team to look almost the exact same next season. Perhaps they can find another team willing to trade with them for Cole Aldrich and clear up a little more cap space. I know that sounds unattractive, but a rebuilding team would only pay him $7 million for one season, then the contract expires.
Recently, Towns has come up in trade rumors consistently. The most intriguing thing Minnesota could look into would be trading him to Phoenix. Minnesota would get the first overall pick and could take DeAndre Ayton. Hopefully, they could dump Aldrich with him to Phoenix and get some more cap space. This should be the last option. Minnesota should fire Tom Thibodeau and the rest of his staff. Towns has one of the highest ceilings in the NBA and you don’t trade that to keep an awful coach like Thibodeau. Minnesota needs to make a change with roster depth and with its head coach. Only then will Minnesota be a true threat in the West.