It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye

For 20 years, the Minnesota Timberwolves were a waystation for over-the-hill NBA veterans and bad contracts. Who remembers that Antoine Walker’s career ended in a Timberwolves jersey? What about Theo Ratliff’s 10-game stint in 2008? Or Tayshaun Prince’s last gasp during the 2015-16 season? For every Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, there are 17 Kevin Ollies just passing through on their way to another team or an early retirement.2023-24 Projected Starting Lineup For Minnesota Timberwolves - Fadeaway  World

Wolves fans of a certain generation grew desensitized to the constant roster churn that came with the territory of following the NBA’s worst franchise. Fans didn’t have much time or reason to invest in the end-of-the-rotation bench players that were often familiar names because we knew they’d be here for somewhere between 15 to 70 games, and the team would win about 30 percent of them. There was no reason to get too attached to any of these players.

But this iteration of the Timberwolves is different. Three straight playoff appearances, including a run to the Western Conference Finals this season, have Wolves fans all-in on the team while forming real emotional (sometimes a little too emotional) connections with every player up and down the roster.

Kyle Anderson might be the perfect litmus test for how these smaller-scale veteran signings are supposed to impact the team. Slomo signed a two-year, $18-million contract with the Timberwolves in the summer of 2022 on the heels of the Rudy Gobert trade. Anderson had split his eight years in the NBA before the signing in San Antonio and then Memphis, morphing into the platonic ideal of a seventh man in the modern NBA. Wolves fans were immediately smitten with his slowed-down playing style and playmaking abilities on both ends of the floor.

His first season in Minnesota was arguably the best of his career. Anderson averaged 9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game while shooting a career-best 41 percent from three, sparking a sexual revolution in the Twin Cities. He helped lead the Wolves to the playoffs before his eye injury and spat with Rudy Gobert during the final game of the season, plus Naz Reid’s wrist injury and Jaden McDaniels’ broken hand from punching a cement wall scuttled the once-promising season.

Anderson rehabbed over the summer and returned to the court for the 2023-24 season with his sights re-set on a deep playoff run. However, the wheels quickly fell off the Kyle Anderson hype train. Slomo shot a career-low 23 percent of his threes and only attempted 48 triples in 79 games. His shot looked broken to the point where he willfully passed up wide-open shots, allowing teams to sag off him and concentrate their defense on Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.

After nearly being played out of the playoff rotation, Anderson seemed willing to return to the Timberwolves with his family thriving in Minnesota and unfinished business on the court. But Kyle Anderson signed with the Golden State Warriors for three years, $27 million a few days into free agency, ending his short but beautiful stint with the Timberwolves. Breaking news on Wednesday that Joe Ingles is signing a one-year deal with the Timberwolves softens the blow. Still, young Wolves fans are getting their first real exposure to moving on from a beloved fan-favorite player from a team with championship aspirations.

With better shooting, Ingles will fill most of the hole SloMo’s departure creates on the bench. But Ingles turns 37 before the season starts, so the spotlight to fill most of Anderson’s 22 minutes per game will shine on Josh Minott and Leonard Miller.

The Wolves won’t ask Minott and Miller won’t be asked to shoulder much of the load. They have a nine-man rotation that features Edwards, Towns, Gobert, Mike Conley, McDaniels, Reid, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Ingles, and rookie Rob Dillingham. However, Minott and Miller are tall, long, and athletic and will fill the void left by Anderson’s departure in different ways.

Still, this will be a good and hopefully easy test to pass for the two young forwards. Can you play 8-12 minutes in the NBA? If the answer is yes, then the Timberwolves may have two young pieces to keep the fountain of talent flowing for another decade plus. If the answer is no, the Wolves will have to patch together the end of their bench with a couple of cheap veterans, Luka Garza, and potentially give rookie Terrence Shannon Jr. an early look.

It’s sad to see Anderson leave even after an up-and-down two years on the court. It’s heartening to see Timberwolves fans mostly wishing him well in Golden State when it’s so easy to say good riddance to a guy who shoots like he’s trying to toss an empty paper towel roll into the garbage can across his kitchen. This will be the first and not last fan favorite to depart a championship-caliber team, so get used to it, Wolves fans, and love Naz Reid while you still can.

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