The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired D'Angelo Russell hoping he and Karl-Anthony Towns could be the core of their next contending roster. Through 14 months, though, the duo has played only six games together due to a combination of injuries and COVID-19. On Monday, though, Russell and Towns finally had a chance to start developing together. Russell returned to the lineup after missing 26 games due to knee surgery, and the results were encouraging.
Minnesota defeated Sacramento 115-106, and Russell poured in 25 points. He did it on an inefficient 7-of-19 shooting, but played only 24 total minutes off of the bench. A point-per-minute is a different form of efficiency.
Unfortunately, with one guard returning, another is leaving the lineup. The team also announced that Timberwolves guard Malik Beasley will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a grade 3 left hamstring injury. Between that and Towns' early-season COVID absence, the Timberwolves will likely go the overwhelming majority of the season without having a fully healthy roster.
Minnesota has the worst record in the NBA at 13-38, and they will convey their first-round pick to Golden State unless it falls in the top-3. That puts them in the difficult position of wanting to use Russell's return as an opportunity to build momentum toward next season despite the fact that doing so could ultimately cost them a top pick.
When the Timberwolves acquired Russell, though, they believed they had found a second star worthy of such a price. They even passed on LaMelo Ball in the NBA Draft because they felt set at the point guard position with Russell. Towns and Russell are longtime friends who had publicly expressed interest in playing together before Minnesota acquired him, and there is no price too great to keep a player of Towns' caliber happy.
But so far the deal has yielded disappointing returns, even if they have come as the result of factors outside of Minnesota's control. Now, the Wolves have 23 games left to help Towns and Russell develop chemistry that could carry them forward next season. Monday was a good start.