The Timberwolves welcomed back Malik Beasley from suspension on Saturday and should get D'Angelo Russell back relatively soon. Their impending return was at least part of the impetus for the Wolves being quiet at the trade deadline last week.
Both players are under contract this season for about $42 million combined, making their success integral to anything the Wolves hope to accomplish.
The Wolves will face the Nets on Monday in Brooklyn in what figures to be a lopsided game. Minnesota was just blown out by one of the worst teams in the league (Houston), so it's hard to imagine things being better against one of the best teams.
But what I talked about on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast with Patrick Reusse — and want to expand on a little here — has less to do with a single matchup and more to do with the balance of the NBA overall.
If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.
Perhaps we can consider the Wolves' Big Three to be Karl-Anthony Towns, Russell and Beasley — with Anthony Edwards pushing to be in that mix but still experiencing many of the growing pains that come with being 19 in the NBA.
The Nets' Big Three consists of: free agent signees Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who joined in the summer of 2019, plus James Harden, who was acquired in a trade earlier this season. The Wolves will almost certainly never be able to assemble a roster that way — via high-profile free agents teaming up and adding a third player who wants to join them via a forced trade.
So instead the Wolves have built via the draft (Towns and Edwards) and trades for available players who they hope will work out (Russell and Beasley). It's instructive to remember that the Nets deemed Russell expendable when they pursued Irving.
And to supplement those high-paid players, the Wolves absolutely need to capitalize on low-cost rotation players — which they have, to a degree, in unearthing Jaylen Nowell (second round), Naz Reid (undrafted) and Jordan McLaughlin (undrafted). But that's a volatile approach, and the Wolves' 11-35 record speaks for itself.
Having three future Hall of Fame types to build around gives the Nets the chance to be one of the best teams in the league. And that gave them the chance to add two very good veterans recently for the same relative pittances that the Wolves are giving those aforementioned untested young players: Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.
For about $1.3 million in cap space combined, the Nets added both players via the buyout market recently, which provides us an excellent opportunity to remind you that the NBA buyout system is a complete farce designed to help the rich get richer.
The short story: Good players, usually veterans, start to underperform their massive contracts on bad teams. They mutually agree to go their separate ways, with the players collecting most (but not all) of their enormous contracts. They are then free to sign with a contender (like the Nets) for a minimum salary.
So now the Nets have two borderline future Hall of Famers — who were on five-year, $171 million and two-year, $50 million deals, respectively — to add to their three near-certain Hall of Famers, all for a pittance.
And yeah, Griffin and Aldridge could have signed pretty much anywhere. But bought out players tend to go to contenders. And yeah, any team can theoretically become a contender. But they tend to be teams that can attract better players in the first place.
Just keep that in mind Monday when the Nets — who will probably already be ahead of the Wolves in the first quarter — trot out Griffin as a reserve while the Wolves run out a bunch of young guys making about the same amount of money.
The NBA is tilted against teams like the Wolves in many ways, but the buyout rule — which could be altered to be fair if the cap number followed the player even after he was released — is one of the most egregious examples.