The NBA draft is this week.
Strangely, the Minnesota Timberwolves do not have the top pick.
Strangely, the Wolves don’t need it.
For once, the Timberwolves don’t need to find a savior.
For once, they may not be tempted to pursue the NBA’s shiny objects.
One of the Wolves’ historical problems has been their very history. When you’ve become one of the worst and worst-run franchises in sport, every draft becomes a search for transformation, instead of a simple process of choosing the best available player.
The Wolves no longer are, and no longer have reason to behave as, a hopeless franchise.
There is hope at the management level, with Mark Lore building a powerhouse front office.
There is hope at the coaching level, with Chris Finch demonstrating his worth and receiving a contract extension.
There is hope on the court, in the form of dual stars (Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards), veteran savvy (Patrick Beverley), promise (Jaden McDaniels) and roster depth (Josh Okogie is a heckuva player to have as your 11th man).
There is hope among the long-suffering fans, who packed Target Center down the stretch and in the postseason.
On Thursday night, the Wolves have the 19th pick in the draft, plus three second-rounders. They have a new basketball boss, Tim Connelly, who selected Nikola Jokic with the 41st pick in the 2014 draft.
The Wolves could use a point guard good enough to start if they trade D’Angelo Russell, and a big man who can help with post defense and rebounding.
Because 19th picks don’t often contribute immediately, if at all, Connelly’s first offseason is likely to be judged by how he handles Russell.
Russell was one of the reasons the Wolves improved dramatically last season. He was also benched down the stretch of an elimination playoff game.
The old, dysfunctional Wolves would have reacted with desperation and traded Russell just to get him out of town.
That would probably be the wrong move.
If Connelly can trade Russell for value, he should.
If he can’t trade Russell for value, then he should display the kind of patience and wisdom that defines many of the best in his profession.
Russell is entering the last year of his contract. He will make roughly $31 million this season.
Try to trade him now, and you enter negotiations in a position of weakness.
Let him leave a year from now, and you will have given Russell a chance to redeem himself, and you will have cap space to spend just as Edwards and McDaniels are reaching NBA maturity.
Beverley is signed for one more season, at $13 million. Malik Beasley is signed for one more season at $15.4 million, and the club has an option for another season at $16.5 million.
If the Wolves felt they could operate like a true contender in free agency, and they allowed Russell, Beverley and Beasley to play out their contracts and leave, the Wolves would theoretically free up about $60 million for the 2023-24 season.
Russell’s value is at low ebb right now. Trading him would be a logical reaction to his playoff performance, but he wouldn’t necessarily help the 2022-23 Wolves in the regular season, and this is a team that can’t take the regular season for granted.
Russell is a poor on-the-ball defender. He’s a streaky shooter.
He also plays well alongside Towns, is unselfish for a shooting point guard, and can occasionally carry the Wolves offensively.
There is also the chance that Russell will learn from his playoff failure and return this fall with greater resolve.
If Connelly can trade Russell for a quality pass-first point guard — someone similar to Tyus Jones — then he can make the Wolves better this offseason, regardless of whom he chooses in the draft.
If he can’t make a good trade this summer, he shouldn’t make any trade at all.
NFL scouts like to say that need is a lousy evaluator.
Wolves history shows that desperation is even worse.