Minnesota Timberwolves: Did the Wolves simply tread water this summer?

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 23: Jordan Bell #7, Treveon Graham #12, Jake Layman #10, Shabazz Napier #13 and Noah Vonleh #1 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 23: Jordan Bell #7, Treveon Graham #12, Jake Layman #10, Shabazz Napier #13 and Noah Vonleh #1 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves didn’t make any big moves this offseason, and they didn’t retain any of their own free agents. Did they simply tread water?

The Western Conference has been impossibly difficult for what feels like forever.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, on the other hand, have rarely been a true contender during that span. And this summer, things only got more difficult in the West.

The arms race continued, as the mighty Golden State Warriors were taken down a peg, both teams in Los Angeles geared up by acquiring top-five players, and teams like Houston, Denver, and Utah solidified themselves and perhaps even improved.

What does that mean for the rest of the West? Well, if you aren’t keeping up, you’re falling behind.

Let’s start by acknowledging what should be obvious: the Timberwolves roster is not as good as it was when they made the playoffs in 2017-18, with Jimmy Butler leading the charge. But beyond Butler, the team’s depth heading into the 2019-20 campaign may actually be better than each of the past two years.

The Athletic’s David Aldridge (subscription required) recently declared the Wolves as having the 26th-best offseason in the league, all while noting that it wasn’t “bad”. His argument is that the Wolves treaded water while the rest of the league improved.

Fair or unfair? Let’s discuss.

The Wolves allowed Taj Gibson to walk and traded Dario Saric, but they back-filled the power forward spot with a cheap, one-year fill-in in Noah Vonleh and a promise to play Robert Covington more at the 4. Plus, Jordan Bell signed to backup both spots in the frontcourt, bringing an intriguing mix of size and athleticism to the fold.

Minnesota also let Tyus Jones go, but acquired a comparable replacement in Shabazz Napier. All told, it is likely a small step backwards, but at a much more affordable and short-term cost. Derrick Rose also left via free agency, taking with him much of the Wolves’ bench scoring.

The Wolves were thin at wing last year, and new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas has more than shored up both the 2 and the 3 positions via draft, trade, and free agency.

Minnesota drafted a potential start at No. 6 in Jarrett Culver and an intriguing scoring guard in the second round in Jaylen Nowell. Then, Treveon Graham joined Napier in the trade from Brooklyn.

In free agency, Rosas added Jake Layman in a sign-and-trade with Portland, shoring up the 3 and the 4-spot. Lastly, he claimed combo guard Tyrone Wallace off waivers from the Clippers and inked Summer League standout Kelan Martin to a two-way deal to create added depth and flexibility.

So, which of the below is a better group of players?

Out: Gibson, Saric, Jones, Rose, Anthony Tolliver, Cameron Reynolds
In: Culver, Vonleh, Layman, Bell, Graham, Napier, Nowell, Wallace

It’s close, but the first group is likely better. Aldridge’s assertion isn’t wrong.

But it’s also important to note that the Wolves didn’t get worse, increased their flexibility moving forward (at least in comparison to if they had chosen to extend offers to Gibson, Jones, Saric, and Rose), and won’t have the Butler distraction and midseason upheaval that they experienced a year ago. Plus, the style of play is changing: more 3s and more positional flexibility.

Will that be enough to combat the influx of talent in the Western Conference and add a few wins to last year’s 36-win total?

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Time will tell, but the bet here is that the Wolves end up with a better record in 2020 than they finished with in 2019.