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March Mania

Timberwolves trade Andrew Wiggins, draft picks for star point guard D’Angelo Russell

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) drives to the hoop against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) in the second quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on March 14, 2019. Jeff Swinger / USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Golden State Warriors guard D'Angelo Russell (0) handles the ball against the Orlando Magic during the fourth quarter at Chase Center in San Francisco on Jan. 18, 2020. Darren Yamashita / USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS —At long last, the Timberwolves’ hunt is over.

Minnesota’s long-time pursuit of D’Angelo Russell came to fruition Thursday, Feb. 6, just hours ahead of the NBA trade deadline, as the Wolves dealt Andrew Wiggins, a top-3 protected 2021 first-round draft pick and their 2021 second-round pick for Russell, Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the deal between the Wolves and Golden State Warriors. In a separate move, Minnesota dealt Gorgui Dieng to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for forward James Johnson.

Russell, an all-star in 2019, is averaging 23.6 points and 6.2 assists this season while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range. He has managed to do so while being the sole focus of opposing defenses this season with the Warriors’ best shooters, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, both out with long-term injuries.

Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, selected one spot behind Towns, overcame a rough start to his pro career with the Lakers to help carry Brooklyn to a playoff appearance last season. He produced 10 30-plus point games for the short-handed Warriors this season, scoring 52 in an early-season loss to Minnesota.

With Towns, Russell and newly-acquired guard Malik Beasley, the Wolves now have three potent scorers and shooters who can power this analytically-driven offensive approach. The defense, well, that might have to be ironed out later. But, if nothing else, this Wolves team figures to be explosive.

Russell and Towns should form one of the more potent pick-and-roll combos in the NBA, and will be the primary pieces Minnesota builds around for the future. Which player takes the reins as the team’s alpha is to be determined. Not that it will be a point of contention. The friendship between the two all-stars is well documented.

That’s another aspect of the acquisition. The Wolves’ front office not only added one of its all-star center’s compadres, but in the process, proved to Towns that it is willing to be aggressive in its pursuit of surrounding him with talent.

That Minnesota was able to acquire Russell without sacrificing any of its capital in this summer’s upcoming NBA draft is a win for the franchise. Yes, the 2021 draft in which Minnesota now owns no picks is projected to be stronger than the 2020 edition, but the Wolves likely don’t plan on finishing in the bottom 10 of the NBA next season.

In the upcoming draft, the Wolves are still armed with their first-round pick, which should be in the top 10, along with Brooklyn’s first-round pick, which figures to be in the top 20, plus Minnesota’s second-round pick, which should fall in the top 40.

That’s a few valuable assets, even in what is considered to be a “weak” draft, with which Gersson Rosas and Co. can work. Three draft picks and what will be Johnson’s expiring contract could help create an enticing package to net another major building block in a trade, should Minnesota not fall in love with any draft prospects.

Minnesota was able to preserve its most immediate draft assets and shed Wiggins’ seemingly undesirable contract, all while nabbing the player Rosas has coveted for months. That player also fills Minnesota’s greatest positional need — a starting point guard.

The Wolves initially tried to sign Russell in free agency last offseason, only to watch the guard choose Golden State instead. But even after the failed attempt, Rosas promised to continue to make big swings for “high-end talent.”

“Just know that whenever those players become available, and we feel like they’re fits for our system and our program and our vision,” he said then, “we’re aggressively looking to acquire those guys in any shape or form.”

He stuck to his word, again chasing Russell this trade season. The Wolves and Warriors were reported to have “a gulf” between them in negotiations, with Minnesota reportedly unwilling to surrender its unprotected first-round pick this season, which could potentially land in the top five.

Some wondered if Rosas wanted Russell badly enough to break the bank of Minnesota’s assets to acquire him. But he didn’t blink at any point in negotiations. Instead, it appears Golden State truly valued Wiggins as a player, and Minnesota got its No. 1 target — who is under contract for three more years after this season, and, just nearing his 24th birthday, matches Towns’ career timeline — for an easily digestible price tag.

Finally, the Wolves, who entered Thursday on a 13-game losing streak, appear to have gotten a win.

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