I admit that it’s hard to look at Ricky Rubio’s injury as anything but a disaster when it comes to the Timberwolves, but hear me out, because it may be a big part of the reason we’re looking at Budinger, Kirilenko and Roy out there and not Webster, Beasley and Johnson. Engage in the following thought experiment with me.
Ricky Rubio does not tear his ACL on March 9, 2012 against the Lakers. Instead, they continue on the pace they’d established in their previous ten games and win 70% of their remaining games, finishing with a record of 37-29. They get the 7th spot in the playoffs and face the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder, whose regular season record against the Wolves was a perfect 3-0, handily dispatch the Timberwolves in a gentleman’s sweep of 4-1. (I’m giving the Wolves at least one win based on how close that double OT game against the Thunder was.) So now, looking at an offseason after the team’s first trip to the playoffs after a seven-year drought, what do they do?
Well, first of all, they don’t have the 18th pick in the draft since they made the playoffs and forced Utah out of the eighth seed in doing so. So there’s no trade for Budinger. As problematic as Beasley, Randolph, Webster, and Johnson looked in the regular season once Rubio went down, it’s easy to forget that Rubio even made Randolph look good for a stretch there. In our alternate reality, the success of the team has helped Johnson find himself as an athletic defensive wing, helped Beasley acclimate to coming off the bench as the kind of killer sixth man Jason Terry became in Dallas, and the double PG lineup with Rubio and Ridnour has begun to look like near-genius with Ridnour hitting threes and running secondary pick and rolls. Let’s even say that Randolph and Webster are a complete loss, having never gotten with the program. Their contracts aren’t renewed, and Darko is amnestied. But Beasley signs for his qualifying offer, Johnson’s contract isn’t shipped off, and all those moves they cleared room for—like signing Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko—can’t happen because there just isn’t room. Maybe they get Roy or Shved, but not both. And with Johnson and Beasley rotating at SF, there’s less need for Kirilenko in any case.