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5 major offseason things Timberwolves must do to win NBA Finals

5 major offseason things Timberwolves must do to win NBA Finals

The Minnesota Timberwolves experienced one of the greatest seasons in franchise history this year. With Anthony Edwards taking another leap and the team’s defense clicking into place in the second season with defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert roaming the paint, the Timberwolves contended for the top spot in the Western Conference all season long.

While Minnesota slid to the third seed after a tight race with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets, the Wolves outlasted both of those teams and even ruined the Nuggets’ chances at a second straight NBA championship by winning Game 7 on the road in Denver in the second round. The Western Conference Finals did not go as well for the Timberwolves.

Despite being the higher seed, the Wolves, whose defense buoyed them all year, could not slow down the Dallas Mavericks’ offense enough to overcome their own offensive shortcomings. En route to its first NBA Finals in 13 years, the Mavericks completed the gentleman’s sweep, winning the series 4-1.

Now, all of the NBA’s 30 teams are focusing on the offseason and searching for ways to improve their respective rosters before Opening Night in October. For the Timberwolves, that task is not nearly as daunting as it may have been years ago before the arrivals of Anthony Edwards, Mike Conley, and Rudy Gobert.

However, while the team does not need to search for its superstar player anymore, Minnesota must now capitalize on its 2023-24 success and round out a roster capable of winning the NBA championship. That is much easier said than done, especially with the salary cap restrictions Minnesota will face, but building a championship-caliber team this summer should be the only priority for the Timberwolves because the title window is officially open.

Diagnose offensive issues

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (5) shoots against Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) during the second quarter in game five of the western conference finals for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Target Center.
© Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

For all the flak the Timberwolves’ offense rightly received during the regular season – Minnesota ranked 17th in offensive rating and was one of the most turnover-prone teams in the league – the offense improved in the playoffs. In the postseason, Minnesota’s offense ranked sixth out of 16 playoff teams (114.8 points per 100 possessions) and were among the best in terms of shooting (fifth in effective field-goal percentage and fourth in true shooting percentage).

But it was still not good enough. Even after defeating offensive wizard Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets, the Timberwolves couldn’t quite overcome the dynamic duo of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving in the Western Conference Finals. Doncic and Irving each scored 30 in three of the five games in the Western Conference Finals, while Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves’ two best offensive players, saw their shots more often bounce off of the rim than fall through the net.

In Game 1, Edwards and Towns combined for 35 points (two more than Doncic) and shot 12-for-36 from the field and 7-21 from three. Something similar followed in Game 2, as Edwards and Towns combined for 36 points (four more than Doncic) and shot 9-for-33 from the field and 3-12 from three. Fortunately, each got to the free-throw line more than a few times to keep the Timberwolves in it late.

Edwards had his best game of the series to that point in Game 3, scoring 26 on 11-for-24 shooting from the field. However, he and Towns went 0-for-10 on three-pointers as the Wolves fell behind 0-3 in the series. Minnesota managed to stave off a sweep in Game 4 behind 54 combined points from Edwards and Towns, the latter of whom made four of his five three-point attempts. The shooting touch was short-lived, though, as Towns went 1-for-6 on threes in Game 5 as the Timberwolves were eliminated from the playoffs.

A plausible excuse for Edwards and Towns’ varying woes in the Mavericks series could be their inexperience. While much older and with nearly a decade of NBA seasons under his proverbial belt, Towns has only played five more playoff games than Edwards, and this was the first time either had escaped the first round.

Moving forward, that explanation will not be accepted (if it even is now), and greater things will be expected of both of them. And if Minnesota were to win the championship, it would likely have to beat one or several historically great offenses, which would take consistently great performances from both Edwards and Towns.

But let’s be honest, the issues with the offense seem to go much deeper than Edwards and Towns underperforming for one series. The offensive shortcomings of Rudy Gobert are well-documented, and one of the more dynamic offensive players the Timberwolves have is Naz Reid, but the Timberwolves’ playoff offensive rating was at its highest with Gobert on the floor and fell off a proverbial cliff when Gobert took a seat on the bench.

This offseason, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch will likely work hard to figure out which lineups can actually produce meaningful minutes. In the playoffs, it was proven that Reid and Towns cannot play together and that the team can have some success without a traditional point guard like Mike Conley on the floor.

However Finch does it, he must diagnose and treat the issues plaguing the Timberwolves this offseason.

Find Mike Conley’s replacement

Kentucky Wildcats guard Rob Dillingham (0) drives to the basket during the second half against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center.
© Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The effect of Mike Conley’s leadership and maturity on the Timberwolves cannot be understated. Every team needs a veteran point guard to mentor and guide the young players.

He won’t be around forever, though. At 36 years old (he will turn 37 before Opening Night), Conley may be part of the present, but he should not be a significant part of the future.

Conley signed a $21 million extension in the middle of the season that keeps him under contract for two more seasons, which means you have – at most – two years to find his replacement.

The Wolves could decide to reach for a low-cost free agent. But with how competitive the minimum-contract free agent market always is and how hamstrung the Timberwolves are with cap space, the best way to find a long-term successor at point guard is the NBA Draft, and that’s what the team appears to have done by drafting Rob Dillingham.

Build roster to beat specific contenders

May 19, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert (27) and guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (9) defend Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the first half in game seven of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
© Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Acquiring Rudy Gobert, while highly criticized at the time (and for a while after that), was a masterstroke by Tim Connelly. While no one can really stop Nikola Jokic, by trading for Gobert, the Timberwolves became one of the few teams to have multiple bigs that can legitimately guard Jokic. While a team like the Miami Heat stood no chance in the 2023 NBA Finals even with a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Bam Adebayo, the Timberwolves were able to throw Gobert, Towns, and Naz Reid on Jokic in their grueling seven-game second-round series.

Beating the Nuggets again will be no easy feat, but the Timberwolves have at least addressed the Jokic part of the equation.

Taking inspiration from that success story, Minnesota should use this offseason to not only bolster its roster but craft a team that can specifically match up with teams the Timberwolves would have to overcome on the road to a championship.

To beat the Nuggets, in addition to multiple big men to soak up fouls, minutes, and slow and tire Jokic, a strong point-of-attack defender to fend off Jamal Murray’s drives and a rangy perimeter defender that can chase Michael Porter Jr. around the three-point line are necessary.

The Timberwolves may never be able to put together an offensive duo as potent as Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, but that’s not essentially necessary to defeat the Dallas Mavericks, as was evident in the NBA Finals. To beat the Mavericks, the Timberwolves need to continue to rely on their defense and make Doncic and Irving’s lives as tough and physical as ever. Getting one of the two out of rhythm is, by far, the best way to upend the Mavs, who can outscore pretty much anyone if allowed to.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, the other Western Conference team to make it to the second round, will likely prove to be a difficult matchup for the Timberwolves. In some ways, the teams are similar – they each have a superstar shooting guard and a versatile big who can shoot from the perimeter and defend, for example – but the Thunder have quite a bit more flexibility in regards to their cap and trade assets to maximize what could be a long, successful championship window.

The Thunder have also already improved this offseason by trading for Alex Caruso, one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA who will likely make a potential meeting with the Timberwolves all that more interesting.

Think about making a big trade

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) fouls out against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half in game four of the western conference finals for the 2024 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Center.
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Two years ago, the Timberwolves kicked off this current era with a trade for Rudy Gobert. Now, the team is at a point that it has only been once before, and Minnesota should do everything it can to make sure things don’t end up like they did last time.

While it would seem unwise to trade one of their foundational pieces, it would be foolish to not even consider trading a player like Karl-Anthony Towns. He is one of the most versatile bigs in the NBA and one of the most popular Timberwolves players ever, so there are certainly plenty of reasons to keep KAT on the team, but his stock is relatively high at the moment despite the shooting woes in the playoffs and Naz Reid, in theory, could replace quite a bit of his offensive production.

Even if the Timberwolves are over the second apron, which severely limits what they can do in trades, they could execute a blockbuster deal involving KAT because of his nearly $50 million salary in 2024-25.

Potential trade targets could be a point guard like the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Darius Garland or the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young, either of whom would likely be accompanied by role players and draft picks that could help bolster the team’s depth and facilitate future trades.

There’s also the even more unlikely scenario in which the Timberwolves swing a trade for Kevin Durant, Anthony Edwards’ favorite player, or one or multiple players from the New Orleans Pelicans.

Trading an All-Star seemingly in their prime is not typically wise, so it’s not likely the Timberwolves would go ahead with a trade involving KAT (or any of their stars), but it should at least be considered internally this offseason.

Re-sign Monté Morris

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Monte Morris (23) during the second half at Footprint Center.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Monté Morris was acquired by Minnesota at the trade deadline, but he did not get the chance to show his full potential.

In 27 games following the trade, Morris, a former starter for the Denver Nuggets, averaged 5.1 points and 2.3 assists in 15.1 minutes per game while shooting a career-high 42.4% from three. And then Morris barely played during the postseason – he posted 7.4 minutes per game in only nine games.

Morris battled a quadriceps injury for the first three months of the season and was likely still working himself back into NBA shape when he was traded by the Detroit Pistons to Minnesota.

While Morris will not start unless there is an injury, the Timberwolves should make it a priority to re-sign Morris this offseason.

In December 2020, Morris signed an extension with the Nuggets for three years and $27.8 million. After being traded twice and having only played 33 games in his final year of the contract, Morris will likely not be a highly sought-after free agent this offseason, which should allow the Timberwolves to retain him at a much lower price than he would have a year or two ago.

Morris will be 29 when the season begins and has proven to be a good locker-room presence, in addition to having playoff experience with Denver – he has played 57 career postseason games and averaged 14.0 points and 5.4 assists in the 2022 playoffs.

While the team now has Dillingham, who they hope will be a long-term replacement for Conley when he retires, Morris is a good middle ground because he is significantly younger than Conley but has the experience that a contending team like Minnesota is always looking for.