April 30, 2018, 1:16 pm
The tumultuous season that it was for the Minnesota Timberwolves came to a close at the hands of the Houston Rockets and now preparations for the offseason begin.
Judging success for the Wolves this season is a tough exercise given the number of factors that played into it. First off, it was only the second year that Head Coach and President Tom Thibodeau has had to work with and shape the team he envisions as a long term contender. There were also a number of injuries, particularly to Jimmy Butler, that set the team back from reaching its full potential. Finally the development of the young players wasn’t exactly clear, and if anything seemed stymied in certain areas. The team often looked disjointed and berated.
Given all of that, a team coming off a 47-win season and their first playoff appearance in 14 years has it’s fair share of questions regarding its future, and a number of doubters. Some believe major changes are needed to preserve the bright future ahead with Karl-Anthony Towns, and perhaps Andrew Wiggins, in the fold. Others say a few minor tweaks is all it will require.
Their biggest problem ahead, though, is acting on these changes, no matter if they’re drastic or small. The franchise is in a tight spot and all the moves they do, or don’t, make could have serious repercussions down the road.
In 2016, Tom Thibodeau was brought in to not only be the Wolves new head coach, but also their President of Basketball Operations, a title currently held by only two other coaches in the NBA.
Inheriting an extremely young and inexperienced roster, Thibodeau knew the challenge ahead to achieve his vision. Instead of developing a young core, he targeted a quicker path to success. Bringing on four new veteran players while shipping out two promising young players, it was clear that Thibs wanted to change the culture surrounding the franchise and bring a winning mentality back to the Wolves.
Thibs was also expected to bring in new defensive schemes that would vault the Wolves up into the NBA’s best and the new veteran additions, mainly Butler and Taj Gibson, would ideally expedite that transition. Two years in, the Wolves ranked 26th and 22nd in defensive rating, improving by less than a point from year one to year two. Certain areas got even worse, such as opponent’s field goal percentage and opponents’ rebounding.
With nearly total control over roster construction, scheming and player rotations, Thibs is, quite fairly, the main target of criticism for the seemingly lack of development on the defensive end. His old school style on both ends of the floor is nearly outdated in the NBA today where 3-pointers reign supreme.
With an open roster space nearly all season long and clear needs on the wing and 3-point shooting, Thibs stood pat at the trade deadline and had a quiet post-deadline signing period (when the Wolves had TWO open roster spots), eventually signing a fourth point guard. Derrick Rose was a polarizing signing at the time, and played into the infamous “Timberbulls” mockery of Thibs just assembling his former Chicago Bulls’ for another run (Joakim Noah, line one).
There’s an argument to be had that giving a head coach president duties isn’t the best idea. Currently Greg Popovich, Stan Van Gundy and Thibodeau are the only three to have that sort of power. Popovich has had R.C. Buford at his side, a respected executive, taking a large amount of pressure off Pop and is about the only success story when merging these two jobs.
Mike Budenholzer held that power for some time and oversaw the decline of the Hawks from their 60-win team to a lottery team. He stepped down from executive duties after nearly two years, and then a year after that left the organization altogether.
Doc Rivers held that title since coming over from Boston, the major reason he left. He inherited about as much one could as for: Chris Paul in his prime, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan at 24 and 25, respectively, and an owner willing to spend plenty of money. The Clippers never were able to separate themselves though, and were always plagued with a short bench and lack of wings.
Rivers was eventually removed from the executive role after a string of failures, and Steve Ballmer, their owner, recognized the tough nature of doing both jobs.
“It turns out that running a franchise and coaching are two enormous and different jobs. The notion that one person can fairly focus on them and give them all the attention they need isn’t the case,” said Ballmer.
It was a nice way to strip Rivers of power, but also recognizing the difficulties of competently running things with so much on your plate. How Thibs managed to get this title is a mystery for another day, but it’s fair to say that with all the responsibilities he has, drastic improvement is tough to expect. This type of position rarely works in the NBA, with the only clear example happening in the most stable, structured organization in the league.
A vocal group want Thibs out completely in yet another dramatic shift in the power structure for this organization. That remains unlikely, especially considering he has more than $20 million remaining owed, a figure that’s unlikely to be absorbed by owner Glen Taylor, but also because of potential repercussions of his departure.
Quipping about Thibs targeting his former Bulls aside, he seems to have established a longstanding loyalty to those same players. Butler, in particular, has his coaches’ back all the way. Not that other current Wolves don’t, but Butler’s loyalty runs to the core.
Butler’s contract is eligible for an extension this summer. If no deal is reached, he could become a free agent next year. In an interview just after his injury, Butler said that he’d be open to staying in Minnesota if they take care of him.
“I mean, in the most humble way possible, if they don’t take care of me this summer, I think the summer after that, I’m’a end up playing somewhere. Let’s not worry about that. Look, money’s never the issue for me. If you win, that takes care of everything. That’s what I’m trying to do right now. When that presents itself, we’ll think about it and talk about it,” he said.
Getting rid of Thibs completely likely means severing a connection with Butler and him walking next year, which would be a disastrous turn of events. The Wolves know this, and that’s why he’s likely to continue to stick around. He could potentially see his executive powers reigned in a bit, or the Wolves looking to bring in someone above him, a la Jerry West joining the Clippers. So while change in the power structure seems necessary, it’s not quite that easy.
With so many new faces coming in, including three of them who prefer to operate with the ball in their hands, adding to a roster with two players who were in the top-30 in usage rate the season prior was going to be a challenge and chemistry would take time to develop.
Every situation is different, but typically it takes time for drastically shifted rosters to come together, especially when integrating young players into new schemes and asking veteran players to take a step back. That’s exactly what happened when Thibs added Jimmy Butler along side Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Wiggins and Towns were still learning Thibs’ schemes as the feature players in his offense, when suddenly Butler stepped in and shifted things around a bit. Every player on the roster had to sacrifice time with the ball to accommodate their new teammates, and it noticeably effected some, including Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng.
Butler had the benefit of playing for Thibs in the past, but there was still an adjustment period for everyone, which was prevalent throughout the season and even into the playoffs. The team never quite gelled together and it showed often.
All that being said, the team still had an offensive rating that ranked fourth in the league. Towns, Butler and Gibson were all efficient, with KAT and Taj having their best seasons to date. That played a large role because often times the Wolves relied on excellent individual talent as opposed to a collective team effort.
They also ranked high while having to offset Wiggins who had another inefficient season, arguably his worst yet. Field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage were all down from last season.
It’s fair to consider that Wiggins isn’t a proper fit on the team. His offensive role was drastically reduced and his defense didn’t take the steps that many envisioned when Thibs took the helm two years ago.
To his credit Wiggins cut down his long two attempts (the least efficient shot in basketball) and took more 3-pointers. The problem is team-wide there was a lack of reliable 3-point shooting. One of the main focuses this offseason will be adding shooters, ideally at the wing.
The problem with moving on from Wiggins here is that his $146 million contract kicks in this summer, carrying a 21 percent cap hit with him (approximately $25 million). While still valuable as a 23 year old wing, his contract will be tough to move and may require a complex deal.
If the Wolves simply want to add to their current roster, it will be tough as well given they are already over the salary cap. Even if the Wolves renounce their rights to their five free-agents, waive Cole Aldrich’s non-guaranteed money and Jamal Crawford declines his player option, the Wolves will be a hair under the salary cap, giving them extremely limited flexibility.
They could open space up with a trade of Dieng, but the Wolves would be left with Justin Patton as the only reserve big man off the bench. Patton played in one NBA game this year, partly due to injury, and he’s going to miss the entire summer with another foot injury.
So the top two players on the Wolves are a great building block, but the roster gets complicated from there. Any minor adjustments are going to require some significant hurdles, and major shake ups seem unlikely.
What can they do?
Change for the Wolves this season feels needed, but unlikely because of the many complexities surrounding the team. The power structure at the top makes it tough for the team to operate efficiently. Player development seems stagnated with old school ideals and players that don’t quite mesh with the system. The roster needs some tweaking, but the financial situation ties them down. Standing pat just pushes back all these issues to another time, and doesn’t alleviate them completely.
The crux of change seems to center around Tom Thibodeau, and what the Wolves do with him. Something needs to happen there, but the team has to take care in how they approach it because of his close ties to Butler. At the same time, the team assembled by Thibs himself doesn’t quite fit the scheme he’s attempting to run.
Perhaps the Wolves can trade Wiggins for a better roster fit, or they can dump all their assets with Dieng in order to gain financial flexibility. The team might be able to convince some veterans to sign for the minimum and plug some holes. Maybe the Wolves decide they don’t like the direction and blow it up, ousting Thibs and trading Butler while going all in with KAT and Wiggins.
Thibs is infamous for his stubbornness throughout his career, but now more than ever the Wolves are stepping into a time where even the slightest adjustment can have huge ramifications. Perhaps some caution is best served here. The team broke a 14-year streak and two young stars leading the way, but the franchise feels like it’s in a more delicate spot than ever before.
July 16, 2019, 3:29 pmRichaun HolmesPF, Sacramento Kings
The Kings have announced the signing of Richaun Holmes.
Holmes is set to make $10 million over the next two seasons. He'll push for minutes in a crowded frontcourt, but if it's a true meritocracy then he should quickly rise to the front of the pack. Last season he was able to deliver standard-league value in only 16.9 mpg, so he's someone to target late in drafts on the expectation that he gets more burn in Sacramento. It's a potentially messy situation but we have faith that Holmes will make the most of it for fantasy purposes. For the Kings, it's a straight up steal.
Source: Sacramento Kings
July 16, 2019, 2:03 pmMarcus MorrisPF, New York Knicks
The Knicks have announced the signings of Marcus Morris and Reggie Bullock.
Morris is on a one-year, $15 million deal while Bullock is coming in on a two-year deal worth less than $4.7 million annually, with a second season that isn't fully guaranteed. While both players began the offseason as potential standard-league targets, there's not much to see given the sudden depth of the Knicks roster. Morris will be one of five players who should mostly be playing power forward, while Bullock will slot into a busy backcourt and is already expected to miss at least a month of the season. New York's rotations are going to be a mess and we'd steer clear.
Source: New York Knicks
July 16, 2019, 1:43 pmReggie BullockSG-SF, New York Knicks
Reggie Bullock is expected to miss at least one month of the regular season, per SNY's Ian Begley.
Bullock, who initially agreed to a two-year deal worth $21 million, re-worked his contract to clock in at two years (with a second year that isn't fully guaranteed) for under the $4.7 million exception. There's no word on what exactly Bullock is dealing with, though he suffered from neck stiffness and plantar fasciitis in his right foot late last season. There's no need to monitor Bullock in standard leagues to open the year.
Source: Ian Begley on Twitter
July 16, 2019, 1:14 pmMarkelle FultzPG, Orlando Magic
Speaking to Sirius XM, Steve Clifford said that although there remains no timetable for Markelle Fultz (shoulder), he is making good progress.
Clifford said, "You know, right now we don't have a timetable for when he'll be back, but he's really doing a great job." Fultz simply wasn't ready to suit up, and even though we haven't really had any concrete updates on him since his last game on November 18, we're still expecting him to be ready to start the season. Fultz will make for a late-round flier on the chance that he finally gets healthy and puts it all together.
Source: Sirius XM NBA Radio on Twitter
July 16, 2019, 1:06 pmBlake GriffinPF, Detroit Pistons
Blake Griffin (left knee) has been cleared to start light basketball activities after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in late April.
Griffin dealt with left knee soreness in the season's final games and missed the first two games of the playoffs. His issues were dealt with quickly after the season ended and he should be ready for the start of the season. Look for Griffin to come off draft boards in the early-middle rounds after he put up a career season last year, though there might not be much profit margin at that price. There's a definite 8-cat lean as well.
Source: Rod Beard on Twitter
July 16, 2019, 11:59 amNicolo MelliPF, New Orleans Pelicans
Pelicans forward Nicolo Melli underwent knee surgery and will not participate in Italy’s training camp at the end of July, ahead of the FIBA World Tournament.
This comes out of nowhere and the only relative information we have is that Melli will be re-evaluated on a week-to-week basis. The Italian big should be fine for the Pelicans training camp where he will compete for the backup power forward minutes as long as the surgery is not anything too serious.
July 16, 2019, 11:32 amBam AdebayoC, Miami Heat
Bam Adebayo is envisioning himself as a better all-around player, with averages of 16.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists this upcoming season.
Adebayo, who turns 22 on Thursday, averaged 8.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 23.3 minutes while playing in all 82 of the Heat’s games last season. With the Heat trading center Hassan Whiteside to the Blazers earlier this month, Adebayo is expected to be the clear-cut choice at starting center and a fantasy breakout candidate.
Source: Miami Herald
July 16, 2019, 10:49 amReggie BullockSG-SF, New York Knicks
Reggie Bullock has agreed to sign a two-year deal with the Knicks for less than the $4.7 million exception.
It was reported that Bullock intitally had an offer for two years and $20 million so this is a considerable drop on the monetary terms. The two parties had to rework their agreement after unanticipated health issues that almost made the deal fall through. This is also the end of the domino that had Marcus Morris back off his initial agreement with the Spurs and sign a deal with the Knicks instead. New York seems to be loaded in the forward positions and it’s anyone’s guess who earns the minutes to become fantasy relevant next year.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
July 16, 2019, 10:24 amDragan BenderPF, Phoenix Suns
As Dragan Bender continues to explore the NBA market, the Cavs and the Raptors are among the teams that have inquired about the former lottery pick.
The European market also remains an option for the Croatian forward as CSKA Moscow and Fenerbache are monitoring his situation. Bender is still only 21 years old and teams around the NBA could still take a chance on him after what has been a disappointing NBA career so far with averages of 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 131 career games.
July 16, 2019, 9:36 amRaul NetoPG, Philadelphia Sixers
Raul Neto could end up being Ben Simmons' backup to begin the 2019-20 season.
Right now, the two candidates to be the backup to starter Ben Simmons are Neto and former two-way player Shake Milton, a second-year combo guard who earned a lot of minutes at the point in the NBA Summer League. Neto started 53 of the 81 games in which he appeared as a rookie in 2015-16, but only started once over the past three seasons. He has averages of 4.8 points, 1.9 assists and 37.7 percent shooting from 3-point range in 14.2 minutes and it’s highly unlikely that he gains fantasy value even if he earns the backup job.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times