Two hours before the Timberwolves hosted the Denver Nuggets, Jordan McLaughlin trotted onto the court to go through his pregame routine. The smattering of coaches and players on the floor before him all stood up and gave a standing ovation to welcome back one of the most popular players on the team after a long absence because of injury.

McLaughlin had missed the last 30 games, and 35 of the previous 38, with a strained calf, removing one of the two point guards on the roster and one of the most influential players on the team’s bottom line this season. His return in a 128-98 win over the short-handed Nuggets on Sunday gave the Timberwolves a different look and could affect how the team operates heading into Thursday’s trade deadline.

The Timberwolves have been active in conversations across the league, per multiple sources who were granted anonymity so they could speak freely about private negotiations. But the landscape of their team has changed dramatically in the last six weeks, which could affect the kind of player they target from other teams and who stays or goes from their roster.

When McLaughlin was first injured in late November, the Timberwolves were struggling in the early days of incorporating Rudy Gobert with Karl-Anthony Towns in the frontcourt. They lost McLaughlin and Towns with calf injuries that came within a week of each other and were 16-21 at the end of 2022, appearing to have gaping holes in their lineup that needed to be addressed.

At the top of the list is a point guard. D’Angelo Russell admitted to having a hard time finding the right balance between getting teammates going and looking for his shot, and the Wolves didn’t have another natural lead guard on their roster with McLaughlin on the shelf. At that point, they seemed to desperately need a quarterback to help run the show, breathe some ball movement into the offense when things slowed down and be a capable defender on the perimeter.

Names like Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry started to enter the trade rumor mill in connection with the Wolves. With Russell due to be a free agent this summer, the belief was that his days in Minnesota could be coming to an end as the trade deadline approached.

Flash forward just more than a month, and McLaughlin has come back to a team that looks much different than the one he left. Russell has been moved off the ball to a role that has helped him shoot the lights out over the last two months. Anthony Edwards has been given the keys to the car and is flourishing with the increased responsibility. Coach Chris Finch has moved Kyle Anderson into a lead playmaking role as well, compensating for the loss of McLaughlin and upping the team’s performance on defense.