A-Rod and the T-Wolves
By Max Toth
By now, you’ve probably heard the news that retired baseball legend Álex Rodríguez is buying the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves.
Understandably, the team has been caught in a frenzy that only the ‘beloved’ former Yankee can bring. For example, here’s what star Timberwolves rookie Anthony Edwards had to say about his new boss.
Despite Edwards' below average “enthusiasm”, A-Rod has been dubbed the ‘saviour’ of the last place Timberwolves by many fans, which is the norm when a high profile person buys any team.
But it means a little more to the T-Wolves.
Just six years ago, they were pegged to be the NBA’s next dynasty. Instead, they’ve been the northwest division's worst team for five of the past six seasons.
So how did Minnesota so badly disappoint?
It’s been a mix of poor decisions, lousy player development and overall dysfunction.
Let's start with the 2014 NBA draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers owned the first overall pick and selected a potentially transcendent talent in Toronto native Andrew Wiggins. However, things changed quickly for the Cavs after they signed LeBron James. All of a sudden they needed help immediately. The Timberwolves had some of that assistance in the form of Kevin Love, so the two teams struck a deal, as Cleveland shipped ‘Maple Jordan’ to Minnesota. Wiggins had a sensational rookie campaign for the T-Wolves and captured the NBA rookie of the year award. As a team, however, Minnesota still suffered through one of their worst seasons in franchise history which landed them another first overall selection - a pick they used on talented center Karl-Anthony Towns.
Going into the 2015-16 season, the Timberwolves looked to be on a serious upswing into contention. Kevin Garnett was even back in Minny, so the year was shaping into something special.
But instead, it wound up looking more like a replay of the year before.
As expected, Towns played well and won NBA rookie of the year honors, while Wiggins took another step forward and averaged 20 points a night. Outside of that, however, the year was an absolute disaster. Minnesota was lousy yet again but, more importantly, franchise icon, coach and president of basketball operations Flip Sanders, who was planning to one day purchase the Timberwolves with Garnett as his partner, lost his battle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and passed away. At season's end, T-Wolves owner Glenn Taylor cleaned house and brought in former Chicago Bulls bench boss Tom Thibodeau to inherit Sanders' role as coach and president. Garnett requested a buyout on the final year of his contract and retired, as Sanders was the only reason he decided to return to Minnesota after suffering through a rocky relationship with Taylor.
Another lackluster season rolled by, although another young Timberwolve, Zach LaVine, established himself as a quality third option behind Wiggins and Towns.
After three years of losing since trading for Wiggins, Minnesota was looking to shake things up and acquire somebody who could finally lead them to the playoffs. Thibodeau found that guy in Jimmy Butler of the Bulls, who had gone from being the last pick of the first round to a two-way stud under his tutelage. So on 2017 NBA draft night, the Wolves flipped LaVine, Kris Dunn and the draft rights to Lauri Markkanen to Chicago for Butler.
I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but NOW it seemed like the Timberwolves were ready to compete - and they kind of were. On February 23/18, they were 36-26 and the third best team in the Westen Conference. However, in the third quarter of that night's game against the Houston Rockets, Butler left in the third quarter with a knee injury which ended his season. Without their star, Minnesota sputtered down the stretch, as Wiggins was beginning to show signs of becoming a disappointment. They still made the playoffs, but as only an eighth seed against the top seeded Rockets, and the T-Wolves went down in just five games.
Over the off-season, Butler decided he had no interest in re-signing at the end of the 2019 season and requested a trade. But Minnesota held tough and Jimmy ended up playing in ten games for the T-Wolves.
That, however, led to the infamous Minnesota scrimmage - a huge piece of NBA folklore.
During the legendary practice, Butler took some of the team's worst players and faced off against the top end of the roster, which included Towns and Wiggins. Butler proceeded to rip them apart, whipping them in the scrimmage and verbally attacking the two young stars by accusing them of being ‘soft’. One month later, Butler was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick.
How have the post-Butler years gone in Minnesota?
Well, to summarize, despite the fantastic play of Towns, the T-Wolves have continued to struggle. They also officially gave up on Wiggins, who had continuously regressed throughout the past few years, by trading him for Towns' buddy D'Angelo Russell. Unfortunately though, Russell has been hugely inconsistent in a T-Wolves jersey. Meanwhile, after yet another terrible season, Minnesota got another number one pick in Edwards, who has been very good in his first season, but still needs to prove he can be a true superstar.
So where do the T-Wolves go now under the ownership of Alex Rodriguez?
If they keep losing, Minnesota will again have the best odds at the number one pick this year and a potentially game-changing player in Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham.
But whether they land Cunningham or not, I think it would be wise for the Timberwolves to trade Towns to an up and coming team like the New York Knicks and pick up a pile of prospects in return. There's a real danger of Towns hitting the wall when it comes to all the losing he’s endured over the years and he could try to force a trade like Butler or Garnett both did.
You don't want that kind of gun held to your head and if Minnesota can finally commit to a rebuild instead of always taking big swings and missing, maybe A-Rod can finally help the T-Wolves hit a home run.