NBA AM: Next On Deck – The Minnesota Timberwolves

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With three straight trips to the NBA finals and two championships, the Golden State Warriors are undoubtedly the kings of the NBA.

For now.

The foundation of the NBA is largely centered on dominance and the presence of dominant teams. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics of the 1980s, the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers of the early 2000s–the list goes on. These are franchises that won at least three titles over the course of a decade and the Warriors are extremely close to etching their names on this prestigious list.

So while there is a good bit chirping about the rise of the super team in the league, the argument can be made that there has always been mega teams littered across the association. The only difference between past and present is players are now leading the revolution in roles traditionally reserved for savvy general managers.

But even though there have been super teams in the league, stiff competition is one variable that has always been present throughout history. The league will adjust. Suitors for the crown will emerge. The 1980s Celtics had to stave off challenges from the young upstart Detroit Pistons led by Isiah Thomas for numerous years. The 1990s Bulls were able to fight off a physically tough New York Knicks squad full of veterans. The early 2000s Lakers rebuffed a formidable challenge from the Chris Webber-led Sacramento Kings, while the Spurs had to fight off those same Lakers teams in order to get their rings.

Despite the dominance, the NBA has always been fueled by competition and even the greatest teams in league history have had to overcome varying levels of adversity to remain on top. As the Warriors begin their quest for a dynasty, a true reign of terror on the league, it will be no different for them. Golden State will by challenged by numerous upstarts vying for an opportunity to sit in the throne.

The question in the Western Conference immediately turns to who’s up next?

History points us to younger teams that will begin to scratch the surface of their respective prime while the dominant lion matures and begins to fade. If this evolution holds true, one of the teams in the Western Conference to keep an eye on over the next three to four seasons is the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Timberwolves entered this season as a favorite sleeper pick to challenge for a playoff spot–one year (some may argue two) ahead of schedule. However, the team sputtered to 31 victories in head coach Tom Thibodeau’s first season at the helm. Although there was disappointment that the team didn’t live up to the heightened expectations, Minnesota has all of the tools needed to compete at a high level once they mature. The team features three players under 23 years of age that have each produced at least one season averaging over 18 points per contest. Two of those players, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, appear to be surefire future All-Stars. The third member of the trio, Zach LaVine, has already begun to emerge as a prolific scorer as the team’s third option.

Heading into the summer, Towns appears to embracing the role of playing a young challenger to the Warriors’ throne.

“Yeah, we’re coming soon,” Towns told USA Today Sports after the Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the 2016-17 NBA championship. “The Timberwolves are not a team to just forget about. We’re gonna jump in that hunt sooner than later. I don’t wanna hear people say they never knew we were an NBA team. They knew us from the get.”

Winning at a high level in the NBA is usually reserved for veteran-laden teams. So there have been rampant rumors circulating around Minnesota that Thibodeau would prefer to trade for an established All-Star player to put around his young core. In these scenarios, LaVine is typically the odd man out since he’s viewed as an attractive trade asset around the league. Another Timberwolves player that consistently hears their name in trade reports is point guard Ricky Rubio. The veteran floor general name has been circulating on the trade market since the Timberwolves used a lottery pick on point guard Kris Dunn in last year’s draft.

It is still too early to tell or to even expect the Timberwolves to make a huge leap into the playoffs next season. But if they could muster 10 more victories they’ll at least find themselves in the discussion and potentially staring eye-to-eye with the Warriors in a first-round matchup–in a meeting between present and future.

But for now, everyone prepares for the Warriors 2017 Championship day parade on Thursday, their second in three years. The Warriors appear poised to add more championship hardware to the mantle, but if there’s one thing about NBA history that holds true, it’s that competition quickly and always rises up to the challenge.