NBA - US Sports: Are Minnesota Timberwolves ready for championship bid?
The Minnesota Timberwolves were jubilant at simply returning to the playoffs last season after beating the LA Clippers in the play-in tournament.
While they impressed in spells in the first round, they blew leads against the Memphis Grizzles on their way to a 4-2 series loss.
However, the Timberwolves decided to go all-in during the off-season and have gambled their future in order to get Rudy Gobert from Utah Jazz.
Gobert arrival comes at a cost
Minnesota shipped Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Leandro Bolmaro to Utah as salary match, topping up their offer with a big spread of picks.
The Timberwolves also sent 2022 draft pick Walker Kessler to Utah, alongside their 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 first-round picks, while the Jazz also got a 2026 pick swap thrown in as well.
That massive deal has reverberated around the league, setting a huge bar in talks for stars like Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell.
It's also set the bar high for the Timberwolves, who need to deliver a lot more than last season's seventh-place finish in the Western Conference.
Undoubted quality comes from Gobert
Gobert has won Defensive Player of the Year in three of the past five seasons and he’s a three-time All-Star.
There's no question that the Timberwolves have improved by trading for the Frenchman. The question is, where is their ceiling with this team?
Having traded away their draft picks, the Timberwolves are almost out of avenues to improve this team. They're set to hand Anthony Edwards a big new extension, meaning their big three of Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert are the foundation of this side.
With those three tied down long-term, the Timberwolves aren’t going to be big free agency movers either.
Finch making his mark
It helps that they have a promising coach, with Chris Finch earning a lot of praise for their efforts last term. He also schemed well to trouble the Grizzlies in the playoffs, causing a lot of problems for a side which finished second in the West.
Finch clearly has more to work with this season and it’s hard to see anything but progression from this team.
Towns getting more playoff experience is vital and Edwards continues to improve as he heads into this third year in the league.
Finch built the Timberwolves into a strong defensive unit last year and adding one of the league's elite stoppers is a fascinating prospect.
Defensive strength more likely
Minnesota could be one of the hardest teams to play against, especially if Gobert is given the kind of defensive support which was lacking so often in Utah.
Gobert was a driving force behind the Jazz having a consistently strong regular-season record.
They were a top-five seed in the West in five of the last six seasons, topping the Conference in 2021. The biggest issue for the Jazz was that they struggled to build off that in the playoffs.
The Jazz have won just three playoff series in the last six seasons, so the Timberwolves aren’t getting a rock-solid postseason player.
However, the Frenchman was asked to do a lot of the defensive work for the Jazz, something which isn't likely to be repeated in Minnesota.
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Timberwolves feel the need to compete
It's been reported that the Timberwolves felt they had to make this trade to keep up in a competitive Conference.
That's another factor when judging their prospects, as the LA Clippers, Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets are all set to be stronger this time around.
The reigning champion Golden State Warriors remain the looming threat in the West, so there's a stacked Conference lying in wait for the Timberwolves. That's the level they need to get to in order to really challenge for a title.
Those other contenders can all boast true superstars, something which the Timberwolves still lack. For all they traded away to get him, Gobert isn't effective enough offensively to be a true star, while Towns hasn't ever hit that level and he doesn't look like he will.
Future hopes lie with Edwards
The Timberwolves will hope Edwards can hit that level, but in his third year he's unlikely to mix it with the very best. However, with Towns secured until 2029 and Gobert down until 2026, this team can wait for Ant-Man to develop.
While there's potential for a Minnesota challenge, that's unlikely to happen this year, but the Timberwolves can be content that they've improved and they should be targeting a top-six finish in the West at least next season.
That would be a huge step forward as they look to build a title contender around Edwards.