The initial response to Adrian Wojnarowski’s latest press release, that the Timberwolves are trading four players and four No. 1 draft picks to Utah for center Rudy Gobert, is that this franchise should be reluctant to do business with Danny Ainge.
Way back in 2007, Ainge led the Boston Celtics and tried to dig that team out of an immense hole – a 24-58 record in 2006-07 that was the second worst in franchise history.
The Timberwolves had entered their second long drop with a record of 32-50. Ainge spoke to his friend and former teammate, Wolves basketball boss Kevin McHale, about the possibility of taking over Kevin Garnett.
McHale authorized Ainge to contact Garnett and ask if he would accept a deal with Boston. “I had to convince Kevin that we could win,” said Ainge. “We had to get Ray Allen for that, and then Kevin was all the way on board.”
On July 31, 2007, Ainge made the trade that lives in disgrace to both the Celtics and Wolves:
Garnett to Boston for Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff and Ryan Gomes. There were also two first-rounders in 2009, who turned McHale’s replacement David Kahn into Jonny Flynn (later an effective player in Australia) and Wayne Ellington.
The Timberwolves advanced to the playoffs 22-60 in 2007-08 and didn’t make the playoffs until ten years later. The Celtics, with the “Big Three” of Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce, went 66-16 and won the NBA title.
There should have been a wooden plaque somewhere in the Target Center office with a slogan burned into it: “Beware of the Ainge.”
The deal revealed Friday comes from the opposite direction: Ainge, who has been running Utah Jazz since December, receives the numbers and sends the standout player to the Wolves.
What should stung those few, those mighty old Wolves fans, is that Ainge was able to acquire considerably more for Rudy Gobert than he gave up for Garnett – meaning, more for good than for good.
The Timberwolves are Send Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Leandro Bolmaro and last week’s top draft pick, Walker Kessler, to Utah for Goberta 7-foot-1 center and three-time NBA Defender of the Year.
And some more goes to Ainge: four No. 1 concept picks (2023, 2025, 2027, 2029), as well as the ability to flip first-rounders in 2026.
Throw in Kessler and add the flip, and that’s six first-rounders that new basketball president Tim Connelly gave up for 30-year-old Gobert.
Rumor has it that when Connelly made the original attempt to take over Gobert, Ainge said it would take on Jaden McDaniels as part of the package to make it happen. To keep McDaniels, the Wolves had to increase the design pick bounty.
The view here is that the veteran players sent to Utah to balance Gobert’s $38 million salary are not a big loss:
Beasley is just a shooter and erratic, just like 90% of them. Beverley is a determined defender, but one season of his craziness is enough.
Vanderbilt was an energetic contributor, but he was narrow for the rebounding load expected of him. A veteran replacement has already been signed for 2022-23 in Kyle Anderson.
As for the 7-foot-1 Kessler, it’s a guess, although we won’t be able to fully explore around the corner that his grandfather, the late Jay Kessler, was a great athlete at Redwood Falls and played basketball for the Gophers in the early 60s.
The skepticism for this deal is twofold: the blow to young talent for the rest of this decade, and how are Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns going to play together?
Gobert is purely a postman. Excellent defensive rebounder, great defender, but it’s unlikely the NBA ever had an 11 point per game scorer that brought this return.
Yes, it’s a nice change when KAT goes out and shoots, but will he really be a power forward for 20 minutes while lying on the floor with Gobert?
Perhaps the Wolves can find a movie to study the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1950s, when Vern Mikkelsen turned himself into an attacker to play with the great center of all time, George Mikan.
Rudy Gobert is not. So I had to ask Jim Petersen, former NBA great and longtime Wolves TV analyst, how is Gobert/KAT going to work?
“Offensively, Gobert is a great screener and I came up with a motto last season too,” he said. “It’s ‘In Finch We Trust.’ Our coach, Chris Finch, is a problem solver, he probably already figured it out.”