2023 Orlando Magic Playoff Lessons: Going All-In Went All-Wrong for Minnesota Timberwolves

Feb 3, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert (27) reacts with an official during the third quarter against the Orlando Magic at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 3, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert (27) reacts with an official during the third quarter against the Orlando Magic at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports /

Many in the national media and around the NBA world laughed at the Minnesota Timberwolves after they upset the LA Clippers to reach the Play-In Tournament last year.

The image of Patrick Beverley standing on the scorer’s table as the Target Center crowd serenaded him and celebrated a momentous postseason win.

The Play-In Tournament is a small thing and not something to celebrate in the grand scheme of things. But for a Minnesota franchise that had just clinched its second playoff berth in 18 years, it was a momentous occasion.

And unlike their previous trip that came with the addition of Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau, this felt more organic.

They had their top pick from Karl-Anthony Towns finally breaking through to the postseason on his own with another top pick in burgeoning young star Anthony Edwards. There was none of the volatility that characterized that brief trip in 2015. This felt like the start of something sustainable.

The organization certainly felt like it had something special in Edwards. He proved that too in the playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies, scoring 25.2 points per game on a 55.9 percent effective field goal percentage.

The Timberwolves knew they had something to cook with. This was a young team on the rise ready to compete. And perhaps ready to compete more seriously.

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ response to success last year was to push all their chips in. And their gambit fizzled out and left a lot of questions for a young roster.

The Timberwolves did what a lot of eager teams do: They went all in. They spent a lot of their future assets for the player they thought would complete their puzzle and lift them to title contention.

That did not quite happen.

In fact, their trade for Rudy Gobert has been often criticized and pilloried. Only made worse by the fact the Timberwolves did not advance at all. They lost in the 7/8 play-in game on the road and had to survive the do-or-die final game of the Play-In Tournament just to get bounced unceremoniously from the first round.

The Timberwolves are a warning it would seem for young teams around the league. There is going all-in and then there is going all-in too much. The Timberwolves are finding themselves now in a position where they have few other cards to play and they will never recoup the cost they spent to bring in Gobert.

Going all-in for the Timberwolves appears to have backfired. And for every young team hoping to find that last piece to get them over the hump, there is such a thing as the wrong time to make a move.

Now the Timberwolves may have put their future in jeopardy. Stuck with a roster that struggled to come together and few areas out, the rumblings are already beginning with their young star in Edwards.

There are only so many years you have available and that clock is already ticking now that Edwards has established himself as a star — and his 31.6 points per game in this year’s playoffs only increases the urgency.

That is always the problem with teams when they get their young star and they know they have their star. The clock is ticking for Edwards.

It cannot be understated then how much this urgency led the Timberwolves to a mistake. In the end, the Minnesota Timberwolves gave up Malik Beasley, Walker Kessler, Patrick Beverley and Leandro Bolmarao with five additional first-round picks for Rudy Gobert.

Gobert is an all-defensive team center and former Defensive Player of the Year. He is one of the best pick-and-roll big men and screeners in the league. He seemingly would have solved the Timberwolves’ problem with their rebounding and interior defense — two areas Karl-Anthony Towns is not particularly known for.

There was at least some logic in the move. It certainly was splashy.

And, to Minnesota’s defense, the team still made the playoffs and never got to see the full experiment play out. Edwards, Towns and Gobert played in only 478 minutes together across 26 games. They had a +2.3 net rating.

There might be something there and Towns’ injury that limited him to 29 games. This is not a group to give up on completely.

But the Timberwolves also feel like their season was a massive failure. It certainly did not live up to expectations.

Gobert struggled but he still provided a positive defensive impact — Minnesota finished the season 10th in defensive rating, a big part of why the team still made the postseason.

But the question is how does this roster improve? They do not have draft picks to give up anymore nor cap room to spend with Towns and Gobert cluttering their books and Edwards’ extension set to get signed this offseason and kick in next season.

This is a franchise that has no choice but to support the trio they have chosen. And they gave up a lot for this specific group. It may very well have a ceiling, which was certainly not the intention of putting all those chips into the pot.

That is a hard lesson for any team to learn. Because at some point every team will likely have to make a key trade that tips their team from potentially advancing to the next level of their franchise or get them stuck.

The Orlando Magic tried something like this in trading Victor Oladipo and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis for Serge Ibaka ahead of a big free agency summer. That turned into a disaster.

Orlando too did this after their 2009 Finals run, opting not to reset themselves after they decided to let Hedo Turkoglu go in free agency and going all in with a big trade for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson in addition to big free agent signings in Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat.

Magic fans still debate whether this was the right move even though it kept Orlando in title contention.

They are again in a position where they are at least thinking about an all-in move.

This past season showed the Magic can win. They have a budding young star in Paolo Banchero. And they are eyeing the postseason openly for next season. There is the temptation for sure to go after a star player to complete this team and accelerate the rebuild.

But going after the right star and the right player is still a better measure than going after any star. That appears to be the faulty reasoning the Timberwolves had in chasing Gobert — certainly mortgaging so much of the future to get him.

And to be sure, the Magic will be in the conversation the next time a star player comes onto the market. That is the stage of development Orlando has reached.

Teams make this mistake all the time thinking there is more urgency to improve than there is. Certainly, time can pass you by and no team can stand still forever — another of the traps the Magic could fall into. But waiting for the right move is still typically the better decision, especially when a team has experienced success.

Minnesota, it would seem, got too excited by its limited success and pushed all its chips in on one idea. And when that did not turn out as well as everyone hoped, it actually kicked the team into emergency mode.

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This is the risk that comes with making an all-in move. But this seemed to add a whole new level to it. And offer an important lesson for the next team looking to go all in.