Conley’s maturity, experience led T-wolves to Russell trade
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Three years after the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired D’Angelo Russell for what then was their dream pairing with Karl-Anthony Towns, they traded him for a much older point guard.
In an NBA with so few teams settled on their stars, the Wolves made yet another alteration of their core in their latest attempt to keep up in the crowded Western Conference race.
Out goes Russell and the best shooting of his eight-year career, and in comes Mike Conley and his proven experience as a distributor on the floor and a mentor off of it.
“We got a really good passer, and we had to move a really good passer,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said on Thursday night after the three-team, eight-player, four-draft pick deal with the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz was finalized. “The thing that jumped out with Mike is the package of player and person. We saw it was the best way to continue to grow this team and how can we best complement some of our core pieces. Again, D-Lo did that at a very high level. We’re hoping we identified another guy who can do it in a different way in Mike.”
Money played a role, with Russell’s contract expiring this summer and more than $31 million set to come off Minnesota’s salary cap charge. Conley is signed through the 2023-24 season, making about $9 million less. He’s more than 8 years older.
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Conley’s previous success throwing lobs to and running pick-and-rolls with Rudy Gobert with the Jazz was also attractive to the Wolves. Minnesota paid a big price to get Gobert entering this season, but Russell never meshed with the big man.
Ultimately, there’s an immaturity the inconsistent Wolves are carrying that Connelly was clearly motivated to address by bringing in a well-regarded leader like Conley even though he has been limited by injuries in his 30s and isn’t nearly as quick at 35 as he once was.
“Mike as a rookie had elite habits, and they got better and better and better. You don’t play at this level at this age without taking care of yourself, without having a tremendous attention to detail both on and off the court,” Connelly said.
Conley and Nickiel Alexander-Walker — the other guard acquired in the deal from the Jazz — were listed as questionable to play at Memphis on Friday, with completion of their physical exams still pending. Conley played 12 seasons for the Grizzlies before joining the Jazz, adding to the intrigue around his debut.
The Wolves also got Utah’s 2025 and 2026 second-round picks and a 2024 second-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers in the deal. To make roster space, they waived guard Bryn Forbes.
With Gobert still trying to fit in offensively with the Wolves — and vice versa — and Towns still sidelined by a severe calf strain, the trade has added yet more transitional challenges for coach Chris Finch and his staff with the cut line for the playoffs looming just one loss away.
The Wolves are also just a few wins away from a top-four seed.
“A lot of teams certainly added talented players. To get good players, you have to trade good players away. How quickly can you hit the ground running? So it’ll be fun,” Connelly said.
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