The Minnesota Timberwolves are now back to firmly being Karl-Anthony Towns’ team following the reported trade (per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe) of Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers. “KAT” was the first overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and showed incredible upside during his first two seasons in the NBA. He won NBA Rookie of the Year for the 2015-16 season, and figured to be one of the NBA’s premier big men for years to come. Then, Jimmy Butler came to town.
The Timberwolves had not made the playoffs in 13 years before acquiring Butler during the 2017 NBA Draft in a deal that reportedly sent Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the seventh overall pick to the Chicago Bulls. The trade to bring Butler in to play for his former head coach, Tom Thibodeau, was supposed to push the Wolves back into the playoff picture.
This plan worked. The Timberwolves were third in the Western Conference before Butler went down with a knee injury after the All-Star break, limiting him to just 55 games played on the season. He returned right before the start of the playoffs, but the Wolves had fallen from the three seed all the way to the eight seed and did not even clinch a postseason berth until the final game of the regular season with a win over the Denver Nuggets.
The Wolves finally made the playoffs after the 13-year drought, but were soundly beaten in five games by the top seed, the Houston Rockets. The offseason is when all the internal problems for the Wolves were brought to light.
Jimmy Butler reportedly did not like playing with Towns and fellow former first overall pick, Andrew Wiggins. He felt as if they were not as serious as he was about winning basketball games and they were content with their money and statistics. Butler demanded a trade a month before the new season started, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski, and he was shipped to Philadelphia shortly into the new season.
It is now KAT’s time to put up or shut up with Butler gone. He has all the talent in the world and turns just 23 years old today. He has the potential to be one of the NBA’s premier players in a few more years, if not this year. With Butler now out of the way, it is time for Towns to prove that he can lead this franchise to success as the top man.
The Wolves gained role players, Robert Covington and Dario Saric, from the 76ers in the trade (along with Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick). I am a Southeast Pennsylvania native and 76ers fans, and trust me, this deal is going to work out for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Covington is an elite defender, as he was First-Team All-Defense last season, and he can shoot the three ball pretty well, though inconsistent. Saric is an offensive weapon who was just starting to find his stride this season before the trade and I expect him to be a feature of their offense.
Derrick Rose, a former NBA MVP, who is playing his best and healthiest basketball in nearly eight years is starting to look like a player who is really going to help propel this team as well. Imagining a starting lineup of Rose-Wiggins-Covington-Saric-Towns, with depth on the bench, this team can compete against anyone on any given night. Do I think they win a championship this year? Absolutely not, but I do expect them to make the Western Conference Playoffs and perform well.
Butler is a ball-dominant two-way superstar who never was able to play alongside Towns and Wiggins cohesively. Covington, Saric, and to a lesser extent, Wiggins, are all off-ball players who can score from three-point range. Towns himself is also an above average three-point shooter for a big man, and Rose can score at all levels. With good team play and ball movement, offense for this team will be no problem. If they can figure it out defensively, they will get leads early and keep them.
Looking at the bench, Jeff Teague is a one-time All-Star, and could start on at least half the teams in the NBA, and has never missed the postseason in his career. Anthony Tolliver can shoot the ball well; he’s a career 37.6 percent three-point shooter. Taj Gibson is an excellent rebounder and above average defender. Rookie Josh Okogie has been a great energy and “glue” guy so far, and Tyus Jones is a good backup guard who can shoot the ball well and defend. Last season, Jones ranked second in the league among qualified point guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus.
This team is deep and talented, but it starts with Karl-Anthony Towns. Wiggins, for all his hype coming into the 2014 NBA Draft and winning Rookie of the Year in his own right, has failed to live up to expectations. Now in his fifth year in the league, and with him projecting to be the second scoring option for this team behind Towns, Wiggins needs to come into his own. But wherever Towns goes, the Minnesota Timberwolves will go.
In the Timberwolves first game without Butler, and also without Covington and Saric yet, Towns put up 25 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in a win over the Brooklyn Nets. In the games Butler sat out this season, Towns was significantly better on the floor than he was alongside Butler. They never worked together, but their talent allowed them to prevail, despite their chemistry issues. Now chemistry can play a part in the formation of the new-look Timberwolves and I expect them to play much better basketball.
The locker room tensions are gone. The Wolves have a budding superstar in Karl-Anthony Towns who is set to unleash his skills on the NBA now that the reigns are his. If Andrew Wiggins can show the improvement he has failed to so far, and with a good cast of role players, this Minnesota Timberwolves team is going to be good. It may not be this year, but the future looks brighter now than it did with Butler in town. Towns is primed for a breakout year and will help turn the ugly 6-9 start around towards a second straight playoff berth for Minnesota.