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When Tim Connelly traded for Rudy Gobert a mere six weeks after taking over as president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the summer of 2022, he was roundly mocked for what was, without exaggeration, deemed by many to be one of the worst trades in NBA history. 

I disagreed with the masses, penning the following assessment of the deal:

Gobert is a one-man defense, and notions that he loses defensive viability in the playoffs have been greatly exaggerated. Given the Wolves' ability to score the ball with Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, this suddenly looks like a really good team. It will have to be to justify this steep of a price, but it's worth the risk. It's been ages since the Wolves were actually a team to take this seriously, and besides, I don't subscribe to the theory that teams have to contend for a championship to warrant these kinds of gambles. 

Indeed, the Wolves aren't going to win the title [in 2023]. It's probably a good bet that they won't win one during the Gobert era, however long that lasts. You know why? Because only one team wins it all. That doesn't mean the other 29 did it wrong. 

For the Wolves, this is a major jolt of franchise energy, building on the momentum they've already created with the drafting of Edwards and [the 2022] playoff appearance. You can talk about how much the Wolves gave up, but the reality is teams like the Wolves almost always have to overpay to land elite players. Gobert almost locks in Minnesota as a 50-win team, and potentially closer to 55. 

With the benefit of hindsight, I would, obviously, go even further in my praise of the Gobert trade. Indeed, the Wolves won 56 games this year on the strength of one of the best defenses in recent memory, which was anchored by Gobert, who claimed his fourth Defensive Player of the Year trophy, but it's more than that. Not only are the Wolves contenders to win it all this season. You could argue they're the favorite. 

That's not all, or even mostly, because of Gobert. Edwards -- who is trying to shut down the Michael Jordan comparisons but continues to play, and smile, and talk, and just flat out exist in such a charismatic manner that it damn near forces the comparison -- has proven to be cut from the rarest of superstar fabric. 

Minnesota's perimeter defenders are even better than we all thought. Mike Conley's stabilizing impact cannot be overstated. Karl-Anthony Towns, who we'll get to in a minute, has materialized as a big-time defender and perfectly suited, and willing, secondary scorer. The job that Chris Finch has done in tying everything together, as well as Connelly for the moves he's made around the edges of the roster with a focused eye on stockpiling big men almost specifically for the Jokic matchup, looks better by the day. 

But this all started with the Gobert deal. That's what made the Wolves a serious team, even if there were legitimate basketball reasons to be skeptical of the pairing. Namely, would Gobert clog Edwards' driving space? Would the twin-tower partnership with Towns make Minnesota too defensively vulnerable on the perimeter?

Neither of those concerns have come to fruition, but they were granular concerns nonetheless. Big picture, there is nothing more valuable to a young scoring superstar than a good defense to lean on. Same thing for a young quarterback. It's there every game. It's a built-in margin for error, and that changes everything from a psychology standpoint. Minnesota locked in a top-flight defense the second it acquired Gobert, and it is from that seed that all of this has been able to bloom. 

Still, for whatever reason, Gobert is always going to be a target. When things didn't go so well in Year 1 there were people trying to claim that Walker Kessler was flat out better than Gobert, to say nothing of the four first-round picks they shipped out. After Nikola Jokic had his way with Gobert in Game 5 of the second round last wek, critics lined up to smear his all-time great defensive resume. I called it ridiculous then, and it looks even more so now that Jokic and the Nuggets are on summer break. 

But even Gobert's critics have to recognize his contribution to all this. He propped up a Utah defense that couldn't contain penetration. By pairing him with elite perimeter defenders, and multiple big men who can, when appropriate, absorb the Jokic-like one-on-one matchups to allow him to roam in his most naturally protective state, Minnesota has created a monster that devoured that defending champs and just might wind up winning what would be one of the most unforeseen championships in NBA history.