The Minnesota Timberwolves have never been known to be that successful of a franchise. They've won just two playoff series in their history and both wins came in 2004 when the team advanced to the Western Conference Finals. Over the last two seasons, the T-Wolves have not won a playoff series, but they have posted back-to-back 40-win seasons, making the playoffs both years.
Things are trending upwards for Minnesota, especially after new ownership took over the reins of the organization. Former MLB star Alex Rodriguez and businessman Marc Lore are the new majority owners of the Timberwolves and they've re-energized this fan base that occupies Target Center. It appears as if this team finally has an identity, one that revolves around All-Star shooting guard Anthony Edwards.
Drafted first overall in 2020, Edwards joined the Timberwolves and immediately proved that he was a special offensive player. He's improved his scoring mark every season he's been in the league and Edwards took a massive leap this past year by becoming an All-Star for the very first time.
The 22-year-old now has even higher aspirations as he prepares for his fourth NBA season, especially since he knows he is capable of beating anyone he plays against in this league.
“Just kill. Kill everybody, man. That's my mindset,” Edwards told ESPN at Las Vegas Summer League this offseason regarding his mindset entering the new year. “Any time I match up with any of those guys I'm gonna guard them and hopefully they guard me and I showcase that I'm a lot better than them.”
This offseason proved to be vital to Edwards' growth, especially since he was representing the United States at the 2023 FIBA World Cup. A team that was composed of many youthful and inexperienced NBA talents, the Timberwolves star ended up becoming the leader of Team USA. As a result, he had some massive, breakout performances in international play.
Edwards ended up averaging 18.9 points per game at the World Cup, the most out of all players on Team USA's roster. He scored 35 points against Lithuania in the second round and scored at least 20 points in four of the team's eight games. Even though USA Basketball didn't come back with a medal, Edwards' play has put the NBA world on notice.
“You putting him amongst the young stars he’s gonna be competing with for the next 10-15 years. Now he’s becoming the alpha of them,” Los Angeles Clippers All-Star Paul George stated this offseason on his podcast. “I saw the star potential in him.”
Everyone has seen what Edwards is capable of doing and while Karl-Anthony Towns has been the face of the Timberwolves franchise, this title has now been handed over to the young star. If we need any more evidence of this, we should look no further than the five-year, $260 million extension he signed in the offseason.
The growth Ant has shown in such little time is why the Timberwolves believe they can be true title contenders moving forward. He is on his way to becoming a possible MVP candidate, but Minnesota's overall potential lies in their depth.
Timberwolves offseason additions and departures
Additions: G Shake Milton (free agency – PHI), F Troy Brown Jr. (free agency – LAL), F Leonard Miller (draft)
Departures: G Jaylen Nowell (free agency), F Taurean Prince (free agency – LAL), G Austin Rivers (free agency)
As they entered the offseason, the Timberwolves' main priority was extending Anthony Edwards on the max contract he had earned. With Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert already owning long-term deals, signing Edwards to his $260 million extension means that this organization owes this trio close to $600 million over the course of the next several seasons, assuming options are exercised.
Minnesota and their new owners are not afraid to spend money in order to make their team as good as they can be. This is very clear now that their three All-Stars account for about 50 percent of the team's total payroll.
The Timberwolves did not have much flexibility entering free agency as a result.
However, the good news for them is that none of their core group was hitting the open market. Kyle Anderson still had another year left on his contract entering the summer, as did veteran guard Mike Conley Jr. This organization was forced to make some decisions regarding their bench unit, though, as Jaylen Nowell, Taurean Prince, and Austin Rivers all departed in free agency.
Nowell and Rivers still remain unsigned ahead of the start of training camp, but Prince ended up agreeing to a minimum deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. Speaking of the Lakers, they basically swapped forwards with the T-Wolves this offseason due to Troy Brown Jr. signing a two-year, $8 million deal to replace Prince on the wing.
Utilizing part of their mid-level exception, the Timberwolves brought in Brown as a versatile option who can fill a couple of holes on the bench. His contract is also non-guaranteed for the 2024-25 season, giving the team some financial flexibility next offseason.
The only big move the Wolves made in free agency was luring five-year veteran guard Shake Milton away from the Philadelphia 76ers. Milton, who had seen his role decrease in Philly due to Tyrese Maxey's emergence, will be Conley's backup and a notable offensive weapon on Minnesota's bench. Last season, he shot 37.8 percent from three-point range and averaged 8.4 points per game.
Both Brown and Milton understand their roles as secondary contributors, which is why they could play important roles for this team during the 2023-24 season. When Edwards and/or Towns were out of the lineup a season ago, the Timberwolves struggled to score offensively. These two additions give them a little bit of added depth and players who are capable of taking on a bigger role as a game progresses.
Leonard Miller was also a very intriguing player the Timberwolves brought in during the offseason via the NBA Draft. Once thought to be a first-round prospect, Miller ended up slipping to the 33rd overall pick due to the fact that he is very young and he does not have a defined role. Set to turn 20 in November, Miller definitely possesses a lot of potential on both ends of the court.
He worked on his three-point shot a lot this past season in the G League with the G League Ignite and the T-Wolves rookie put together a really solid showing at Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 15.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. This upcoming year will be a learning process for him, so it would not be surprising if the team looked to develop his skills further in the G League.
This was a fairly straight-forward offseason for the Timberwolves. Edwards got his expected extension, the team brought in some experienced secondary options with Milton and Brown, plus they re-signed Nickeil Alexander-Walker to a two-year contract. Alexander-Walker is a 25-year-old talent they are very high on because of his two-way potential.
A lot of the spotlight for this team will be put on their bench, as Anderson, Milton and Alexander-Walker highlight the second unit. It will also be interesting to see what happens with Josh Minott and Wendell Carter Jr., two recent draft picks that spent a lot of time working on their craft outside of games during the 2022-23 season.
At the end of the day, the Timberwolves are a team built around starpower. As good as Edwards is, he will need to lean on Towns throughout the season for this team to find success. Moving forward, the big man's future is still a key topic of discussion.
Karl-Anthony Towns' future in Minnesota
Whether or not the Timberwolves will entertain trade offers for Towns has been a talking point for quite some time. Even before Edwards became an All-Star, there were questions about if the All-Star big man would be in the team's future plans.
While it is hard to believe, Towns has been in the NBA for eight years now. Through his first three seasons, the former top overall pick did not miss a single game. Since then, he has eclipsed 70 games in a season only two times, and he only played in a total of 29 games this past year due to a mysterious calf injury that the team released very few details about.
Towns' availability has certainly become a concern for the Timberwolves, as the 83 games he's missed the last three seasons has contributed to Minnesota not being able to reach their full potential. When he plays, Towns is a high-impact player that makes this organization look like a fierce playoff competitor. When he is off the floor though, this team suddenly becomes predictable seeing as Edwards is their only true source of scoring.
The fact of the matter is that the Timberwolves need Towns healthy and on the floor if they are to be true playoff contenders in the Western Conference. A trade is always a possibility, especially given the teams that have been linked to Towns in recent years, but his contract is not too favorable for any organization right now.
Aside from making $36 million this upcoming season, KAT has a new four-year, $222.6 million extension that begins during the 2024-25 season. This deal will pay him an annual average value of $55.6 million per year. In fact, he could make as much as $61.6 million during the 2027-28 season if he was to opt into his player option then!
This is an extraordinary amount of money for any team to commit to, especially for a player like Towns who has trouble remaining on the floor. His talent speaks for itself, but with uncertainty surrounding other star big men like Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Towns' market is very small right now.
Taking on a $50 million contract is tough for any team to do and if he is to eventually be moved, it would happen during an offseason. For now, Towns remains a focal point on the Timberwolves roster and they are committed to building something special with their “Big 3.”
2023-24 season outlook
The Minnesota Timberwolves have put all of their eggs in one basket. Edwards, Towns and Gobert are all talented players, but are they the right pairing of players to lead this organization into the future?
Right now, the Wolves are searching for answers to this question and they do not really have a choice when it comes down to making a significant change.
No team will be willing to give up anything for Gobert, Towns' contract is a major liability at this point, and there is no possibility of them looking to move on from Edwards any time soon. Minnesota knew what they were getting themselves into when they extended Towns and traded for Gobert, which is why they must figure things out during the 2023-24 season.
A lot of the Timberwolves struggles come from Towns being injured, but they simply need Gobert to be better. Known for being one of the best defensive centers in the league through the years, the French big man struggled in his first year with his new team. Defensively, his block rate dropped significantly and Naz Reid seemed to outplay Gobert on numerous occasions.
Instead of trying to reinvent his game and fit a new-age mold of what teams look for in their center, Gobert simply needs to play to his strengths. He's always been a terrific lob-threat and he can really do some more damage in pick-and-roll sets with both Conley and Edwards as primary ball-handlers on offense. As much as we want to put the blame on the player, some of the blame needs to go on this organization as well.
Head coach Chris Finch and his staff need to put Gobert in better situations to succeed and allow him to be the elite-level rebounder he is on both ends of the floor. If he impacts the game offensively and can score, that is great. If not, the Timberwolves must make sure Gobert can impact the game defensively. Seeing as they are not the most talented scoring team in the league, Minnesota will need to be a top-tier defensive team if they are to be a playoff threat.
Outside of their three stars, one player who can help them achieve this is Jaden McDaniels. In his third season with the Timberwolves, McDaniels stepped up and proved to be one of the better defensive forwards in the entire league. While he missed out on being named to the All-Defensive team, the 2020 first-round pick helped his team enter the Top 10 in defensive rating this past year.
McDaniels is an important part of the T-Wolves core right now and it appears as if the organization wants to keep him around long-term. Team president Tim Connelly recently told The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski that the team would like to “get something done” regarding a possible contract extension for the 22-year-old.
The Timberwolves are certainly a team to watch in the Western Conference this season. If their core can remain healthy, they are a tough team to matchup against given their length and athleticism. While they are not necessarily championship threats just yet, there is no reason why they can't improve from the 42-40 season they just had.