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Morken: Bright outlook for the Wolves starting to change

Remember not long ago when it was widely thought that the Minnesota Timberwolves had one of the brightest futures in the NBA? That kind of feels like a distant memory.

Remember not long ago when it was widely thought that the Minnesota Timberwolves had one of the brightest futures in the NBA? That kind of feels like a distant memory.

Maybe the Wolves continue to grow and entertain this fanbase with a few deep playoff runs the next few years, but there's so many questions now surrounding this franchise. Will Andrew Wiggins ever turn into a reliable star worth a max contract? Will Jimmy Butler be in Minnesota after next season? What are the relationships like among their star players and also with head coach Tom Thibodeau? So on and so forth.

Two weeks ago, it felt like the Timberwolves would head into this next season in that dreaded in-between zone-not good enough to compete for a championship and nowhere near bad enough to earn that high of a pick in the lottery that gives fans hope for the future.

After the first few days of free agency, the distance between Minnesota and the top of the Western Conference seems even greater. Though, almost any team outside of Golden State is probably thinking the same thing. The Warriors somehow got perennial all-star center DeMarcus Cousins to sign a $5.3 million contract for next year.

Cousins is coming off of a brutal injury after tearing his Achilles tendon last winter. There are no guarantees he will return to the player he was before the injury when he averaged 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game for the New Orleans Pelicans. Even if he returns at half of that production midway through next season, his addition on this Warriors team that already has Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant make Golden State the safest lock for winning another title of any team I can remember following in professional sports. Barring injury to multiple players or complacency setting in after three championships in four years, how would this team not come away with next year's championship?

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I don't blame the Warriors for this. They are operating under league rules and have ownership that is willing to spend the money it takes to add to an incredibly talented group, even if that means paying the luxury tax for going over the cap.

When Durant signed with the Warriors in the summer of 2016, it felt like a situation that couldn't last. Sure, Golden State would win a couple titles with him, but at some point the money would have to dry up. Stars on that team would want a new challenge or players like Thompson and Green would decide to take a huge payday someplace else. The more they win together, the more it seems like this is a group that could stick together the next four or five years and continue to dominate the NBA. Some are fine with that, some hate it.

There might have to be a hard salary cap established to break up some of the super teams. Does the NBA want to do that, though? Business is booming and ratings were great this past season, even with Golden State beating Cleveland in the Finals being a foregone conclusion.

One change the NBA should do is replace the Eastern and Western Conference playoff format by taking the best 16 teams into the postseason. LeBron James' addition to the Lakers only makes the Western Conference even stronger. There are teams in the West that won't make the playoffs in this current format that would compete for a home-court advantage in the East.

I could see the Timberwolves being one of those outside of the playoffs next season. As I write this, another report has surfaced that Butler has no interest in playing with Towns and signing a long-term contract in Minnesota.

Just two years ago, Wolves' fans were contemplating how bright the future could finally be with Towns, Wiggins and Zach LaVine at the core. How fast things can change.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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