June 19, 2018, 2:21 pm
It’s finally draft week, which means the NBA Offseason truly kicks-off after months of rumors and speculation. The talk around the draft has favored the potential for a lot of trades with a handful of teams looking to move up, teams attempting to unload major salaries by offering picks and finally teams looking to buy into the second round of a deep draft.
The Wolves’ intentions, as of now, are unclear. They perhaps fall in the latter two categories, hoping to unload Gorgui Dieng for some salary relief and using the No. 20 overall pick as bait. They could also be looking for some cheap production out of an additional second round pick. I’m sure the team would like to move up, but they don’t have the assets to make a major leap.
In this piece we’re going to lay out a check list for the Wolves as they approach the most important weeks of their offseason; the NBA Draft and Free Agency.
Team needs: 3-point shooting, defensive rebounding, perimeter defense, playmaking
Team positional needs: bench SG, SF, PF
It sounds like a lot of holes to fill, but with some maneuvering and creativity the Wolves can knock everything out with two or three players. That’s key because financially the Wolves are in a really tight spot, already surpassing the salary cap for next year with just eight players under contract.
Luckily the Wolves will have some tools to add valuable pieces. They’ll have the No. 20 overall and No. 48 overall pick in the upcoming draft. They’ll have the mid-level exception allowing them to offer a single player a starting salary around $8.5 million for up to four years, or split the exception between two players. They’ll also have access to the bi-annual exception, which will allow them to sign a player to a $3.3 million starting salary up to two years. Then, of course, they can sign any player to the minimum salary to round out the roster.
The dramatic overpay that marked the 2016 offseason coupled with consecutive NBA Finals that disappointed the ratings have created a perfect storm that could play into the Wolves’ favor. The early projections indicate that money is going to be scarce this summer. The big dogs will get their share, but the middle class will see a major regression from recent years.
The Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov contracts of the world have seemingly ruined the party for their peers as teams will shy away from drowning themselves in salary for middling players. Where it once looked as if guys like Avery Bradley, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood, players with notable skills but red flags, were in line for eight-figure contracts may now have to settle for salary in the $8-$10 million range.
That can play into the Wolves’ favor because they’re team that’s competitive in the playoff picture, giving them an edge in negotiations if the price tags fall far enough.
The Wolves are also fortunate because, despite all the individual flaws among the players, the starting-five was one of the best lineups in the NBA last season, and Tyus Jones was an underrated reserve. All six of those players are returning, giving the team a good launching point. The team can hone in on very specific players that fill exactly what they need with an easy understanding of their role.
We’ll go position-by-position and name some players that could fit for the Wolves this offseason given their current constraints and how this roster could look in just two weeks time. Trades are obviously on the table as well and interesting to think about, but are so complex that it makes it tough to predict. Therefore in this piece, we’ll assume the Wolves are unable to trade off their major salaries.
Starter: Jeff Teague
Reserve: Tyus Jones
Departing: Aaron Brooks
Free Agent Candidates: Derrick Rose, Devin Harris
Draft Candidates: Jevon Carter, Anfernee Simons, Devonte’ Graham, Elie Okobo
The Wolves aren’t likely to invest a ton in a point guard because they owe Teague $19 million each of the next two years and Tyus Jones was assured his role was safe by Tom Thibodeau in the exit interviews.
Rose returning to the Wolves feels like a forgone conclusion, whether you love him or hate him. From a pure basketball standpoint, it was clear that Rose brought a level of activity to the offense that wasn’t present much of the season. When he was playing within the offense, making cuts and extra passes, he was an excellent fit.
The red flags appear when he’s trying to be the old Rose that scored over 20 points per game. He also has a long history of injuries, and didn’t take him long to suffer from one in his brief time with the Wolves.
Still, the match between Thibodeau and Rose seemed to work for both sides and to hear Thibs speak on it in the exit-conferences, a reunion seems certain. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it will depend on the price. If the Wolves go out and use their mid-level exception on him, that would feel like a major mistake. In fact anything over the minimum feels like too much, but it’s likely they settle for the bi-annual.
In the draft, unless one of the top-three point guards falls to No. 20, the Wolves aren’t likely to spend that pick on a point guard as it would be a reach for any of the others. Perhaps at No. 48 the Wolves look at one, but a veteran at the minimum seems more likely.
Starter: Jimmy Butler
Departing: Jamal Crawford, Marcus Georges-Hunt
Free Agent Candidates: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Will Barton, Avery Bradley, Wayne Ellington, Seth Curry, Joe Harris
Draft Candidates: Khyri Thomas, Kevin Huerter, Zhaire Smith, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson Grayson Allen
Butler is the mainstay here, but as last season showed a key reserve behind him is vitally important. Crawford filled the veteran shoes better than anyone, but his on-court production is not quite what the Wolves needed. A consistent shooter and better defender here alone could push the Wolves into 50-win territory. Some improved playmaking out of this spot could also help as well, though if Rose is indeed re-signed, he could provide that boost.
Luckily for the Wolves the free agent market is deep with versatile two-guards. Getting Caldwell-Pope would be a nearly perfect fit, but his price tag may prove to be out of range. Bradley’s injury may lower his tag enough to accept a mid-level exception, but his defense is perhaps a tad overrated and his 3-point shot is just as inconsistent as Crawford’s. Barton is an energizer bunny that would fit the playmaking offensive dynamo, but may also command a larger salary than the Wolves can afford.
Perhaps the option here is to look for a pure shooter. Ellington, Curry and Harris would become better deep threats than any of the Wolves’ perimeter players from last season and fill a major need with top-notch accuracy, but are perhaps limited defensively.
In the draft there are bountiful options for the two-guard, basically from outside the top-10 onward through the draft. Thomas was an early favorite, but DiVincenzo has gathered a bunch of steam lately and is becoming a trendy pick for the Wolves at No. 20. Huerter represents the pure-shooting option, while Allen could be interesting in the second round, perhaps if the Wolves buy into that 32-40 range.
Starter: Andrew Wiggins
Free Agent Candidates: Mario Hezonja, Kyle Anderson, Doug McDermott, Jerami Grant
Draft Candidates: Chandler Hutchinson, Josh Okogie, Melvin Frazier, Jacob Evans, Troy Brown, Justin Jackson
The Wolves’ wing depth was just short of disastrous last season. Shabazz Muhammad was among the worst players in the NBA last season when he was with the Wolves and was cut mid way through the season. Nemanja Bjelica stepped up and played a lot at the wing when Butler went down, but he’s better as a four. The Wolves simply had very little there, even trying Rose out for a time. Even at the top Wiggins has major question marks as a fit on this team, but at least he played in every game.
Free agency is thin on the wing once you get past the top-two. Kyle Anderson would be a real intriguing fit but it’s doubtful the now potentially rebuilding Spurs would let any of their talented youngsters get away (heck, the Spurs rarely let any talent just walk). Hezonja and McDermott could be valuable as spacers, but little else, and they’d need to be surrounded by playmakers and better defenders. Grant is a supreme athlete and multi-positional defender that doesn’t bring much to the table offensively.
The draft is where the Wolves can really alleviate this issue in the short and long term, especially with a thin free agent wing market. The middle of this draft could be labeled the “3-and-D” run with the number of prospects that profile that mold. At No. 20 the Wolves should have plenty of options, it’s just a matter of picking the right one.
Starter: Taj Gibson
Departing: Nemanja Bjelica, Amile Jefferson
Free Agent Candidates: Channing Frye, Ed Davis, Anthony Tolliver, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Quincy Acy, Dante Cunningham
Draft Candidates: Keita Bates-Diop, Omari Spellman
Gibson was surprisingly productive last season thanks to career-best efficiency on the offensive end. While he may not be able to replicate that, he’s still a safe bet to start given his relationship with Thibs and salary. Still the Wolves were one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA, and they also struggled to defend some stretch fours that cost them a couple of wins. They also lack a floor-spacer with Bjelica likely moving on. Finding one player that can do all those things may be tough.
There are some power forwards available that are limited to a certain skill, but thrive in that one role. Frye and Tolliver represent excellent options to space the floor, while Davis and Acy provide some toughness and rebounding. Mbah a Moute is probably the most complete package here, offering excellent and switchable defense, while being able to step out and hit a 3-pointer. Cunningham is a discounted version of that same role.
In the draft, Bates-Diop does a lot of little things well and seemingly fits in well with the direction the NBA stylistically. He should be able to switch onto wings, step out and hit a 3-pointer and facilitate some offense from the power forward. He would also become more of a long-term solution than Taj Gibson, who is a free agent next offseason. Bates-Diop’s games ideally fits next to most centers.
Starter: Karl-Anthony Towns
Reserve: Gorgui Dieng, Justin Patton
Departing: Cole Aldrich (non-guaranteed)
Free Agent Options: Brandan Wright
Draft Options: Brandon McCoy, Robert Williams
The Wolves are going to spend the most money on this position this offseason, but it won’t be for a new acquisition. They’ll instead seek to lock up Towns into a huge contract extension to be their long-term face of the franchise.
Otherwise the Wolves likely won’t spend a single penny on anyone else here. Dieng is locked for $48 million the next three years and Patton was the Wolves’ first round pick last season. There were some concerns last season when Towns faced-off with imposing centers like Andre Drummond and Dwight Howard, so perhaps they’ll look at a big-bodied center to take some of those blows, but Aldrich is big-bodied and was healthy all season yet rarely played, so it’s doubtful.
If they could get a talent like Wright at the minimum, it wouldn’t hurt to have the insurance.
In the draft, if Williams fell to No. 20 the Wolves might take him for the value and look to trade someone. McCoy is huge and would help the rebounding and rim protection, but little else. The Wolves could probably do better in the second round.
Without making any trades, the Wolves still have an avenue to rebuilding their bench and making it an even better unit than last year. There’s a few different routes they could take as well.
For example, on Thursday they could draft Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson, then pounce on Avery Bradley with the mid-level exception early in free agency before eventually signing Anthony Tolliver at the minimum and re-signing Rose with the bi-annual exception. Or they could draft Jacob Evans and Grayson Allen, then sign Luc Mbah a Moute and Mario Hezonja each to half of the mid-level and Seth Curry to the bi-annual.
The Wolves don’t have much flexibility this offseason, as we’ve cataloged many times here, but it’s not a reason to get discouraged. There is enough wiggle room to reshape the roster without dramatic trades, it will just take some creativity on the part of Thibs (which may or may not scare the heck out of people).
For me personally, I would target Keita Bates-Diop and Jevon Carter in the draft on Thursday, then set might sights on Caldwell-Pope armed with the full mid-level exception (if possible), Dante Cunningham with the bi-annual exception and Doug McDermott with the minimum. When it’s all said and done, the Wolves would have 13 players and be over the $120 million luxury tax. It’s not ideal for the owner, but it’s the only way if they hope to compete in the West.
Of course in the end, the offseason never plays out quite so simply.
Then there’s the legitimate concerns free agents may have signing with Tom Thibodeau. First there’s the avenue to playing time as bench players infamously see limited time under Thibs. There’s also guys who may fear for their career longevity, especially if they have been injured in the past. It was rumored that George Hill wouldn’t consider the Wolves’ last year because of the rigorous practices and the perception of being forced to play through injuries (which of course Butler admitted to doing).
So this shopping list is just a blueprint of what the Wolves’ could do this offseason. They’ll be able to bring in the free agents required to fill out the roster because, above all, money talks and players will make the sacrifice to join a playoff contender, especially one that has two All-NBA players already on it.
Starting with the draft this Thursday we’ll get a good sense of the direction the Wolves intend to take this offseason.
For more on the Wolves’ offseason, check out the offseason primer here.
Finally we took a deep dive into four prospects the Wolves could consider at No. 20 overall, which can be found here.
The draft is just around the corner, and the offseason is about to get weird.