It’s hard to recall a week in Minnesota sports history with such a dramatic burst of trade activity involving two local professional teams.
The Twins started things off as part of a three-way deal with the Dodgers and Red Sox. They are still trying to finalize their trade for Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, but the Red Sox are delaying the transaction after reviewing medical records for Twins pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol and are seeking additional compensation.
But the biggest action came from the Timberwolves, who are in the middle of one of their worst stretches in franchise history, having lost 27 of their past 32 games.
Much like when Derek Falvey took over as president of baseball operations and completely reshaped the Twins, Wolves President Gersson Rosas has now done the same for the Timberwolves with a number of moves before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
The decision to trade guard/forward Andrew Wiggins to the Warriors — along with a top-three-protected first-round draft pick and a second-round pick in 2021, for guard D’Angelo Russell, guard Jacob Evans and forward Omari Spellman — means the team is now fully in Rosas’ hands, with center Karl-Anthony Towns as the face of the franchise.
The Wolves also moved center Gorgui Dieng, who has one year left on his four-year, $62.8 million contract, to Memphis for power forward James Johnson, whose has a player option for $16 million next season.
After all of their trades, the Wolves — for the first time in years — might actually have some salary cap room next season. They currently have $95.5 million allocated to 11 players for the 2020-21 season including Johnson’s player option, according to Spotrac.com. If he were to opt out, the Wolves would have an additional $16 million to spend.
But the news of the day was trading Wiggins, who was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014 by the Cavaliers before coming to the Wolves in the Kevin Love deal two months later. Whatever you thought of Wiggins’ play, and he had moments of brilliance in his six seasons with the Wolves, this team was going nowhere as it was previously constructed.
ESPN.com put out its initial grade of the trade and gave the Wolves an A- for the deal.
But more important, ESPN wrote that Rosas’ moves over the past week — including his multiplayer trade that sent Robert Covington to Houston and landed the Wolves some perimeter talent and a first-round draft pick — have given coach Ryan Saunders a better collection of talent to fit his system.
ESPN wrote: “Minnesota has now dramatically improved its outside shooting. Lineups with Russell and Malik Beasley at guard and either Juan Hernangomez or Jake Layman (when he returns from a toe injury) at power forward will put three shooters around Towns, with the fifth spot (Jarrett Culver or Josh Okogie at small forward) held by the only below-average shooter of the group. That’s a much better fit for the five-out system Rosas and coach Ryan Saunders want to play.”
One of the biggest downsides for the Wolves in recent years is their inability to find a sustainable style of play and fill a roster to fit it.
Consider that in Wiggins’ six seasons, he worked for four different head coaches. He might find more consistency and success with the Warriors, who have won three NBA titles under coach Steve Kerr.
These trades might finally bring some stability to the Wolves. Now Saunders, who had to be feeling like he was on the coaching hot seat, will surely get more time to see if his system works with Russell and Towns.
And just as important, this deal not only should make Towns happy, because he has a great relationship with Russell, but it also should make him buy into needing to be the best player on the team on both ends of the court.
U chasing Badgers
The Gophers’ dominant 70-52 victory over Wisconsin on Wednesday night at Williams Arena was the kind of win that could put them back into the NCAA tournament discussion and salvage an up-and-down season for coach Richard Pitino. The Gophers now rank 43rd in the NCAA NET ratings, which are a big factor in the tournament selection process.
The fact is the Gophers will continue to be measured against the Badgers in basketball, just as they are in football, until they can start consistently beating them.
Going back to 2000, the Badgers have missed the NCAA tournament only once, in the 2017-18 season under coach Greg Gard.
In that time they have reached the Final Four three times, the Elite Eight four times and the Sweet 16 10 times.
The Gophers, meanwhile, have reached the tournament only six times in that stretch, winning a game in 2013 against UCLA — after that season, Tubby Smith was fired — and defeating Louisville 86-76 last season under Pitino as a No. 10 seed.
The Gophers have featured four coaches since 2000 — Dan Monson (1996-2006), Jim Molinari (interim coach in 2006-07), Smith (2007-13) and now Pitino.
The Badgers’ Dick Bennett resigned during the 2000-01 season and Brad Soderberg was interim coach to finish that season. Since then, they have featured only Bo Ryan (2001-15) and now Gard.
Wisconsin has always challenged the Gophers in recruiting, landing several top Minnesota prospects such as Orono’s Jon Leuer (in 2007), Benilde-St. Margaret’s Jordan Taylor (2008), Princeton’s Jared Berggren (2009), Henry Sibley’s Mike Bruesewitz (2009), Lakeville North’s Nate Reuvers (2017), Maple Grove’s Brad Davison (2017) and Lakeville North’s Tyler Wahl (2019).
This season, Reuvers is the Badgers’ leading scorer at 13.8 points per game and averages a team-high 2.1 blocks. Davison (8.7 ppg) is second on the team in averaging 29.9 minutes per game. Their 2020 recruiting class, which is ranked No. 19 in the country by 247 Sports, will include East Ridge forward Ben Carlson and Eastview center Steven Crowl.
The Gophers’ lone major signing out of Wisconsin in the past 20 years was Wally Ellenson, who played 18 games over two seasons before transferring to Marquette in 2014.
Much like in football — where the Gophers finally ended a 14-game losing streak to Wisconsin by beating the Badgers 37-15 in 2018 but also lost 38-17 at TCF Bank Stadium last season with a shot at the Rose Bowl on the line — the Gophers know that to really show they belong, they need to consistently beat Wisconsin on the recruiting trail and on the court.
Wednesday night’s trouncing was a big step in the right direction for the Gophers.