Timberwolves trade with Spurs to land Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham

Timberwolves president Tim Connelly said that a few days before the draft, he and coach Chris Finch watched film of Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham, and both got excited imagining what Dillingham could bring to the Wolves with his sense of purpose and his ability to break. against a defense, something the Wolves sometimes lacked in their run to the Western Conference finals.

A sobering reality came with that enthusiasm, as Connelly didn’t think there would be a way for the Wolves to include Dillingham in the draft. But the night broke, and with the second salary cap apron about to restrict how the team could reshape its roster, Connelly pounced on one of the only ways left to the Wolves to make an impact on a contending roster by trading a 2030 pick swap and an unprotected 2031 first-round pick to the Spurs to grab Dillingham at No. 8. Connelly didn’t mince words after the end of the first round of the draft on Wednesday night – the Wolves expect Dillingham to play right away in their rotation next season.

“He’s a guy who, from day one, is going to have a role and responsibility,” Connelly said. “Certainly, it’s going to be tough for him. But I don’t think you’re that aggressive in the top 10 (of the draft) with a guy you don’t think can play right away.”

Connelly didn’t have to trade the 27th overall pick the Wolves had before the night and with that pick they grabbed Illinois wing Terrence Shannon Jr., who led the Illini to the Big Ten Tournament title at the Target Center in March.

Shannon, 6-7, played last season while awaiting trial on rape and sexual assault charges stemming from an incident at a Kansas bar in September. A jury acquitted Shannon, who said the victim mistook him for someone else, earlier this month after a weeklong trial in Kansas. Connelly said the organization looked into Shannon’s case and said it was “a shame that this is even a footnote” to Shannon’s career.

“I think if you really dig down, it’s a really unfortunate thing for a kid in every way…he’s a great kid,” Connelly said. “A lot of times, as soon as you’re charged, you’re found guilty. Luckily, he followed the legal process. He chose to go to trial because he knew he didn’t do anything wrong. I just think “It’s a shame that he had to go through that and I think it’s a testament to who he was as a kid and his ability to play despite a very difficult distraction.”

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The Wolves were looking for ways to increase their offensive explosiveness after the Mavericks stymied them at times in the playoffs, and Connelly didn’t think the Wolves would find that kind of instant impact player pick late in the draft. They were happy to see Shannon fall to complement Dillingham’s pick.

“We challenged ourselves this offseason. How can we become more athletic? How can we create more shots?” » said Connelly. “And to be completely honest, we didn’t think we could achieve these things in the draft at 27. The way the night went and the way the calls developed, we were incredibly excited to have a guy we think is as talented as anyone in this draft.”

The decision to get Dillingham was a loud statement from the organization that the Wolves believe their chance to win a championship is next season and perhaps for a few years afterward because they have sacrificed more future draft capital, although in six and seven years. That doesn’t matter for a team that feels like it’s on the verge of winning a title.

Dillingham will earn just under $6.3 million next season on the rookie deal, with his total contract value worth $28.6 million.

The move is a major commitment from the owners, who will pay the luxury tax for the first time since the 2019-20 season. According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the Wolves’ luxury tax bill increased from $56 million to $84 million next season with the Dillingham trade.

“The property was fantastic,” Connelly said. “Certainly, any time you’re aggressive, there are financial realities. We think we have a chance. We’re at the big table, so it’s not the time to be afraid now.”

With the extensions of Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels and Karl-Anthony Towns arriving this season, Connelly, who dealt the team’s 2025, 27 and 29 picks to Utah for Rudy Gobert, has swung toward the fences with the only small first. -round draft capital he had to deal with in the ’31 pick. The Wolves’ ability to move their 2032 pick was about to be frozen under the luxury tax’s second apron overreach rules. The Wolves made that moot by trading the 2031 pick, since teams can’t deal first-round picks in consecutive years anyway.

The Wolves also won’t be able to sign any players (except their own free agents) to anything other than minimum contracts once free agency opens, per the per-second apron rules. So, one of their only ways to find an impact player who could help them now and in the coming years was to make a splash in this draft.

“I don’t see how we can add this level of talent via trade unless we want to give up core players,” Connelly said. “I do not know how.”

Dillingham, 19, averaged 15.2 points per game while shooting 44 percent from three-point range and appears to be part of the team’s succession plan once 36-year-old point guard Mike Conley takes over. his retirement. Connelly described Dillingham as “a (point guard) who is a bucket.”

Among Dillingham’s strengths are his quickness and shooting; he has a quick release and can be a good finisher around the rim and is shifty in his ability to get past defenders.

“I feel like I’m fast and I can pass guys,” Dillingham said. “…You’re playing with a bunch of NBA players, so the players can’t really help much because they’re NBA players and they’re hitting. Getting past my defender and playing with my teammates will be a lot easier, and if they don’t help, it’s just a bucket.”

His weaknesses lie on defense and his thin frame (6-2, 164 pounds) makes him vulnerable to attacks on that side of the court.

Shannon, 23, was third-team All-America last season, remaining on the team after filing a lawsuit for his right to continue playing while the legal proceedings played out. He averaged 23 points per game for the Illini, who won the Big Ten Tournament at Target Center. Shannon played five seasons in college, the first three at Texas Tech.

His strengths include his ability to drive to the edge and use his strength to get there. This strength also allows him to get to the free throw line at a high rate (8.6 attempts per game last season). His weaknesses include a low release point and a shot that may still need work to improve efficiency (career 35% three-point shooting).

The second round of the draft continues Thursday, but the Wolves probably made their most important move of the offseason Wednesday night.

“We weren’t too optimistic going into the night and we were fortunate to get a pick and get a kid that we think can really help us,” Connelly said.

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