Karl-Anthony Towns gained an ally.
Gersson Rosas landed a signature deal.
Ryan Saunders got a reprieve.
D’Angelo Russell went from placeholder to potential hero.
Fans were given the ultimate basketball gift: the absence of Andrew Wiggins.
The Timberwolves’ trade of Wiggins for Russell is at first glance a win-win-win-win-win proposition.
Rosas, Wolves president of basketball operations, deserves a parade for finding a way to trade a player hardly anybody wanted (Wiggins) for the exact player he has sought for almost a year (Russell).
Russell is the point guard Saunders needs to play his preferred style, and the point guard Towns needs to get him the ball and spread the floor.
Rosas could not have done much better under dire circumstances, with the Wolves building another losing streak, failing to play hard and turning away even their most loyal fans.
But Wolves fans should know better than any that there are no magic moves for this franchise, and that there hasn’t been a transformative Wolves player since Kevin Garnett. The arrival of Russell should be celebrated the way you might celebrate paying off a large credit card debt — with more relief than joy.
Yes, Thursday was one of the best days in Wolves history. So were these:
• Landing the first pick in the 2015 draft.
• Drafting Towns with that pick.
• Trading Kevin Love for Wiggins.
• Trading for Jimmy Butler.
Talent is the most obvious ingredient for a winning NBA team, but only the most casual observers think that talent is all that matters.
Towns was a sure thing. He didn’t make the All-Star team this year and needed Butler to make even a brief playoff appearance.
The Wolves treated Wiggins like he was a sure thing. They had not been so wrong since they drafted Jonny Flynn over Steph Curry.
Butler, they thought, was a leader; his only problem was that nobody wanted to follow him.
This would be a good time for the Wolves to trade in the desperate hope of sure things for the hard work of sustainable plans.
Now that Rosas has acquired a star-quality point guard, he will need to build around Russell and Towns, keep them happy, find a way for the Wolves to play less-embarrassing defense, and win enough to keep the players’ attention.
Rosas did his part. Now it’s up to Towns, Russell and Saunders to prove they are winners.
Towns is a wonderful offensive player who has yet to turn 25. He is averaging career bests in points (26.7), assists (4.2) and effective field-goal percentage (59.7%). He also stinks at defense and has been less than inspirational in his recent public comments.
The Russell trade gives Towns a chance to reclaim his place as one of the most likable and promising of Minnesota athletes. If Towns becomes a winning player and not just a statistical accumulator, everything that preceded the Russell trade this season will be forgotten.
Russell, too, needs to take the next step in his career. He has played in five playoff games, and his shooting percentage in them is 35.9.
Saunders has more to prove than ever. Most of the team that had stopped responding to him in recent weeks is now gone. He has a talented point guard to run his break and shoot three-pointers, and he has a general manager who has cleared the flotsam and bad contracts from the roster.
Optimism is the lifeblood of sports, but on the latest promising day for the Wolves, let’s remember what happens to the most important figures in franchise history.
Kevin McHale? Champion, brilliant broadcaster and humorist who was fired and is now suing owner Glen Taylor.
Garnett? Still holding a grudge over his treatment and departure, and refuses to visit Target Center to have his jersey retired.
Love? All-Star who couldn’t wait to get out of town.
Butler? Perhaps the second-best player ever to play for the Wolves, he too couldn’t wait to get out of town.
Each is flawed, but not as flawed as the franchise they learned to loathe.
Towns and Russell are talented enough to become the most influential long-term teammates in Wolves history. They have also been given the power to ruin all of Rosas’ good work.