May 30, 2018, 7:16 pm
Two teams that were once in similar positions are now at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Minnesota Timberwolves went 13 seasons without reaching the playoffs and they finally snapped that exhausting streak this season, earning the eighth seed in the Western Conference. For the Wolves, a first round exit wasn’t the ideal end to such a successful season, but it was a big step forward.
The Sacramento Kings now own the longest playoff drought in the NBA, missing the playoffs in each of the past 12 seasons. Sacramento, though, is armed with an overwhelming amount of youth and have multiple building blocks for the future. It’s going to be a while before they’re in the conversation with the Wolves talent wise, but the two teams may be able to find common ground in another area.
Kevin Brand covers the Wolves for Hoop Ball and has touched on the team’s cap conundrum in recent weeks and why they might have to deal some players. I spoke with Kevin about the Wolves’ current situation and also asked him why Sacramento and Minnesota could be trade partners this offseason.
Q: Firstly, why could the Wolves potentially be active on the trade market this offseason?
Kevin: The Wolves are in a tight spot. Going into next season the team is already over the $101 million cap with eight players under contract (assuming Cole Aldrich‘s non-guaranteed contract is waived). Luckily the Wolves bring back all five starters from a team that was 37-22 when Jimmy Butler was healthy, which signals perhaps just a few tweaks is all that the roster requires.
Unfortunately that is not the case. The Wolves generated the lowest production out of their bench in the NBA. It’s easy to point to Thibodeau and say that he doesn’t play his bench guys, and that’s true, but when the team was faced with injuries their insufficient depth really showed. Their main substitutes were flawed with Jamal Crawford not being a defensive threat, Tyus Jones not being an offensive threat, Gorgui Dieng seemingly battling with himself and Nemanja Bjelica being too passive at times.
The Wolves didn’t have any sort of wing depth, and despite having an open roster spot all season (and at times two), the Wolves filled it with another guard in Derrick Rose. He got off to a disastrous start, but by their first round playoff series, Rose was at least the fourth best player.
The bench lacked any type of versatility, unreliable defenders (for the most part) and below-average shooting. The Wolves are desperately seeking a “3-and-D” wing that can come off the bench, but those don’t come cheap, and the Wolves’ short-term money is more-or-less capped.
The long-term outlook is also quite cloudy. With Butler eligible to sign up to a $188 million contract if he stays with the Wolves, Karl-Anthony Towns possibly set to earn the same in an extension this summer and Andrew Wiggins already locked in to a $146 million contract set to kick-in this summer, the Wolves could face the cap with just three players and be looking at luxury tax repeaters for years to come.
Add to that the major salaries of Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng and the Wolves’ flexibility is completely shot. With nothing left to spend on the free agent market save the mid-level exception (which is likely going to Rose), the Wolves may have no other option but to explore the trade market to either unload a big contract to sign a free agent, swap bad contracts to fill a need, or just blow the whole thing up.
Q: Why do you think the Kings and Wolves could be potential trade partners?
Kevin: From an outsider’s perspective, the Kings are still in a stage where they’re collecting assets and have some cap space to work with. They also have a number of veteran players on short contracts, something the Wolves are actively seeking.
Minnesota is in a “win-now” mode for a window that might be surprisingly short depending on how Butler’s knee holds up long-term and how long Thibs has before he wears out his welcome. The Wolves would certainly be interested in the services that Kosta Koufos, Garrett Temple, Iman Shumpert, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein could provide.
The Wolves’ best assets (that are most likely available as of right now) are the No. 20 overall pick in this year’s draft, Tyus Jones, Justin Patton and their 2020 first round pick, in that order. Perhaps a swap of Koufos and Temple for Gorgui Dieng and the No. 20 pick could make some sense, but the Kings may look instead to preserve their supreme long-term cap space.
Sacramento is probably more interested in some of the Wolves’ bigger assets in a deal anyway.
Q: A few outlets have mentioned the Kings as a possible destination for Karl-Anthony Towns should the Wolves trade him. Do you think this is realistic and do you think the Wolves even entertain moving someone like Towns?
Kevin: To tackle the first part of the question, the Kings are probably one of the few teams that could manage a Karl-Anthony Towns trade in the first place, so if a deal were to be discussed the Kings would most certainly be on the call list. That may not have been the case, either, before the lottery was announced.
Any deal would start with the No. 2 overall pick, and end there if the Kings refused. The Wolves would certainly want to include Dieng in any sort of agreement to open up some cap space. A young player, or a combination of some, would have to be included as well, while the Wolves would absorb a veteran contract in return.
On paper, it’s certainly plausible to see a scenario where these teams match up in a trade revolving around Towns. In reality, the question is whether or not Towns is on the table at all.
The rumors that flared these discussions were based on off-hand speculation regarding the Wolves’ upcoming summer. Towns and Thibs don’t always see eye-to-eye, and there’s certainly some bad blood between the two, but as of now their relationship isn’t beyond repair.
Thibs is smart enough to avoid the George Karl route, knowing this could be one of his last shots if he goes down that path of alienating his best young player, and Towns has a lot of money at stake if he leaves Minnesota (anywhere from $37 million to $70 million). Both guys have every reason to make this work. Even if they can’t, my money is on the Wolves siding with Towns over Thibs. Thibodeau is already getting on people’s nerves up and down the organization.
Q: You recently mentioned that the Wolves could entertain moving Andrew Wiggins and that the Kings seem like a fit, why do you believe this?
Kevin: Andrew Wiggins is a bit of an enigma right now. He’s obviously supremely athletic, typically the best athlete on the floor at all times. He’s still extremely young at 23 years old with four years of experience under his belt. He’s averaged over 20 points per game twice. But he lacks efficiency while doing so, he hasn’t developed on defense and all of his value lies in his points because he’s typically not highly involved in the counting or hustle stats.
Wiggins has all the physical tools to be a great NBA player, but he still seems like a work-in-progress. The problem is he’s now earning $146 million over five years and the Wolves can’t have that kind of money tied to a player still developing. They need contribution.
His fit on the team is already questionable, at best. He’s not a major threat from 3-point range, relying on slashing to generate his points. The Wolves already have Butler for the role, though, and Teague to an extent. They also need another defensive stopper, and while Wiggins has shown that he can do that in spurts, he’s far from consistently solid there.
The Wolves are probably thinking that his $25 million could be better utilized elsewhere, on someone who can defend the wing and hit a 3-point shot. They don’t need another prime-time scorer, just some solid glue to fill in the cracks.
There seems to be another gear to Wiggins that hasn’t yet been unlocked, and it’s fair to say that it can still be. Thibodeau hasn’t been good for Wiggins. Their styles don’t mesh with each other, both from a gameplan and a personality standpoint. Before that Sam Mitchell was thrust into an impossible situation after the tragic passing of Flip Saunders.
With the right style and better leadership Wiggins may be able to reach that next level, but so long as he’s under Thibodeau and utilized only in the corner offense and consistently berated, Wiggins will probably plateau where he is now.
When looking at the Kings’ picture, it seemed like they were missing a go-to scorer, and certainly had a huge hole at the wing. On top of that the Kings seemed to be in a situation where they could add a player that had some high risk/high reward payouts. With a number of solid young pieces, the Kings still lacked that major, potential star.
Wiggins isn’t there yet, but he has the capabilities. If the Kings lucked out and Wiggins found that next level, it could be a huge jump in the rebuilding process, while preserving one of the younger cores in the league.
Admittedly, this thought crossed my mind before the lottery was announced and the Kings won big with the No. 2 overall pick. Now with a chance to add that type of impact player for free, I’ll concede that a Wiggins trade to Sacramento seems less likely.
Q: In your eyes, what would it take for a team like the Kings to acquire either Andrew Wiggins or Karl-Anthony Towns?
Kevin: For Wiggins, a package of Kosta Koufos, Iman Shumpert and a second round pick is plausible. Wiggins’ trade value isn’t very high at the moment because of his new contract and down season. The Wolves are seeking help in the defensive post and some versatility at the wing. At the very least it gets them off the books for next summer to reshape the roster how they see fit.
They’d probably regret trading him for so little in a few years, but their cap situation is so dire they may not have a choice.
On the other side, Zach Randolph, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein and the No. 2 overall pick for Towns and Dieng might just do the trick. The Wolves will undoubtedly want to attach Dieng to any Towns deal, and to get any sort of impact players they will have to attach some salary since Towns’ salary is so low.
The Wolves would have some serious roster confusion after that, but if the organization reaches the point where they’re committed to trading Towns then all bets are off.