Mike Conley reaggravated his calf injury in Game 4 against Dallas, and the Timberwolves had no where else to turn

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Mike Conley was in peak offensive rhythm in the first half of Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

While many of Minnesota’s other stars were limited by foul trouble, Conley was carrying the offensive load. He scored 11 points in the second quarter alone. The Mavericks’ added attention placed on slowing Anthony Edwards allowed Conley to attack in the pick and roll against a defense featuring no weak-side help.

This is how Minnesota was largely built this season. It featured just two perimeter playmakers – Conley and Edwards. And, when opponents stacked the deck to stop Edwards, it was on Conley to initiate and sometimes finish possessions.

The 36-year-old proved still capable of doing as much, particularly post Karl-Anthony Towns’ meniscus injury, when he upped his usage for the sake of improving the team’s offense. Conley went north of 20 points four times in an eight-game span after Towns went down.

With the offense struggling to establish a rhythm early in the West Finals, Conley understood he may again have to carry a heavy load. And, through two quarters of Game 4, the plan was working.

But on the final play of the half, Conley got to the middle of the paint for a floater and, as he came down, the pain came back.

The calf injury he suffered in the final minute of Minnesota’s Game 4 loss to Denver in the Western Conference semifinals – which caused the guard to miss Game 5 of that series – was reaggravated, the guard told the Pioneer Press. Conley pushed through the injury to finish Game 4, a Wolves’ win.

Immediately upon landing back in Minnesota the next day, the guard went to the team’s practice facility for treatment.

Still, on Thursday morning, he was barely able to walk. He received treatment throughout the day to get him to the point where he could give it a go, but was clearly severely limited in Minnesota’s season-ending Game 5 defeat. Conley’s exit from Target Center on Thursday night was a slow, labored walk, though he still stopped to recognize nearly every team and arena employee on his way out.

As a result of his injury, Minnesota struggled.

The same was true when he missed Game 5 against Denver. The same was true during the regular season, when the Wolves lost to teams like San Antonio and Charlotte in Conley’s absence.

The Timberwolves needed their floor general all season. The task moving forward should be to need him a little less.

Conley will be 37 years old at the start of the 2024-25 regular season. His age has in no way diminished his play. He’s a lights out 3-point shooter and decision maker who is still adept at running the pick and roll and can handle most defensive matchups.

There were two players this season Minnesota couldn’t really survive without – Edwards and Conley. But that was also the problem.

The playoffs are a marathon. They’re two months of grueling, physical games against tough opponents completed within a condensed schedule.

So it’d be best if you entered the postseason at full health and with as close to a full tank as humanly possible.

Conley was healthy entering the playoffs, and was performing at a high level. That had a lot to do with Minnesota’s fast start to the postseason. Conley logged the third-most regular season minutes for the Wolves – behind only Edwards and Rudy Gobert – after playing in 76 of 82 regular season bouts, but Minnesota did a good job managing Conley’s minutes in those games whenever feasible.

But as soon as Conley got hurt in the playoffs, it was difficult to ever work back into form. There simply isn’t time in the schedule to do so. Just a week after suffering the initial calf strain, Conley was logging 39 minutes in Game 7 of the West semis.

In a must-win game, the Wolves didn’t have much other choice. It was clear as the playoffs unfolded that the coaching staff didn’t prefer to play Jordan McLaughlin nor Monte Morris in the tightened rotation. Morris was acquired at the trade deadline to give the Wolves another option behind Conley, but his impact never really came to fruition.

“Monte was struggling with a couple injuries. Certainly I have no doubt in what Monte can do,” Connelly said. “When you start to make a run, the benches become more and more condensed, so it’s tough to make a midseason trade and instantly integrate that guy.”

If the Wolves don’t have Conley to create on the ball, that responsibility then too often falls solely on the shoulders of Edwards. And if teams are loading up to stop Edwards, Minnesota ends up in the kinds of offensive funk fans saw Thursday.

Frankly, you need more than two players capable of filling that role. How can Minnesota address the need? Timberwolves coach Chris Finch noted the ball will be in the hands of Edwards more. On top of that, he pointed to Kyle Anderson, who returned to form over the latter stages of the season. Finch said the Wolves can run more offense through the point forward.

Wolves’ basketball boss Tim Connelly said Minnesota is open to enhancing its perimeter playmaking options through an outside edition or internal development.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker could represent the latter. He showed flashes of the ability to run pick and rolls and generate looks for himself and others off the bounce this season, though that went to the wayside over the final two rounds of the playoffs.

“I think there’s more I could’ve brought to the team. Could’ve helped Mike with playmaking,” Alexander-Walker said. “Being able to make plays and not just rely so much on Ant to do things or relying on KAT to get me open shots or Mike, and vice versa. Helping them get open shots, helping them get easy looks. Just becoming a more complete player.”

The other options are somewhat limited by Minnesota’s salary cap crunch. But Connelly also noted Minnesota possesses the No. 27 and No. 37 picks in this summer’s NBA Draft.

“We have a bunch of young guys on the roster who haven’t gotten a big opportunity who are getting better and better every day, and certainly draft and free agency,” Connelly said. “So we all wish Mike was ageless, and he certainly appeared as though he was ageless much of this year, but we understand there has to be some succession plan moving forward.”

And, in the nearer future, a plan to get him a little more help. Ideally, Minnesota’s offense can still function at a high level with Conley more so picking his spots to be aggressive in the regular season — and adding more maintenance days to the schedule next season — all with the idea that one of the team’s most important players, and still one of the best floor generals in basketball, can be full-go come next year’s postseason.

And, if something unfortunate did arise again at an inopportune time, an actual Plan B could exist.

“We’ve got to kind of clean (our offense without Conley) up,” Finch said. “And then, of course, look to have another ballhandler that could play out there alongside of anybody.”

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