There is no way to know for sure, but, you would have to think that the Minnesota Timberwolves will enter the season with a chip on their shoulder. The first year after the Rudy Gobert trade era was rocky. Injuries to core players like Karl-Anthony Towns and mid-season D’Angelo Russell for Mike Conley trade limited the time needed to make cohesion necessary and maximize the talent on the roster. Completing stunting the ceiling of the team.
But from the outside looking in, the Wolves did much of the damage to themselves. They dropped winnable games to tanking teams, including two to the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, Washington Wizards, and the San Antonio Spurs. Despite all of this tumultuous chaos, they made the playoffs for the second year in a row, which is meaningful given the recent history of this franchise. Last year was a building block of what could come from this core and how they can adapt to this next season under a fresh identity.
Minnesota’s trade for Gobert brought them a lot of attention last season. But we’re one year removed from that, and there is less national spotlight on them. The NBA is as trade-heavy as ever. Stars are constantly on the move, and attention has swiftly moved to other teams, especially in the league’s largest markets. This is evident through the amount of ESPN/TNT national TV games that the Wolves have this season. Although, sometimes the outside attention will gradually shift within the team, in this case over to the young talent.
Anthony Edwards leads by example. In the offseason, he picked up a brand deal with Adidas. The national media also set lofty expectations for him after his FIBA performance, ranking him highly on some of the league’s yearly lists. The league’s GMs similarly thinking highly of Ant, being the leading pick for “Which player is most likely to have a breakout season in 2023-24?” and fifth in “If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be?” He also inked a rookie max deal that could reach up to $217 million if he makes an All-NBA team.
Jaden McDaniels also secured a lucrative deal. On Monday’s extension deadline, he signed a five-year $131 million contract. The appeal and attention the younger talent draws are always going to be intoxicating to rally behind, especially when they have almost no ceiling and should be in Minnesota for the next six years.
Everything is sweet for players when they are operating on their rookie contract and are figuring things out in the league. However, Edwards and McDaniels will face elevated expectations once their extensions start to complicate the salary cap sheet. However, until the extensions kick in, the Timberwolves can put their head down and focus on this season. Having a lot of young talent for the near future still offers a fresh and exciting change of course from the usual narratives that have surrounded the Wolves for most of their existence.
The best way for a team to power through continued growth is by having players like Mike Conley, who set the tone with their steady presence. Conley is a true professional who has years of experience playing winning basketball, adding another positive wrinkle to the refined roster. Team continuity is only going to build success with an upward trajectory, giving players a better chance to adjust to each other and discover the best way to properly execute on the floor. We already saw flashes of that in the preseason, with the core starting pieces looking much more comfortable with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
The Wolves have all the makings of what could be a sleeper within the loaded Western Conference. But the West isn’t too far off from last season when it featured a deeply loaded class of teams that were going to beat you if you took a night off. The mistakes that need to be resolved from last season are reasonable.
Even amongst the chaos, the Timberwolves often played up to their competition. They took the Sacramento Kings season series (3 of 4), won 2 of 3 over the Los Angeles Clippers, and 2 of 3 from the Los Angeles Lakers. They also split the season series with other playoff teams like the Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, and Memphis Grizzlies. The Wolves built an impressive resumé of wins, and they have proven they can play up to the teams that are higher than them in the standings.
The length of the season, injuries, and finding time to adjust are reasonable excuses. But every franchise around the league deals with the same issues. Still, the Wolves are in a perfect window of opportunity to reach some team and franchise milestones to attempt to make a run in the playoffs. A playoff run is a lofty prediction this early in the season, but they’ve aligned the pieces meticulously to limit outside distractions from derailing this team. All they can do now is prove what they can achieve now that they have talent and chemistry.