The Minnesota Timberwolves are planning to acquire Sixers forward Thaddeus Young as part of the three-team deal that will be completed in 15 days. Instead of hanging onto last year’s top pick, Anthony Bennett, the Wolves are looking for an established veteran who can take up their vacant power forward position. In doing so, Minnesota is sending a surprising signal to the rest of the league: They might be re-structuring their roster, but they have no intentions of doing so while losing.
While tanking has always been a strategic tool for teams down on their luck, the league has seen an increase in teams refusing to go that route. The latest example, Chicago, lost Derrick Rose in their 11th game of the season and later traded Luol Deng for salary purposes, leading many to believe they were throwing away a season. In truth, they were re-shuffling and doing so with no intention of losing, as they won 48 games and locked up Pau Gasol this summer. Before them, the Houston Rockets began a trend of aiming for the playoffs, regardless of the roster they had. Eventually, they landed both James Harden and Dwight Howard, neither of whom would have wanted to join a bottom feeder.
There is now merit in trying to win, even if the roster in question is highly suspect. From a team perspective, going the route of not throwing away games helps instil a winning mentality – even if losses stack up – which will come in handy later when more talent arrives. Minnesota seems to believe in that mantra, otherwise there’d be no reason to trade for Young, who at this point is significantly better than Bennett.
Ironically, their trading partner in this particular swap, find themselves on the other side of the fence. Philadelphia have chosen two injured big men in the last two drafts, sold off key contributors, and stashed a lotto pick in Dario Saric, in Turkey for at least a year. There is no wish or desire to win games this year, but rather down the line. As mentioned, it’s a valid strategic tool in building a team up from scratch, but there are consequences. Players are more inclined to complain about playing time, bicker amongst each other, develop poor habits on and off the court, and even worse still, get acclimated to losing.
Kevin Love himself is a prime example, and likely the reason why Minnesota is making the decision of moving forward with a winning attitude. Love has complained about the quality of his teammates several times, been publicly disappointed about not making the playoffs and pointing fingers at management, and overall been a bit unpleasant from a PR perspective. With Andrew Wiggins coming on board, the Wolves have no desire to see history repeat itself, and will now set their best foot forward in getting themselves back into the playoffs. It’s been 10 years since they last made an appearance, the same year Kevin Garnett won his only MVP award. It’s time to go back and get their feet wet all anew, giving their youngsters a quick taste of success, while putting themselves in a position where free agents down the line could look in their direction. They likely won’t ever be a destination for the top stars, but B or C-level talent? If they win, those guys will come.
Rebuilding through winning is a positive development for not only the Timberwolves, but the league as a whole. If teams went that route instead of tanking, you wouldn’t have to fix the lottery, as the end game anyway was making the league more competitive as a whole.
What Minnesota is doing may end up failing; there is after all no guarantees regardless of what direction you choose to improve your team, and who knows what could happen in terms of injuries or players leaving through free agency? Even so, there is a level of honor in what Minnesota is doing, and personally, this is a new development for me. I criticised both the Bulls and Rockets for not tanking in recent years, not realising the benefits that comes to those who try. The Timberwolves are trying, even after being delivered a major blow. Whether it’ll work or not remains to be seen, but they’re doing away with a tactic that’s been indirectly a damaging tool for ages, and you’ve got to respect that.