Questions facing Wolves this offseason: D’Angelo Russell, Towns’ extension and who is making these decisions?
The decisions the franchise must make this offseason could alter its trajectory, for better or worse, for years to come
Growth isn’t always linear. That much has been made clear by many teams “on the rise” across professional sports in recent memory.
In the NBA alone, it’s easy to pick out the Atlanta Hawks, who in 2021 reached the Eastern Conference finals, and in 2022 had to squeak into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed through the play-in tournament before they were ousted in five games in Round 1.
So while the Timberwolves appear destined for bigger and better things after reaching the playoffs and pushing second-seeded Memphis for six competitive games last month, there are no guarantees that the 2022-23 season will feature another significant leap.
The Western Conference is expected to be healthier and, thus, better next season. Minnesota may need to be better as a team simply to finish in a similar position as it did this season. That makes this offseason pivotal for the Timberwolves, who are riding a wave of momentum they don’t want to see stall out.
The decisions the franchise must make this offseason could alter its trajectory, for better or worse, for years to come:
It’s hard to fathom that this season started with Gersson Rosas getting fired on the eve of training camp. At that point, the keys were placed into the hands of Sachin Gupta, the executive vice president of basketball operations.
Gupta didn’t shake up the roster in any meaningful way during the season, but that’s only one piece of a basketball boss’ job. Timberwolves coach Chris Finch lauded the way in which Gupta created stability in a situation in which there was none.
“He’s very smart. We have complete alignment. The players love him. He’s appropriate in his presence around the team. He’s not heavy-handed with the coaching staff. He does his job,” Finch said. “I’m a huge fan, and I’ve advocated for him to have his opportunity to be the guy to run this team. Nothing would make me happier than that. No better time, after this season, to be able to continue to build.”
It’s up to ownership to determine if Gupta will be the top decision-maker moving forward. Making such a change may be surprising after such a successful season and with the franchise appearing to be heading down a sustainability positive path.
New owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez may be inclined to put their “stamp” on the franchise with a big hire, but that wouldn’t align well with the extensions given to Finch and his entire coaching staff prior to the start of the postseason. Either you agree with the franchise’s current direction, or you don’t.
A decision likely needs to be made sometime in the next couple of weeks, before draft and free agency prep starts to heat up.
DLO STAY OR GO?
At Media Day, D’Angelo Russell spoke of this past season as a contract year for himself, given he was extension eligible at season’s end. Russell declined to provide any more thoughts on his situation at his media exit interview after the season.
It was an up-and-down season for the 26-year-old point guard, who at times flashed his offensive brilliance and even thrived in Minnesota’s defensive scheme, which took all pressure off his on-ball defense and allowed him to more so patrol open spaces and direct from afar. And who can forget the play-in performance in which Russell helped Anthony Edwards carry the team into the playoffs?
But that game was a positive blip amid the sea of disappointment in which Russell ended his season. He struggled down the backstretch of the regular season, and didn’t perform well in the playoffs. It reached the point where Finch went with Jordan McLaughlin over Russell to close Game 6 of Minnesota’s first-round series, and no one batted an eye at the decision.
At this point, an extension between Russell and the Timberwolves seems unlikely, unless the two sides came to an agreement on a number much, much lower than the $31-plus million Russell is set to make next season.
The actual question might be whether Russell is on the roster at all come next season. Do the Timberwolves think another season of continuity between their “Big 3” can produce better synergy and results between all three? Or do they think Russell’s salary would be better allocated toward ball movers and defenders?
KAT’S FAT EXTENSION?
Karl-Anthony Towns seems like a lock to be named to an All-NBA team this season, which will make him eligible to receive a 4-year, $210.9 million extension this offseason.
The question isn’t really whether Minnesota will offer the all-star center that contract — it almost certainly will, and Towns will almost certainly sign it — but it’s whether Towns can prove himself worthy of such a deal in years to come.
Towns made major strides on both ends of the floor this season and played the largest role in getting the Timberwolves back to the playoffs. But the postseason again highlighted his warts, from decision-making to handling double teams to managing emotions to generally just playing with the proper physicality.
Towns often looked like a player worth that massive contract during the regular season. The same was simply not true in the playoffs. So this question is aimed more at the center, and whether he can continue to evolve and make strides toward being the championship-caliber centerpiece he will soon likely be paid to be.