Sports

Souhan: After the Wolves’ ups and downs, Russell should go, McLaughlin should stay

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

The Timberwolves’ fan base, generally savvy and informed, can pass that test by agreeing that the 2021-22 Minnesota Timberwolves were overachievers. And chokers.

The Timberwolves enter the offseason knowing that they have found their coach, in Chris Finch; that they have one of the game’s best big men, in Karl-Anthony Towns; that they have one of the league’s next superstars, in Anthony Edwards; and that they have woken up a hibernating fan base and city.

They won 23 games a year ago. This season, they won 46, won a play-in game with a dramatic comeback and played well enough that they could have and perhaps should have beaten the team with the second-best record in the NBA in five games.

The Wolves should be simultaneously proud and chagrined, while understanding that the next step will be more difficult than the last.

They should thank D’Angelo Russell for enabling them to get rid of Andrew Wiggins, and for helping them become a playoff team. They should also find a new starting point guard.

D’Lo must go because too often against Memphis, Russell was the fourth-best point guard in the series. Too often, I have contributed to epic collapses instead of stopping them.

Ja Morant is a superstar who produced remarkable statistics and big moments even as the Wolves defended him well. Tyus Jones was one of the most efficient players on the court, was vital in the Grizzlies’ Game 3 comeback and hit an important three-pointer late in Game 6.

Perhaps the most important moment of the series, in terms of Wolves decision-making, came in the fourth quarter of Game 6, when Finch removed his $30 million point guard who is friends with Towns in favor of his $2 million point guard who didn’ Don’t even play in Game 3.

Finch made the right move, because Jordan McLaughlin was far more reliable than Russell. It’s the kind of move many NBA coaches wouldn’t make, because of Russell’s salary and relationship with Towns.

Russell played well at times this season. He’s a good fit for Finch’s offense, and is willing and able to distribute the ball to Towns and Edwards. His personality meshes with the Wolves’ two stars because Russell proved to be an unselfish and thoughtful teammate.

Is he worth $31 million if you don’t trust him in close and important games?

No. He shot 33% from the field in a wide-open, fast-paced playoff series. He averaged 12 points per game and contributed to the Wolves’ three late-game collapses.

Had McLaughlin played more in this series, the Wolves might have won, and a victory over an excellent Grizzlies team would have produced the most impressive achievement for the franchise since 2004, and their biggest playoff upset in franchise history.

Can McLaughlin be an NBA starter? Listed at 5-11, he may be a defensive liability if he plays more minutes, but his offensive efficiency, intelligence and willingness and ability to get the ball to the Wolves’ shooters might make up for his lack of size from him.

McLaughlin has at least earned more minutes, if not a starting job.

There is another point guard who would fit nicely with the Wolves without demanding a maximum contract.

I have played at Apple Valley High. He’s known for his intelligence and efficiency, and hitting big shots. He’ll hit free agency this summer.

It’s understandable that the Timberwolves allowed Jones to leave in free agency after the 2018-19 season. When you’re a bad team, you take as many swings as you can at the pinata of potential greatness, and the Wolves had to find a trade partner who would take Wiggins. That led to Russell becoming their starting point guard.

At this moment in franchise history, the Wolves would be better off with Jones than Russell, who in this series kept an endearing and promising season from becoming something more.

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