The Minnesota Timberwolves’ season is over. As much as confirmed Thursday, June 4, when the NBA’s Board of Governors approved the league’s restart plan by a 29-1 vote, with Portland supplying the lone vote against.
Twenty-two teams — those who were either in playoff position when the league shut down or within six games of a spot — will embark on Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., to resume the “regular season” in late July, with 16 of those moving onto the playoffs. Meanwhile, Minnesota will remain at home.
Certainly, local fans would have liked to see the Timberwolves back in action this summer, but the reality is whether it played eight more regular-season games — as each team making the trek to Orlando will do — Minnesota’s playoff hopes were squashed long ago.
“While we are disappointed for our team and our fans that our season is coming to an end, we understand and accept the league’s plan to move forward with 22 teams,” Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas said in a statement. “It is important that we be a good teammate not only to the NBA but to the other 29 teams to support the efforts to complete this season and prepare for next season in a healthy and safe manner.”
Still, there are some questions, and possible lasting effects, that stem from Thursday’s announcement.
Since the team acquired Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez from Denver in a trade in the days leading up to the February deadline, Rosas has said he sees both as long-term pieces of the Timberwolves’ puzzle.
Beasley and Hernangomez are restricted free-agents this summer, meaning they can test the market and sign an offer sheet with any team, but Minnesota ultimately has final say on whether it wants to match any offer to keep either player in Minneapolis.
What exactly those markets are for Beasley and Hernangomez remain to be seen. Beasley emerged as a fan favorite in short order here in Minnesota, as his scoring ability, leadership and work ethic immediately shined. Finally given more of a starring role with significant playing time for the first time in his pro career, Beasley responded.
But he did so for 14 games. Was that enough for another team to step up this offseason and pay Beasley as if he’s a top-3 scoring option? If someone does, did Minnesota see enough to determine it’s worth it to match such an offer?
Small sample size
Rosas said the Timberwolves built “good momentum as a team” in the period following the trade deadline.
“And our basketball staff will diligently continue to work through our team building processes, including the draft and free agency, as we continue to look for ways to improve our team during this pivotal offseason,” Rosas said.
But that period consisted of just 13 games, during which Minnesota went 3-10. D’Angelo Russell has played only 12 games in a Timberwolves uniform. Beasley has played 14. Few of those games were played alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, who missed time with a fractured wrist.
It is tough to rely on such a sample size to formulate opinions about what the Timberwolves have and what adjustments Rosas and Co. need to make this offseason.
Thursday’s best piece of news for the Timberwolves came in the form of NBA lottery procedures. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the NBA Draft Lottery will be held Aug. 25, with the draft on Oct. 15.
Teams that do not qualify for the 16-team postseason will be included in the lottery, with a team’s number of balls determined by teams’ records when the league stopped March 11.
Which means Minnesota (19-45), with the NBA’s third-worst record, will be tied with Cleveland and Golden State for the best chance to get the No. 1 pick (14 percent) and the best odds to land a top-3 pick (52.1 percent).
The Wolves also are guaranteed the third pick of the second round — 33rd overall. Early second-round picks often are highly-coveted by teams across the league.
It is Minnesota’s second first-round pick this year that is now in question. The Wolves have Brooklyn’s pick, but that’s lottery protected, so Minnesota only gets it if the Nets make the playoffs. Currently, Minnesota would get the pick, which would be No. 16 overall. But should Brooklyn lose its playoff spot to Washington in Orlando, that pick would defer to 2021.
Extended down time
The 2020-21 season reportedly will begin in December, which means the Timberwolves will go roughly nine months between games. That’s a long time, particularly for a team with so many fresh faces.
And consider wing player Jake Layman, who missed three months due to injury last season before returning in February. He is on pace to play just nine games over the course of a calendar year.
The eight teams that won’t be going to Orlando seem to be at a competitive disadvantage heading into next season.
In his statement, Rosas said the Timberwolves’ offseason program will be “intensive and thorough to make sure our players continue their development and are prepared for the start of the 2020-21 season.” He noted head coach Ryan Saunders and his staff will be “creative, aggressive and proactive to deal with a period of inactivity that we have not dealt with before.”
“We will also use this offseason,” Rosas said, “to work tirelessly to help our community heal, to influence change and to promote thoughtful actions in response to recent events.”