Wolves can't replace DLo with A 35+ year old veteran

D'Angelo Russell, Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell (0) reacts to a foul call against the Toronto Raptors during the first quarter at Target Center. Photo credit Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is just over halfway through its season, and the Feb. 9 trade deadline is approaching rapidly. The Minnesota Timberwolves sit outside the playoffs, just under .500. There is plenty of time for the Wolves to climb out of the play-in tournament. They are only half a game behind the sixth-place Golden State Warriors and two games behind the fifth-place Dallas Mavericks. However, the 13th-place Los Angeles Lakers are only 1.5 games behind the Wolves, so they have very little margin for error on their way to the postseason.

Recently, Anthony Edwards‘ ascension and the return of several key role players from injury have inspired confidence that the Wolves belong in the playoff mix on most nights. However, their inconsistency in the first half of the season has highlighted some of the flaws in the team’s roster construction and drawn a depressing amount of attention to the boatload of draft picks and helpful players the front office traded to land Rudy Gobert. As a result, national reporters have begun to speculate that the Wolves will be active at the trade deadline, and the pressure is on Tim Connelly to make the roster makes sense.

Similar to this summer, D’Angelo Russell is the main player being discussed openly in these trade rumors. While DLo has been incredibly important to the team, he is in an odd position as one of few players on the Wolves drawing trade interest, who also doesn’t necessarily fit the roster long term. He’s an offensive-oriented player on a team with many mouths to feed and sorely needs perimeter defense help at the 1.

Darren “Doogie” Wolfson reported that Taurean Prince has drawn trade interest from other teams. However, Prince has been far too important to Minnesota’s success this year to trade, especially when they could already use an additional 3-and-D player like Prince in their rotation.

Jaden McDaniels garnered plenty of trade interest in the summer. But like Prince, he is far too important to Minnesota’s future to trade. There is no reason to believe that Mr. Untouchable is now inexplicably “touchable” after continuing to improve in his third season and cementing himself as one of the most versatile defenders in the league.

Thus, if the Timberwolves front office wants to make a big trade before the deadline, DLo may be the only option. However, trading Russell still seems like a dangerous proposition, given the position the Wolves are in. Sure, it would make sense to trade for a more distribution and defense-oriented point guard so that you can have a ball stopper and court organizer around Ant to end games. The problem is, there aren’t a ton of point guards like that out there, and even fewer of them are available to be traded for.

Kyle Lowry (Miami Heat) and Mike Conley (Utah Jazz) are the two point guards that have been linked to the Wolves in trade rumors. Both players in their prime were certainly the ideal archetype of PG that the Wolves could use right now — likely why the rumors are centered around them. However, as accomplished as both players are, they are beginning to feel the effects of Father Time.

Lowry is going to be 37 in two months and hasn’t played over 65 games in a season since the 2017-18 season. Aside from his health concerns, he’s also seen a significant drop in his statistical production on the court. He’s averaging under 40% shooting and 6 assists per game for the first time since the 2009-10 season when he still played in Houston. Though he may be the G.R.O.A.T., it’s highly unlikely that he would be a better option for the Wolves than DLo at his current age.

Similarly, Mountain Mike has climbed to some gloriously high peaks throughout his career. However, he has also faced a decent amount of injury trouble on the steep decline that many players hit starting around age 30. Although he has been very valuable to the Jazz when available, Conley is 35 and has missed significant time in 4 of his last 8 seasons.

In addition, we may have seen the first big signs of decline in his game, as he is shooting under 40% from the field for only the second time in his 16-year career. He is averaging under 12 points a game for the first time since 2008-09. Though Conley is averaging a career-high in assists at 7.5 and is still a consummate floor general, his defensive rating is currently 118, four points worse than his worst season and one point worse than DLo’s (117). Conley’s defensive rating is likely being dragged down because the Jazz have the 26th-ranked defense at 116.85. However, it seems fair to say that Conley has lost some of the speed that once made him one of the better defensive PGs in the league for a long time.

If reaching 30 in the NBA is like starting your statistical walk down the mountain for most players, then reaching 40 is like walking off a cliff. Though a handful of legends with superhuman durability have played into their 40s, most are primarily relegated to player-coach roles. Robert Parish, who amazingly averaged 11.7 points, 1.3 blocks, and 7.3 rebounds in 26.9 minutes at the age of 40, was an exception. Even if one of them did work out well for the team short term, you’d only have a maximum of 3-5 years of productivity in the most ideal world before they either retire or stop being able to play real minutes against younger players who don’t wake up with sore knees every day.

Given that Minnesota’s best player is only 21, it makes very little sense to trade for a player over 35, especially if it’s going to take DLo to make that trade happen. While Ant is good enough at a young age to make having two time-lines for success (one in KAT’s prime and one in Ant’s prime) less of an issue, it seems dangerous to continue to widen the age gap of your most important players, especially considering that they already did it once in the offseason by trading for Gobert.

It’s just going to make it more difficult to line up the primes of your best players to have the best chance at a championship, especially if Gobert’s performance begins to decline by then. It also makes it harder to trade for a player that better fits Ant’s skill set when he hits his prime, and they actually know what they need if the point guard you traded for retires. With good management, it’s certainly possible, but leaning harder into immediate success would make much more sense if the player you are trading for is in their mid to late 20s, like Fred VanVleet. Players like that would likely require the Wolves to give up more talent.

DLo’s relationship may have soured behind the scenes with the front office so much that it has become untenable, given some of the spicy quotes he gave to NBA insider Jake Fischer. If that is the case, it probably is the right move to trade him as soon as possible for the best deal you can get.

If that’s not the case, though, it seems incredibly dangerous to trade a good player in his late 20s for someone 10 years older than him unless it comes with draft picks or a promising young prospect. The Wolves front office needs to start thinking long term. Otherwise, they may just be bailing water while the holes in the roster continue to sink the boat.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports