Timberwolves, Mavericks show trading for stars can work, if you give it some time – Twin Cities

The immediate stretches of basketball for Dallas and Minnesota following massive personnel splash moves last season were, well, ugly.

The Timberwolves acquired Rudy Gobert in July 2022 — a big leap into a big ball experiment featuring two centers playing side by side.

The start of the 2022-23 campaign was clumsy. The losses piled up. Minnesota looked slow and ill-fit to compete within the modern game.

Dallas acquired Kyrie Irving at the trade deadline in 2023 to pair him alongside perennial first-team All-NBA wing Luka Doncic — finally nabbing a true Robin to play alongside the Mavericks’ Batman.

Over the final stretch of the regular season, Dallas struggled to defend and failed to maximize the offensive potential of having two highly-skilled playmakers competing side by side. The Mavericks fell out of the playoff picture and effectively tanked their final few games to miss the play-in tournament altogether and improve their draft position.

For both teams, the early issues were quickly deemed by the outside to be paralyzing effects of their big swing trades.

The overwhelming sentiment was “welp, that didn’t work. Now how do they move on?”

They didn’t. Both the Wolves and Mavericks stubbornly stuck to the broad views of their original plans and tinkered with their respective rosters outside of their star cores to make things work.

Minnesota traded for Mike Conley — who had more experience with Gobert and touted a better approach to fit alongside the Defensive Player of the Year than the person he was traded for in D’Angelo Russell. Conley also had the requisite Basketball IQ to control the game’s pace when necessary and to explain the value of Gobert — via words and play — to the rest of the Wolves’ locker room.

In that same trade, the Wolves also added another perimeter defender in Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

Dallas added athletic bigs — in Dereck Lively II with the No. 12 overall pick of the draft and Daniel Gafford at this year’s deadline — who could both protect the rim to cover up defensive deficiencies and set good screens and serve as lob threats on offense to free up space and options for Doncic and Irving to get the maximum number of opportunities to flash their skill sets.

The current result for both teams is the Western Conference Finals. Minnesota build the best defense the NBA has seen in quite some time around Gobert, and Dallas has a one-two offensive punch that continues to punish the Wolves’ stingy defense at the ends of close contests.

“It didn’t work for both right off the bat,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said, “but we’re both here playing in late May and June. So something must’ve been going right.”

Kidd added that “time is sometimes overlooked when making big changes.” There’s an expectation for instant gratification in life. So many of our wants are a click away. And if you buy something and it doesn’t work or fit, you immediately return it.

Team sports don’t work that way. Humans aren’t products. Chemistry is real. Bonds matter. As does the knowledge of how your teammates play and how you must alter what you do to best serve them, and vice versa.

Irving is 32 years old and is armed with a bevy of individual accolades, along with a championship. But it’s clear he needed some time to find his way in Dallas. And has done just that over the last year-plus.

Sometimes, Irving will take over games with his scoring. At other junctures, he’ll take a backseat. He has further grown his already immense understanding of the game and how to play with and off of someone of Doncic’s caliber.

“Just being able to flow into the game, not overthink it. Whatever the game shows me, being able to utilize my skill set and my talent to offer my teammates some peace of mind out there,” Irving said. “I can score with the best of them, like I said. But some games I’m just going to be needed to play a different role – and that’s OK, as well. Part of our team, part of our identity is being able to adapt and adjust on the fly.”

Those are all learned traits developed through time, team-bonding and even some failure. The latter is often conducive for growth.

“Nothing great happens overnight. As a group in a team sport, it takes a little bit of adversity to get where you want to get, or else it wouldn’t be fun,” Gobert said. “You go through some stuff, and it either makes you or breaks you as a group.”

And it might break you. It might not work. It didn’t for Irving at either of his last two stops. There are swings that simply end in strikeouts.

“Nothing is guaranteed in this world,” Kidd said. “You can make changes, and things tend to seem like they’re going to work and they don’t, for whatever reason.”

But you have allow the requisite time to get the real answer — which will generally be more than a year or even two.

“When you put guys together, it sometimes doesn’t mesh right away. And I think, including myself, just as a competitor and seeing a bunch of my peers going through different organizational transitions, I think some people give up too soon,” Irving said. “Obviously, you can have a three-year run, a four-year run. But I think people give up too soon in the first year, first two years. You’re trying to put pressure on guys to be successful right away, and I think that’s unhealthy, man. I think you’ve got to give people grace and allow the transition to happen organically and allow the talent to mesh. That’s how I like to look at it.”

Allowing for that time also gives organizations an opportunity to evaluate fit. If it’s not “working” right away, it may be because it’s not meant to be. But it also be because a small augmentation is needed to properly round out the roster.

Gobert may never have found his footing in Minnesota had the Wolves not gotten Conley. Irving and Doncic likely couldn’t have shined the way they have if Gafford, Lively and P.J. Washington weren’t brought in to help improve the defense.

Only once a big move is actually made do even front offices truly know how the pieces fit together, and perhaps what glue will be required to hold things in their proper places.

Kidd believes the moves have worked out for Dallas and Minnesota largely because of a pair of “Ps” — patience and positivity.

“It’s not too often that you’re going to have a guy like me or Luka being able to play together and other guys,” Irving said. “(We) had a lot of things had to go right for us to be in this position. So I try to mirror that reflection of not taking it for granted and giving guys grace to grow into their roles. But when you have other guys that are willing to be selfless, it makes it go a lot easier.”

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