Minnesota Timberwolves: Redoing draft night in 2017

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 05: Aaron Gordon #00 and Jonathan Isaac #1 of the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 05: Aaron Gordon #00 and Jonathan Isaac #1 of the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

If the Minnesota Timberwolves had a chance to re-do the 2017 draft, what might they do differently? Would the Butler trade still happen?

Among Minnesota Timberwolves fans, there is one moment in recent years that seems to be a major divide: the Jimmy Butler trade of 2017.

Yes, the move put the Wolves in place to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The fallout of the deal also set the Timberwolves back in the development of their core.

Case in point: Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie are the players on the current roster have played more than one season with the Timberwolves. That means that the core that existed heading into the 2017 offseason is a distant memory.

This summer, the Timberwolves have a chance to, in essence, re-do the summer of 2017. But before we dive into that, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

After going 31-51 and tying for the sixth-worst record in the NBA, the Timberwolves came out of the draft lottery with the 7th pick on Tuesday, May 16, 2017.

What started as an exciting and promising season was derailed with Zach LaVine‘s torn ACL. Still, the team showed signs of promise. Towns and Andrew Wiggins averaged 25.1 and 23.6 points per game, respectively, while Ricky Rubio dished out 9.1 assists per contest and finally appeared to be completely healthy.

They were starting to form an identity as a young, energetic, and sometimes pesky team. Of course, at the end of the season, there were still some question marks. How would Zach Lavine recover from his injury? Was 2016 No. 5 draft pick Kris Dunn a bust? Would the starting frontcourt of Gorgui Dieng and Towns be sustainable?

Heading into the draft, the biggest need was to find a running mate to play next to Towns. He’d shown that defense wasn’t his specialty, and needed someone that could make up for his mistakes.

It just so happened that a lanky defender out of Florida State, Jonathan Isaac, was projected to go somewhere in the range of No. 5 to No. 8. At 6-foot-10 and 210 pounds, he had the size to compete with most stretch fours but was bound to struggle with getting bullied in the paint.

Isaac ended up getting picked by the Orlando Magic at No. 6, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that things would have gone differently for the Wolves if he hadn’t. Shortly after the Magic picked, Minnesota sent pick No. 7 along with Zach Lavine and Kris Dunn to the Bulls for Butler and the No. 16 pick, which they used to take Creighton’s Justin Patton.

Yes, 2017-18 season was one to remember for the Timberwolves. They fought their way to the No. 8 seed in the playoffs but suffered a first-round exit against the Houston Rockets. In terms of franchise accomplishments, it was still something to be proud of.

Then, the fallout with Jimmy Butler before the start of the 2018-19 season, his ultimate departure, and then two more seasons with the Wolves bottom feeders in the NBA.

This offseason, the Timberwolves are in a place to get back on course. After the 2016-17 season, the organization decided to sacrifice the long-term development of its core for immediate impact. It’s hard to predict what the core of Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine could have accomplished, but it’s safe to assume that by 2020-21 they would be running at their prime as a unit.

How can the Timberwolves fix the mistakes of their past? The first step is a trade for the one that got away. While Jonathan Isaac is not reportedly being shopped, by taking a look at the Magic’s front-court logjam of Nikola Vucevic, Mo Bamba, Khem Birch, Aaron Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu and Isaac, it’s clear that something has to give. Simply because someone isn’t being shopped doesn’t mean they aren’t available for the right price. That price starts with last year’s first-round pick.

It might be difficult to imagine giving up a potential top-three pick, but there comes a point in time where finding the right fit is more important that potential. For the Timberwolves, Isaac can be the missing piece.

Although he only played 32 games in the 2019-20 season due to injuries, Isaac averaged 12 points per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from beyond the arc. He also pulled in 6.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.4 blocks per game.

Is Isaac better than the top five players in this year’s draft? Maybe not, but unless the Timberwolves reach for fit or take a risk on prospective talent, he is their best option to find a long term frontcourt partner for Towns.

The Timberwolves can enter the 2020-21 season with the roster they hoped to develop back in 2017. Their franchise centerpiece Towns paired with an All-Star guard in D’Angelo Russell, shooters and wing defenders, and a 3-and-D stretch-4 in Juancho Hernangomez.

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It’s time the Timberwolves prove to Towns that he is the key to the franchise and build a roster around him that fits.