February 8, 2020, 3:33 am
The Wolves took on a little extra cash in the deal that saw them net D’Angelo Russell, Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman, and the team worked quickly to get the books back in order.
It’s not drastic, but Thursday’s swap of Gorgui Dieng for James Johnson saves about $2 million in cap space for next season. That’s operating on the assumption that Johnson exercises his $15.8 million player option next season, which is a safe bet considering what a guy averaging 15.6 minutes in 18 games through the season’s midway point is likely to find on the open market.
Not to mention Johnson’s suspension for showing up to training camp out of shape.
There is a chance for Johnson to turn this around, however, and his skillset could be a nice fit on a Minnesota team that has completely transformed its bench in the last few weeks. A Swiss Army knife of sorts, Johnson has shown the ability to defend multiple positions, including star-level players, while also functioning as a solid playmaker and ball-handler.
The fact that his contract was such a net negative tells you all about how the last couple of seasons have gone, but Johnson did suffer from a sports hernia that took his 2017-18 off the rails after a phenomenal 2017-18 season earned him the big deal to begin with. That year was his real breakout, and he put up averages of 10.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks and 0.8 threes in 26.6 minutes per game on .503 from the field. Johnson’s never been a great shooter but he’s not someone that can be completely ignored.
That versatility should help him find minutes in a Wolves rotation that’s going to go through a feeling-out stretch, and his defense might be necessary considering the ineptitude that some of the other Wolves bring to that end of the floor.
It’s possible that the Wolves let Johnson run with this opportunity and even let him start. He had just returned to the Miami rotation, getting up to 18 minutes a night in January after not appearing in a single December contest. If Minnesota is stuck with him for next season, they might as well try and resurrect the player that helped Miami’s late season surge from a couple years back.
One, that just helps the Wolves put out a better on-court product. A hard-nosed defender who can serve as a secondary playmaker is definitely someone that the Wolves would take. Secondly, a productive version of Johnson might have trade value on an expiring contract next year.
If the Wolves are content with the savings provided by this swap, then Johnson will be extra depth behind Juancho Hernangomez and whoever else trots out at power forward in this new rotation. Omari Spellman? Jarrett Culver?
With Dieng out of the picture, the Wolves have also carved out space for intriguing rookie Naz Reid. It was clear that Dieng would never get to play alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, and despite his production whenever he did get the chance to get on the floor, his future would not be in Minnesota. His rotation spot (which he had to earn from the ground floor this year) should go directly to Reid, who has managed 6.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.5 blocks and 1.1 3-pointers in 10.6 minutes per game this season.
He went undrafted this past summer despite 3.6 points, 7.2 boards, 0.9 dimes, 0.7 blocks and 0.8 triples in 27.2 minutes per game at LSU, though his physical revealed a high body fat percentage and he didn’t receive rave reviews for his athleticism, either. Reid averaged 12.5 points, 4.7 boards and 2.0 assists in just 18.3 mpg at Summer League and looked like one of the better big men at the Vegas circuit, ultimately securing a four-year deal from the Wolves with a full guarantee on his first year. Developing Reid, whose shooting gives him a more modern touch than Dieng, now becomes a secondary goal.
With the last of their deadline moves, the Wolves saved some money next season, might’ve found a starting power forward and opened up minutes to develop an intriguing rookie. Gersson Rosas is ushering in a new era very, very quickly.