The first reaction to Adrian Wojnarowski’s latest news release, that the Timberwolves are trading five players and four No. 1 draft choices to Utah for center Rudy Gobert, is that this franchise should be reluctant to do business with Danny Ainge.
Way back in 2007, Ainge was running the Boston Celtics and trying 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 decline with a 32-50 record. Ainge talked with his friend and former teammate, Wolves basketball boss Kevin McHale, about the possibility of acquiring Kevin Garnett.
McHale gave Ainge permission to contact Garnett and find out if he would accept a deal to Boston. “I had to convince Kevin we could win,” Ainge has said. “That took us getting Ray Allen, and then Kevin was all on board.”
On July 31, 2007, Ainge made the trade that lives in infamy for both the Celtics and the Wolves:
Garnett to Boston for Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff and Ryan Gomes. There were also two first-rounders in 2009, that McHale’s replacement David Kahn turned into Jonny Flynn (an effective player in Australia later) and Wayne Ellington.
The Timberwolves went 22-60 in 2007-08 and didn’t make the playoffs for another decade. The Celtics, with the “Big Three” of Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce, went 66-16 and won the NBA title.
Somewhere in the office at Target Center, there should have been a wooden plaque with a slogan burned into it: “Beware the Ainge.”
The deal revealed Friday comes from the opposite direction: Ainge, running the Utah Jazz since December, is receiving the numbers and sending the standout player to the Wolves.
What should sting those few, those mighty, longtime 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 great.
The Timberwolves are sending Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Leandro Bolmaro and last week’s top draft choice, Walker Kessler, to Utah for Gobert, a 7-foot-1 center and three-time NBA defensive player of the year.
And there’s a bit more going to Ainge: four No. 1 draft choices (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 has given up for the 30-year-old Gobert.
Rumor has it, when Connelly made the original reach-out for acquiring Gobert, Ainge said that it would take forward Jaden McDaniels as part of the package to get it done. To keep McDaniels, the Wolves had to up the draft-choice bounty.
The opinion here is that the veteran players sent to Utah to balance out Gobert’s $38 million salary aren’t a big loss:
Beasley is only a shooter and erratic, as are 90% of those. Beverley is a determined defender, but one season of his goofiness is enough.
Vanderbilt was a energetic contributor, but he was narrow for the rebounding load expected from him. A veteran replacement already has been signed for 2022-23 in Kyle Anderson.
As for the 7-foot-1 Kessler, it’s anyone’s guess, although we won’t be able to fully explore the angle that his grandfather, the late Jay Kessler, was a tremendous athlete in Redwood Falls and played basketball for the Gophers in the early 1960s.
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 post man. Outstanding defensive rebounder, great defender, but it’s unlikely the NBA ever has had an 11-points-per-game scorer bringing this return.
Yes, it’s a nice changeup when KAT goes outside and shoots, but is he really going to be a power forward for 20 minutes while on the floor with Gobert?
Maybe the Wolves can find film to study the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1950s, when Vern Mikkelsen turned himself into a forward to play with all-time great center George Mikan.
Rudy Gobert isn’t that. So, I just had to ask Jim Petersen, former NBA big man and long-time Wolves TV analyst, how is Gobert/KAT going to work?
“Offensively, Gobert is a tremendous screener, and I also came up with a motto last season,” he said. “It’s ‘In Finch We Trust.’ Our coach, Chris Finch, is a problem solver. He’s probably got it figured out already.”
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