The most encouraging and entertaining Timberwolves season in almost 20 years is over.
Counting the play-in game against the Clippers, the postseason lasted a little over two weeks.
And now the offseason will feel like an eternity.
If you think the Wolves are automatically going to continue on an upward trajectory after doubling their win total from 23 to 46 ... well, that's not how this works. Teams rise and fall all the time. Sometimes they stall (see: the 2021-22 Atlanta Hawks).
The things that were good about this year's Wolves won't magically stay good just as their issues won't just be magically addressed.
This year's Wolves certainly benefited from their own internal improvement, but they also took advantage of relatively good health and an atypically weak Western Conference to chart their path forward.
To keep improving means to keep evolving. And for Minnesota it means addressing the biggest conundrum on the roster: D'Angelo Russell.
We don't talk about D-Lo (no, no, no).
(Sorry, we do. Too much "Encanto" in the house lately).
Patrick Reusse and I did not talk about Bruno on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast, but we did come to an agreement on this: This offseason cannot, under any circumstances, include an extension for Russell.
As Chris Hine noted a couple days ago, Russell will be eligible to sign a five-year deal for about $40 million per season.
Recency bias can be vicious, but there's no getting around this fact: In the biggest game of the year, with the season on the line, Russell was benched in favor of a former undrafted free agent who couldn't even get on the court earlier in the Memphis series.
Contract-wise, D-Lo probably isn't even worth half of the maximum he could get. But he isn't likely to settle after hitting the jackpot with his last max deal.
On the flip side, the Wolves were 39-26 during the regular season when Russell played and just 7-10 when he didn't. So often this year, their fortunes mirrored those of their point guard. When he made shots — as he did in that play-in game against the Clippers — the Wolves felt unstoppable. When he didn't, they sputtered, particularly late in games.
I can't say the Wolves would be better off in 2022-23 if they traded Russell this offseason because the player(s) they got in return would have their own set of issues.
But it comes down to this: Russell can be part of a playoff core. But at his salary he can't be part of a championship core.
Not when Karl-Anthony Towns is about to get rich. Not when you are going to have to pay Anthony Edwards and possibly Jaden McDaniels in a couple years.
So you want to trade Russell this offseason for a player who either is useful and is on an expiring contract or who is useful and you know you want to keep beyond one season.
Good luck finding a trading partner for a deal like that.
The two most questionable decisions of the Gersson Rosas era were glued to the bench at the end of Game 6: Jarrett Culver for Memphis and Russell for the Wolves.
It required some finesse to turn Culver into a positive in the Patrick Beverley deal. It will take even more to do the same with D-Lo.