On Monday, Anthony Bennett added a new chapter to the peculiar story of his career. Adrian Wojnarowski revealed (and a few local reporters verified) that Bennett’s representatives were seeking a buyout from his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, with designs on finding a situation that guaranteed the 22-year-old some playing time. Unable to find a trade partner (those rumors have been circulating for quite awhile), Milt Newton and the rest of the team’s front office appeared ready to acquiesce, thus trimming the number of guaranteed contracts on the books for the upcoming season to 15.
As it was, Bennett was buried on the Wolves’ depth chart, firmly behind Kevin Garnett, Nikola Pekovic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Nemanja Bjelica, and possibly even Adreian Payne. A few weeks ago, I pondered whether he’d even get the chance to earn playing time for the Wolves in 2015-16; now we know the answer is a firm “no,” at least from Minnesota’s perspective.
There are fellow bloggers I like and respect a great deal (Andy at Punch-Drunk Wolves chief among them) who remain steadfast in their belief that Anthony Bennett will become a valuable rotation player someday. That crowd believes the Wolves are making a mistake. As Andy pointed out yesterday, Bennett’s had shitty injury luck (to be blunt) and has played for two of the least functional teams in the league during his first pair of professional seasons. The Timberwolves were bad last season, and will certainly be bad again this coming season. Isn’t an athletic 22-year-old having a solid summer in FIBA competitions the exact type of guy the Wolves should be holding on to, rather than cutting loose?
To dissect this move is to explore the nature of potential, development, fortune, and time. It’s important to keep in mind that those concepts exist on a relative plane in the hyper-competitive world of the NBA. Everyone believes they have the potential to be something greater than they are, Bennett included. Sports are strange because there are quantifiable statistics that help make or break your case. It isn’t necessarily about what you believe, and your sense of personal self-worth can only buoy your spirits for so long, because it’s all about what you show on the court. So far, Bennett hasn’t shown much of anything other than fleeting moments of athleticism, thunderous putback dunks on “grown man” rebounds (as Jim Petersen would say), or picture-perfect jump shot form that never yielded consistent results. Of course, it’s okay to be a bit of a late-bloomer in the real world as well as in professional sports, though in the latter you’re likely to change your address (or perhaps even your continent) a few times before you stick where you think you belong.
And where does Bennett belong? On a lottery team, where he could get some playing time, with a coaching staff devoted to developing young players and a few veterans who could try to coax the best out of him. The Wolves are all of those things, and they decided to be rid of him, or at least decided to accommodate his request to be set free, to pay him not to play for them. Minnesota’s power forward situation is unsettled; there is no clear future at that position on the roster, unlike point guard (Rubio), small forward (Wiggins) or center (Towns). Bennett wasn’t blocked by anyone particularly imposing on the Wolves’ roster, especially given his pedigree (elite prep player, consensus top-10 selection in his draft class, etc). His cap figure, though outsized relative to his production, was hardly a problem; his $5.8 million salary would have fit comfortably into the Wolves’ cap sheet this season, and with the cash spike of 2016 on the horizon, even his garish $7.3 million fourth-year option wouldn’t have been too much of a burden.
And yet, again, the Wolves decided to be rid of him. Why?
Those who know the answers will never tell. Not anytime soon, anyway. What we know as outsiders pales in comparison to what those inside the organization know, especially about the way Bennett carried himself on a day-to-day basis. That isn’t a veiled shot at his character – he seems like a reserved, hard-working young man – but after having him for an entire season, seeing his habits, watching him in practice, learning his nature, and finding out what makes him tick, the people running the Timberwolves became comfortable with the idea of paying Anthony Bennett to go away. Were he producing on the court, perhaps the team would continue trying to make it work. But he wasn’t. When they took a step back and looked at the whole picture, the team decided it was time to move on. Given all the information available, I find it difficult to call that decision imprudent. In fact, it seems proactive and decisive – two marks of quality leadership.
It’s unclear where Bennett will end up – Portland, Philadelphia, Toronto? Somewhere overseas? He’d be a fine flier on a minimum deal. Maybe another team in another situation will help him put it all together and the Wolves will be made to look like a bunch of fools for letting him go. Wherever he heads next, the weight of being a former number-one overall pick will follow him there, and that isn’t fair. He hasn’t deserved any of the obstacles that have been thrown at him during his two years as a professional.
But it’s important to remember that no innocent person deserves misfortune. Some thrive despite their bad luck, some do not. Bennett has not, and while it’d be great if the Wolves could help him through it, the nature of their business demands answers on an expedited timeline. The story isn’t over for Anthony Bennett, but the Wolves’ chapter certainly is.