As with any blockbuster trade, the Wolves' deal on Thursday had immediate reactions — most of them leaning heavily toward favoring the Wolves for getting Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick while questioning the Bulls' haul of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick in return. But far more fascinating things have yet to play out.
Namely: What will Butler's presence look like on the court? How will he mesh with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins? And what will happen next with the Timberwolves as they approach free agency and try to fill out their roster with more upgrades?
On the court, there should be little doubt that Butler makes the Wolves' starting five considerably better than it was. Basketball has two advanced stats that are pretty useful in determining a player's individual impact. One is win shares, and the other is player efficiency rating (PER). I like win shares better because it also takes into account defensive performance.
Butler was No. 3 and Towns was No. 7 in win shares last season. If PER is more your thing, Towns was No. 11 and Butler was No. 13. Wiggins was considerably further down on both lists; for as athletically gifted as he is and as much as he emerged as a scorer, his game is sometimes one-dimensional and not terribly efficient.
This leads me to believe that on the court Towns and Butler should be the alphas for the Wolves, with Wiggins playing a strong supporting No. 3 role. That pecking order is right for everyone's skill set and personality, but balancing the needs and egos of three very talented players is easier said than done. So it will be fascinating to see how that relationship develops.
On the other side of the trade, we have this reality: The Wolves are seriously lacking in depth right now. If we can assume LaVine returns to health while Dunn and whomever the Wolves would have chosen for themselves at No. 7 are worthy players, they gave up three guys who would have played next year for one (plus Justin Patton, the No. 16 pick who should get some minutes but remains a work in progress).
There is also the constant churn of Ricky Rubio trade rumors, which figure to remain prominent as reports surface that the Wolves are pursuing such point guards as Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday and others in free agency.
As it stands, the Wolves' starting five looks like Rubio, Wiggins, Butler, Towns and Gorgui Dieng. That's a group that can win games. The bench? Let's see, there's Cole Aldrich, Tyus Jones, Patton and Nemanja Bjelica. Shabazz Muhammad is a restricted free agent. Free-agency negotiations begin in less than a week, with players able to sign starting July 6.
Clearly, then, the Butler trade is only the first move of what will continue to be an interesting offseason. Minnesota needs a shooter off the bench, and a bulky, physical forward/center would be a great get, too. Depending on what happens with Rubio, point guard remains up in the air.
All we know for now is the Wolves have the best 1-2-3 combo since Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell went to the Western Conference finals in 2004. That was the last year the Wolves made the playoffs. Breaking that drought should be the realistic goal next season, but so much work still needs to be done.