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Minnesota Timberwolves will enter offseason with critical decisions to make

Minnesota Timberwolves will enter offseason with critical decisions to make

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we'll be examining the impact of the NBA's current on hiatus on each team in the league. Today, the Minnesota Timberwolves are up.

Past installments: Chicago Bulls | Golden State Warriors | Cleveland Cavaliers

With the third-worst record in the NBA at the time of the suspension of regular season play (19-45), the Minnesota Timberwolves have some critical decisions to make.

Gersson Rosas is completing his first year as the head of basketball operations in the Twin Cities, and extended a vote of confidence to young head coach Ryan Saunders mid-season. But is Saunders the right man to continue the rebuild? And can the Timberwolves build a winning team around former All-Stars Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell? Or will Rosas need to explore trading one of the two for several assets?

Roster Evaluation

Rosas worked for the ultra-aggressive Daryl Morey in the Houston Rockets’ front office, and he made several trades in his first year on the job in Minnesota — moving Andrew Wiggins, Dario Saric, Jeff Teague, Robert Covington, Gorgui Dieng, Jordan Bell and Shabazz Napier off the roster while acquiring Russell, Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangómez, James Johnson, Evan Turner, Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman.

Russell and Towns are good friends, and there is potential for them to form a lethal pick-and-roll combination. Towns averaged 26.5 points and 10.8 rebounds over 35 games in an injury-riddled season, and can be effective rolling to the basket or popping out for 3-point shots. He’s one of the top scoring centers in the NBA.

Russell averaged 21.7 points and 6.6 assists in the 12 games he played for Minnesota, but concerns persist about his shot selection and willingness to be a facilitator in half-court sets.

Still, Towns and Russell figure to be the offensive mainstays for whoever is coaching the Timberwolves next season. The bigger concern is finding three other starters who can effectively complement the high-scoring duo.

Rookie Jarrett Culver was a major disappointment, averaging just 9.2 points on 40.4% shooting from the field and 29.9% from 3-point range. Culver was the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft after leading Texas Tech to the NCAA championship game, but he failed to show any consistency at the offensive end, and only started 35 of the 63 games he played.

Beasley played well in 14 games with the Timberwolves, averaging 20.7 points and hitting 42.6% of his 3 point attempts. But he’ll be a restricted free agent at season’s end, as will Hernangomez.

The Timberwolves also like the potential of rookie big man Naz Reid and defensive-minded second-year swingman Josh Okogie.

Offseason Decisions

Start with the coaching staff, where the Timberwolves have strong feelings for Saunders, who is the son of former head coach and front office executive Flip Saunders. Still, it’s been a bumpy start for one of the league’s youngest head coaches, and Rosas might decide to bring in a more experienced leader to help develop the players he’s added to the roster.

The Timberwolves would love to bring Beasley back after his strong showing as a starter, but with so few impact players available on the free agent market, he could get an offer sheet higher than what the organization is comfortable paying. Rosas will have some money to spend on free agents this offseason with only $75.3 million in guaranteed contracts on the books, but he’ll have to be careful not to get drawn into long-term commitments for players who don’t fit well with Towns and Russell.

Minnesota is currently owns the third-best lottery odds in the upcoming draft and could be in position to add a wing scorer like Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball to play alongside Russell in the backcourt. They might consider drafting a power forward like NCAA Player of the Year Obi Toppin to help Towns up front.

The Timberwolves also have an additional first round pick acquired from the Brooklyn Nets that figures to be somewhere in the the 15-17 range.

Outlook

Rosas spent his first year on the job evaluating the coaching staff and the talent on the roster, and already has made a number of moves to try to re-shape the team in the style of play he favors. The problem is both Towns and Russell can be very stubborn when it comes to shot selection and team play, and it will be interesting to see if their personal friendship makes them more willing to sacrifice individual numbers for team success.

The Timberwolves need to land an impact starter with their high lottery pick and hopefully pick up a couple high-character veterans in free agency who can help on the court and in the locker room. Bringing Beasley back as a starter at shooting guard or small forward would be a good first step, and the Timberwolves are counting on Culver to bounce back from a shaky rookie season to be a more consistent contributor going forward.

It’s always a plus to have a pair of young former All-Stars on your roster to build around, but the Timberwolves clearly have a lot of work to do to become a playoff team again.

Check back in on Wednesday, when we examine the Atlanta Hawks.

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Adam Silver: Michael Jordan ‘clearly the most respected voice’ in NBA meetings

Adam Silver: Michael Jordan ‘clearly the most respected voice’ in NBA meetings

The NBA’s resumption bid in Orlando, Fla. kicking off July 31 will involve 22 teams. All 22 will finish out their respective regular season slates with eight games each, followed by potential play-in series for each conference’s eighth seed, followed by a traditional (or as traditional as is possible) 16-team playoff.

That plan came after months of deliberation between commissioner Adam Silver and a litany of voices across the league. And in those deliberations a number of creative solutions were discussed — from a World Cup-style group stage first round to a 30-team play-in tournament.

The compulsion to face an unprecedented situation with unprecedented ideas is an understandable one. And the resolution of the NBA’s 2019-20 season will be without historical comparison. 

But Silver said in an appearance on Inside the NBA on TNT Thursday night that Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Hornets, was one of the swing voices that pushed the league to pursue a traditional postseason format after the 16 playoff teams were established. Jordan’s voice evidently carries a lot of weight in such discussions.

“This was a point made by Michael Jordan — whose team, the Charlotte Hornets are not one of the 22 teams, but he’s clearly the most respected voice in the room when it comes to basketball — he felt it was very important that after we established the 16 teams we not be gimmicky,” Silver said. “Because there were a lot of proposals on the table to do unique tournaments and pool play like you see in international competition. And we took many of those proposals very seriously. 

“Ultimately, I agreed with Michael that there's so much chaos in the world right now, even before the racial unrest we’re experiencing now, let’s come as close to normal as we can. And as close to normal as we can is top eight in the West, top eight in the East playing four rounds of seven games. So that’s what we intend to do and our goal is to crown a champion.

And so, here we are. Even with many questions still to be answered, the NBA is on a fast track to returning.

RELATED: Explaining the NBA's plan to resume the 2019-20 season

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Bulls Talk Podcast: The NBA season is set to return during a trying time

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USA Today

Bulls Talk Podcast: The NBA season is set to return during a trying time

The NBA season is set to restart and return with 22 teams continuing their seasons for a chance at a playoff spot and a championship. Even though the league has set a schedule the current state of the country is still in flux due to the murder of George Floyd. Host Jason Goff is joined by Rob Schaefer, Tony Gill, Kevin Anderson, and KC Johnson to discuss social justice and police brutality in America, the NBA restarting the season, and what does it mean for the Bulls now that their season is over.

(3:00) - It's been a hard week for America

(16:06) - When sports come back, we must still remember this pain

(35:40) - This situation feels different

(42:06) - Strong concerns over the NBA picking the season back up

(53:38) - How will no fan games impact the players?

(1:05:21) - The Bulls season is officially over, what will happen with Jim Boylen

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.