The new Timberwolves basketball boss struck a laid-back, unassuming and anti-bragging tone during his public introduction by suggesting he hopes to ‘play a small part’ in the operation and is coming ‘here to don’t mess it up.”
Nice guy, this Tim Connelly.
Yet it is his regime now, his book of decisions to analyze and criticize. Connelly is in charge, guiding Wolves into the future. There’s nothing small about his role as president of basketball operations.
Two big reminders await him on his desk as he settles into his new office: contract decisions regarding Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.
The answer to the first is clear.
As the third-team All-NBA, Towns is eligible for a four-year, $211 million supermax contract extension that would begin in 2024. The deal would net him nearly $60 million in the last season.
It’s a big number, but it’s also the price of doing business. Paying star players is expensive and carries high risks.
Towns is a unique talent coming off his best season and has formed a close bond with coach Chris Finch. He is a star athlete who professes his love for Minnesota and the organization.
Giving him the supermax is obvious.
Yes, Towns’ tantrums with officials can be annoying and hurt his greatness. The hope is that he realizes his antics are doomed because he doesn’t sway the officials in his favor and his filthy troubles are hurting his team. Nothing wrong with him showing emotion, unless and until it negatively impacts his performance, which happens all too often.
The value of cities for the organization as a cornerstone brings clarity. Connelly made an astute observation when he mentioned the importance of creating stability around cities after years of chaos and constant change.
The organization finally has a positive momentum. Wolves doubled their win tally this season and made the playoffs. They found the right trainer in Finch. The list includes promising young talents who can grow together. The property made a shrewd and aggressive hire of Connelly to lead the front office.
There’s a lot to love about the direction right now.
Choosing not to enroll cities in the supermax extension is not a realistic option. Now is not the time to start over.
Russell’s situation is more complicated, although the playoff series against Memphis provided valuable insight.
His “hero ball” shot at the end of Game 5 showed a complete lack of situational awareness. Three days later, at the critical moment of the elimination game, Finch benched Russell in favor of backup Jordan McLaughlin because the $30 million point guard couldn’t be trusted late in the fourth quarter.
It’s a serious issue that can’t be minimized as the team debates whether to trade Russell or re-sign him as he approaches the final season of his contract.
Russell has had a good season which has seen him play terrific ball at times. But his volatile nature and his disappearance in the playoffs make it difficult to justify a long-term commitment to him with big money.
Connelly should explore a trade this offseason knowing that, as frustrating as Russell’s playoff performance was, Wolves would have to find a legitimate alternative at the point guard. McLaughlin is a quality backup, not a full-time starter.
The concern is how Russell’s price tag – say in the $20m-a-year range – would fit the puzzle, assuming Towns signs his supermax contract and Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels get high-priced extensions in a few years. This should be the core to build around; Cities, Edwards and McDaniels.
Connelly has flexibility with the schedule and options if the trade market doesn’t present anything suitable this offseason. At his peak, Russell can be very effective, but it’s too often a roller coaster ride with him. And it’s hard to forget that at the most important moment of the season, the coaching staff wanted someone else to run the show, someone not earning nearly $30 million.