After a year of relevance, the Minnesota Timberwolves have slipped back into the irrelevant abyss that has clouded them throughout their existence. While the liberation of Jimmy Butler was great for the franchise, it has left the Wolves in a situation that feels all too familiar in today's NBA.
With the player-first power shift in today's NBA, keeping a mid-market team's star happy has to be a priority. Just last year the New Orleans Pelicans put themselves in a bad situation when they failed for years to put an adequate supporting cast around Anthony Davis. The result was a messy divorce that eventually saw Davis land in his preferred destination, the Los Angeles Lakers.
As the Timberwolves open their preseason schedule with a trip to Phoenix on Tuesday, the biggest fear is that this same situation will play out with Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns has taken a step forward each year in the league and after the departure of Butler, has taken over the role as the face of the franchise.
Enough talent around Towns?
The only problem is what Towns has around him. While there are some good contributors such as Robert Covington and a couple of promising players – first-round picks Jarret Culver and Josh Okogie – the question is if the Wolves done enough to keep Towns happy enough to make him stick around Minnesota long-term (he is already signed through 2023).
In all fairness, the Timberwolves reportedly tried to make a splash this offseason by going all-out to sign De'Angelo Russell. After a pitch that included showing up on his doorstep as soon as the tampering period started and offering him a helicopter ride, Russell was grabbed by the Golden State Warriors in a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets.
From there, the Wolves were kind of stuck in the mud. They added Jake Layman from the Portland Trail Blazers and feel he can be a sleeper, and signing Jordan Bell and Noah Vonleh are promising moves but until proven otherwise, leave a lot to be desired.
Jeff Teague is healthy. That could be big unless Culver is a rockstar as a rookie and Minnesota allows him to run the point. Just one of the many questions the Wolves have.
Winning is what will ultimately matter, but for the time being Towns seems extremely happy with the family vibe the Wolves are flaunting. The entire team went to the Bahamas to bond, had a family dinner at owner Glen Taylor's mansion, went out for a night of karaoke, and is posting videos like this to social media showing how fun the new culture is.
The long-awaited breakout of Andrew Wiggins
At its core, today's NBA is a game of superstars and the Wolves currently have just one. Perhaps that could change with one of their young players (think Culver or Okogie) coming of age and exceeding expectations, but the real key might be the long-awaited breakout of Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins has been an enigma since coming to Minnesota in 2014 and with this already being his sixth season in the NBA, the 24-year old needs to step up in order to save the current state of the franchise. In reality, Wiggins has the talent to be that star, but so far hasn't been consistent in getting to the rim, showing defensive intensity and simply making his shots – all things that at least showed potential while he was a superstar at the University of Kansas.
Even Wiggins is admitting that the last two years were regressive for him.
"I feel like my first three years I was on the rise and was getting better and better and then some changes were made," Wiggins said when training camp started last week. "I worked really hard this summer, and I'm as confident as I was when I first came into the league."
While the Wolves may not have the horses to do it, even a playoff appearance could be enough to tide Towns over before making another run at talent next offseason or wait for internal growth of potential up-and-comers like Okogie and Culver.
Towns seems really happy right now. The Wolves have some promising talent. It might not be enough to make a playoff run in a loaded Western Conference, but it's at least a start in the right direction. Let's just hope it doesn't take too long to get where they want to go.