If there ever was a time when the Timberwolves deserved a break like winning the NBA lottery and getting the No. 1 pick in the draft, which they did on Thursday night, it was now.
Every Wolves fan knows that this franchise has had some tough breaks, and recently they have struggled to find their footing after the death of Flip Saunders in October of 2015.
Still, this offseason has been as difficult as any in club history. President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas said last week that the franchise has been through a lot since the NBA regular season was postponed in March with Karl-Anthony Towns losing his mother Jacqueline Cruz to the coronavirus and the team fighting for social justice in the wake of the Memorial Day death of George Floyd.
On top of that there was the news that owner Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, was planning to sell the team.
There is no sympathy in pro sports, but if there ever was a team that deserved some good fortune it was the Wolves.
And now that they won the lottery, this club is in a completely different spot.
Since Rosas took over he has worked night and day to build a roster around Towns. That happened last season when the club turned over almost every position player and brought in D’Angelo Russell to pair with Towns under head coach Ryan Saunders.
“We turned over 13 of 15 players. We have a young group that is talented and has exciting upside but it’s going to take time,” Rosas said last week. “The reality is it’s going to take work. It’s going to take development.
“We’ve got two young players that are 24-25 that have been All-Stars and we’re surrounding them with the right players around them so they can be the best players they can be and we can have a consistent identity on offense and defense. We’re working toward that. We have an important offseason where we have between the draft and free agency the opportunity to continue to improve the team.”
Fit the timeline
Yes if this club was already in a good position to build around Towns and Russell, that position just got better.
The Wolves now have the No. 1 overall pick, the No. 17 pick (from Brooklyn) and the No. 33 pick in the 2020 draft in October.
That gives the Wolves a lot of picks to either keep or trade, and Rosas said between all the trades the club made last season and the draft picks they have, the team is going in the direction he hoped for after joining the Wolves in 2018.
“We have an important offseason where we have, between the draft and free agency, the opportunity to continue to improve the team,” Rosas said. “Potentially three of the top 33 picks in the draft and the flexibility financially to continue to build this out. We’re excited. That is the incredible value that we have in terms of the flexibility. I do feel that we’re going to be very effective if the option is to draft young players, that we can find players that fit our system, fit our timeline.
“Our goal is when our best players, Karl-Anthony and D’Angelo and our other young core, when they reach their prime, when they’re 27, 28, 29 we have to be in a position as an organization to be contending at the highest level. That’s what we’re building toward. If we find the right players in the draft, I’m confident we’ll move forward with them and they’re still in our timeline. But I will say, we’re going to be very aggressive to look at all options, whether that’s trading up in the draft or trading for future assets or trading for players that fit our timeline that can help us more now.”
The decision to keep the No. 1 overall pick or trade it will be one of the most important in club history, and Rosas is the right person to make that call.
Gophers in 2021?
As the Big Ten continues to figure out how to move forward following the postponement of fall sports, one of the biggest questions for the Gophers football team will be how the 2021 schedule looks.
While the conference continues to try and find a way to hold a spring season, the odds are unlikely that will happen.
Coaches already have pointed out that if a spring season is scheduled, several high-profile juniors and seniors likely will sit out because it will be too close to the NFL draft in late April/early May.
That already has become an issue for college teams heading to bowl games in December and January, when upperclassmen have chosen to sit out those contests to prepare for the draft.
The Gophers felt the effects of that in 2018 when linebacker Blake Cashman sat out the Quick Lane Bowl to prepare for the draft, where he was selected in the fifth round by the Jets. Last season linebacker Kamal Martin skipped the Outback Bowl to prepare for the draft, and he was selected in the fifth round by the Packers.
So the odds are that if you try and play a full Big Ten football schedule in the spring, top players are going to opt out.
On top of that, playing two football seasons in 12 months doesn’t allow the players much recovery time and could lead to more injuries.
So if the 2020 season gets canceled, what will the Gophers’ 2021 fall schedule look like?
The 2020 conference schedule originally was going to include conference games at home against Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern and road games at Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Illinois and Maryland.
The 2021 conference schedule looks a lot easier on paper, with conference home games against Ohio State, Wisconsin, Maryland, Illinois and Nebraska and road games against Purdue, Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana.
The Gophers are going to be a favorite to win the Big Ten West and potentially the Big Ten Championship whenever football resumes.
But the conference will have to decide which of these games the team will keep and which they will lose. The big question will be around those Michigan and Ohio State home games, because those are huge ticket draws but also two of the toughest opponents in the conference.
The Gophers haven’t beaten Ohio State since 2000 and have faced the Buckeyes only three times since 2010.
They have had slightly better luck against Michigan, beating them in Ann Arbor in 2005 and 2014, but those are their only two victories against the Wolverines since 1986.