The Minnesota Timberwolves haven't had the easiest of starts in the 2022-23 season as they attempt to build on the promising progress they showed last season when they made the postseason as the seventh-seed. The addition of three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert led many to expect that the Timberwolves would cement themselves as a consistent playoff threat, but the Timberwolves haven't found it easy to integrate him into a lineup alongside fellow big man Karl-Anthony Towns, who has played center for his entire NBA career.

The Timberwolves' starting lineup of Gobert, Towns, Anthony Edwards, D'Angelo Russell, and Jaden McDaniels has been dreadful thus far, albeit in a small sample size. In 133 minutes together, that lineup has produced a dreadful net rating of -12 per 100 possessions, scoring 98.6 points, three points worse than the Los Angeles Lakers' league-worst mark, while allowing 110.6 (per PBP Stats).

It's still way too early to sound the alarm bells, given the considerable adjustment period to be expected given the magnitude of the move they pulled off over the offseason. However, anything less than a surefire playoff berth will be a disappointing outcome for the Timberwolves, especially after they mortgaged their future on their current core.

Thus, if the Timberwolves continue to play lethargic and without toughness, with Anthony Edwards even calling out his team for being “soft“, more moves could be in store to rectify that situation. And given the Timberwolves' current cap situation, D'Angelo Russell could perhaps become the casualty if the Rudy Gobert-Karl-Anthony Towns duo needs saving later on in the season.

Here are two reasons why the Timberwolves must trade D-Lo should the need arise.

2 reasons Timberwolves must trade D'Angelo Russell to save Karl-Anthony Towns-Rudy Gobert duo

The Timberwolves should capitalize on D-Lo's expiring contract

The Timberwolves acquired D'Angelo Russell during the February 2020 trade deadline, pairing him with his good friend in KAT, giving the Timberwolves the foundation for a reliable pick-and-roll/pop offense. However, D-Lo just hasn't been able to build off of his performance during the 2019-20 season, as he's seen his counting and efficiency stats decline throughout his Timberwolves tenure.

Given the high price the Timberwolves paid to acquire the 6'4 guard, they may want to recoup at least some of the assets they gave up in the Gobert trade and one way to do so is to ship D'Angelo Russell, especially when he's set to enter free agency after this season.

Moreover, trading D-Lo seems to be the only feasible avenue left for the Timberwolves to pursue an upgrade. Russell is currently the third-highest earner on the team, making $31.4 million, so he's sure to bring back one, if not multiple, pieces that fit the twin towers lineup more seamlessly.

The only question left is whether there are any teams in the league who will fork over draft assets for the eight-year guard, especially after he's tailed off following a strong start to the 2022-23 campaign. Russell's promise as a playmaker and shooter should still endear him to teams in need of the offense he's proven capable of providing. (For example, the Washington Wizards could definitely use a player of his caliber.)

The Timberwolves appear to be better off with Jordan McLaughlin in D-Lo's place

Standing at 5'11, Jordan McLaughlin is an intense ball of energy the Timberwolves have relied on to provide the team with a spark when they go through lethargic stretches.

An undrafted backup point guard, McLaughlin won't wow many fans with his output in the box score, as well as with his individual brilliance. However, McLaughlin is the ultimate team player, as he keeps the ball moving and makes sure the ball gets into the right hands on offense, and he battles hard on the less glamorous end of the court.

And it has shown in the Timberwolves' performance this season when he's on the court.

In McLaughlin's 158 minutes thus far (147 without D-Lo on the floor), the Timberwolves have posted an incredible +14.5 net rating, 22 points better than when D'Angelo Russell is on the court instead. In addition, the three-man combination of McLaughlin, Towns, and Gobert has been +8.1 in 18 minutes (admittedly an extremely small sample size) compared to the -10.5 net rating (in 171 minutes) the Timberwolves are putting up with Russell in the undrafted guard's place.

Sure, it's early in the season, but head coach Chris Finch has gone to Jordan McLaughlin during crunch time in the past, and it seems as if the Timberwolves know too that the 5'11 point guard provides winning contributions for a fraction of what Russell costs.