Frederick: How Timberwolves view themselves in the West could determine trade deadline aggression
Minnesota represents the league’s fourth-highest winning percentage since the calendar flipped to 2023
The Minnesota Timberwolves are in an interesting position heading into Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
A winner of 13 of its past 19 games, Minnesota is surging. That represents the league’s fourth-highest winning percentage since the calendar flipped to 2023.
The Wolves (29-27) are now two games over .500 and have recent, impressive wins over Memphis, Denver and Sacramento. Minnesota has climbed into the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference standings and, ahead of Monday’s games, was just one game behind the Clippers for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Wolves are finally getting healthy, with one of their players ideally returning from a lengthy absence in time to provide an added jolt for the stretch run.
This would seem to be go time. Particularly in a season in which the Western Conference seems to be missing a proven alpha. Especially following an offseason in which the Timberwolves swung for the fences with the acquisition of Rudy Gobert.
But there are caveats to any pursuits of roster improvement Tim Connelly and Co. will make over the next couple of days.
The first is Karl-Anthony Towns. Connelly previously has stated the “full expectation” is the all-star big man will return to action this season as he works his way back from a calf strain, though that return probably won’t take place until after the all-star break.
Minnesota experienced plenty of ups and downs while adapting to the big man pairing of Towns and Gobert. They did find a bit of a stride for a period before Towns went down with his injury in late November.
But the major point is that Minnesota with Towns and Minnesota without Towns are two different teams with different strengths and weaknesses. And any trade aimed at making the Timberwolves better for the stretch run must account for how any incoming player will also fit in alongside their big-man lineup.
Then there are the expiring contracts to consider. The most talked about ones belong to D’Angelo Russell, Naz Reid and Jaylen Nowell. Russell has been a trade talking point dating back to the offseason. But after a slow start this season, the point guard has provided some value with his scintillating shooting that dates back to December. Much of that shooting success has come off the ball, a welcomed addition to the Wolves’ arsenal as they become a more Anthony Edwards-centric team.
The Timberwolves must decide if that shooting offsets apparent fit issues with Russell’s defensive liabilities. And the question remains whether there will be enough shots for Russell to maintain any offensive rhythm once Towns returns.
Minnesota also could lose Russell for nothing should it allow him to walk in the offseason. The same is true for Nowell and Reid. Both are current contributors, but the team hasn’t come to an extension agreement with either, and Reid is the type of player who could net draft capital in a trade this week.
That would be a case of Minnesota potentially weakening its roster now for the betterment of the future. That’s not a move many conference title contenders make midseason.
Which is what this all comes back to: Do the Wolves consider themselves to be in that echelon of teams in the West? Their recent play suggests they’re not far off. Such a belief would give them license to pay out more assets to become better now.
Win-now doesn’t feel like a logical approach given the team’s franchise player is only 21 years old, but that is a conclusion the organization could come to if it looks back on the full roster it has rarely seen this season and determines now is the time to strike.
And if it does not feel that way, maybe a slight veer in the other direction would be more appropriate.
This week’s actions should convey how the Wolves truly feel about what they currently have.
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