Making sense of the Wolves’ new direction

The Wolves have repositioned themselves from a team on the rise to a team that has risen. The dramatic draft night trade for Jimmy Butler to moving Ricky Rubio and adding Teague and Taj Gibson are all indications that the Wolves are making a serious run for the playoffs. Tom Thibodeau has made it clear that in order for the Wolves to win, they need tough-minded, defensive veterans around the young nucleus of Towns and Wiggins.

For many, the replacement of Ricky Rubio with Jeff Teague has been hard to swallow. Rubio was the longest tenured player on the roster and had shown significant improvements in the second half of the season. It was clear though, both sides of the relationship were not thrilled to be together. Rubio wanted to be more involved in the organization and wanted to be appreciated while the organization clearly had issues with Rubio’s inability to shoot or finish at the rim. The move will likely be best for both sides.
The Wolves got what might be the best return for Rubio that they might have been able to get in the last two years, a first-round pick and cap space. As an opportunist, you have to know when to sell high. The only way that Rubio could be more coveted is if he developed a jump shot, which will likely not happen. He has removed his ‘injury’ tag and showed signs of being able to score and create last year. Since Rubio is not a player that relies on his speed or athleticism, he could stretch out his career if healthy. The only issue is the Wolves needed shooting. And badly.
While Teague isn’t known as a lights out shooter, he is certainly not the liability that Rubio was. Teague has been able to shoot over 35% over the last two years and is just a couple years removed from being an All-Star. He has a good amount of playoff experience and most importantly, can finish around the rim. This combination of shooting and driving ability is going to make the biggest difference for the Wolves. First, teams will have a nightmare defending the pick-and-roll with Teague and (Insert Butler, Wiggins, or Towns here). Second, Teague will be able to help the Wolves when they need scoring outside of their big 3, something the Wolves could not rely on with Rubio. Outside of LaVine, Wiggins, and Towns last year, the Wolves struggled to find a fourth scorer.
The secondary benefits of adding Teague is that he will not need the ball to be effective, another flaw of having Rubio on the current roster. Teague can spot up for 3 if needed and demand some respect from opposing defenses. Also, Teague has played with other dominate point guards in the past which lets him play off the ball in situations, which will be helpful if Thibs is looking to let Butler or Wiggins handle the ball more often.
On the defensive end, Teague is still pesky. He had a better defensive win share than Rubio last season. While he doesn’t have the length of Rubio, he will still be able to guard other teams’ best guard if needed. Luckily for the Wolves, they will be able to throw Teague, Butler, or Wiggins at a team’s best perimeter player on a nightly basis. I will say, this is where the Wolves will miss Kris Dunn. Dunn would have been a great compliment to Teague. Yes, I still am a Dunn-believer.
We can now look at what adding Taj Gibson means. He could mean a lot of things really. He could mean a move of Towns to the center position and Dieng being the 6th man with Bjelica coming in for support. He could also come off of the bench if Dieng remains in the starting lineup. Regardless the role he plays in the lineup, he brings much needed toughness and defense. The Wolves should finally have someone to set the tone in terms of physicality. We watched way too many Wolves get beat around the paint for rebounds and uncontested shots.
The Wolves also have allowed Shabazz Muhammad to become an unrestricted free agent at this point. This doesn’t mean he is gone, but it basically does mean he is gone with the Wolves lack of cap space and shooting still. Shabazz is also one of my favorite Wolves but I also don’t think it will be as sad to see him leave for the average Wolves fan as it was to see LaVine and Rubio go.
The Wolves are currently looking to create cap space to sign more players for some bench depth. They are looking to move Cole Aldrich and the pick they received in the Rubio trade. This would indicate they are still trying to solve their shooting problem. I hope. I also can’t imagine they are ready to let Tyus Jones be the full-time backup point guard. But a good amount of the options that the Wolves had are now off the board. So it will be interesting to see what direction they go. My hope is signing CJ Miles or Patrick Patterson to fill out the bench and then signing a backup point guard like Ty Lawson.
It will be important to pay attention to the Wolves Summer League team. Deandre Burton and VJ Beachum could have legitimate chances of making the Wolves roster if they are in need of bodies. The Wolves are also light on the wings outside of Butler and Wiggins. Fully expecting Thibodeau to give them a majority of the minutes in the game, in case of garbage time or an emergency, a summer league player could help out. The Wolves have a ton of roster spots available and not a ton of cap room, so it would make sense at least two guys get two-way contracts for the Wolves.
Expecting more moves certainly, it is clear the identity Thibodeau is developing here in Minnesota. He wants a defensive-minded team that has a veteran toughness. Not much different than the Bulls teams he has coached in the past. Thibodeau does not seem to value shooting as much as the rest of the league, which is concerning.
The team seems to be filled out in two-phases. The first phase is the immediate phase, which is the next two years. It is likely aimed at keeping the core of the team intact as Wiggins, Butler, and Towns will all be able to sign extensions in the next two years. This immediate phase is also designed to win now, not necessarily a championship, but to get to the playoffs. This playoff experience is crucial for Towns and Wiggins mainly. With the help of the veterans, Thibs is hoping to redefine the playoff-less culture in Minnesota and get the monkey off their backs.
The second phase will be around truly competing and it is all dependent on the development of Wiggins and Towns, most importantly on the defensive end of the floor. The next two years will be about getting them experience, chemistry, and understanding so that when the majority of the Wolves’ contracts expire over the course of the next three years, they can rebuild around Wiggins and Towns, who could be in the prime of their careers and better all-around players.
It remains to be seen what role Jimmy Butler plays in all of this. Its just too early. His contract expires in two years and a lot can change from now until then. The rest of the players on the Wolves roster, which maybe the exception of Justin Patton, should change three years from now. Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson should not be relevant once their contracts expire. But the goal should be to instill the basketball values that all three of the new veterans have in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
So while most fans will be excited to see the new additions in Wolves uniforms, I will be watching the development of Towns and Wiggins very closely. The success of this team truly rides on their shoulders.
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Timberwolves Free Agent Targets

July 1st marks the first day of free agency. Tom Thibodeau will continue to make his mark on the franchise by filling in needs that the current roster has. The Timberwolves have high hopes of making the playoffs next season and in order to do that, they need to add a couple pieces to the young roster.

The Wolves have to figure out a lot with their current roster still. The Ricky Rubio trade rumors are stronger than ever and there is still uncertainty with what is going to happen with Kevin Garnett. The Wolves also have Payne and Pekovic who are taking up two front court roster spots that could be used for players who may be more serviceable. The Timberwolves are also unlikely to resign Tayshaun Prince and Greg Smith. The Timbewolves also won’t bring back Damjan Rudez, who had a team option. Barring any significant trades though, free agency will look to address a couple of needs, in which we feel have importance in this order:

  1. A stretch power forward
  2. Three-point shooting
  3. Bench Scoring
  4. Front Court Depth
  5. Perimeter defense

The Timberwolves have $25M-$29M in cap space with the growing cap, which gives the Wolves a good amount of space to work with. Most of the league will have a similar amount of space since the Cap increased, but it puts the Wolves in a position to attract a couple decent free agents. The ideal free agents will be guys who can fill multiple of the five needs above. It also makes sense that the Wolves target guys who fit into the career trajectory of the current roster. Players should either be younger if they are signing a long term deal or on the wrong side of 30 who can give the Wolves an immediate, short-term, veteran boost. Using that framework to determine who the Wolves may be interested in, we will list the players in which we feel the Wolves would gain the most benefit of signing. Starting from the bottom…

James Ennis

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This is a personal preference guy for me. Ennis has found his way around the league early in his career from the Heat to the Grizzlies and finally with the Pelicans where he got a lot of minutes. If there is a guy to fill out the roster, taking a chance on Ennis would be interesting. He has a decent 3-point shot and incredibly athletic. If put in the right position at 25 years old, he may be able to flourish.

Jamal Crawford

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An unpopular pick by most, but I think Jamal Crawford could add something the Wolves desperately need, bench scoring. Crawford is a three-time 6th man of the year so he has mastered the craft of coming off the bench and making an impact. He isn’t the most efficient of scorers but in games where other guys are not able to put points on the board, Crawford will not be shy to put shots up. What Crawford also does is provide the veteran leadership that could help the Wolves if they make a playoff push. It also is helpful that he is one of Zach LaVine’s biggest mentors and a guy Thibs has had on his radar for a long time.

Marreese Speights

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Another fence swing before we get into more viable options. Speights is going to be 30 by the time he enters next season and might not make sense for him to leave a dynasty like the Warriors for the team that hasn’t made the playoffs in the longest time. But Speights could provide veteran leadership, scoring off the bench, and could be a stretch four in some situations. Speights has a three-point shot that he is likely trying to showcase somewhere since he wasn’t getting much playing time in Golden State. Not sure if both parties are on each others’ radars, but could be a decent fit.

Courtney Lee

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Courtney Lee has be a solid performer anywhere he has played. While the Wolves might not have an ideal role carved out for him, he could secure a deal long-term at what is an inconvenient age of 30. What he could do is embrace a role similar to Andre Igoudala when he went to the Warriors in which he becomes the veteran leadership off the bench. His three-point shot is good and can absolutely score. Also, he has been a good defender and could compliment Zach LaVine when the Wolves play stronger two-guards.

Solomon Hill

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The ideal 3-and-D guy who just needs to improve his shot a little. Hill played big when Paul George was injured and could be a spot starter in various situations, especially when injuries happen. He is still young (25) and can grow as a role player with the Wolves. He has the ability to stretch and play the four position mainly because of his toughness and rebounding ability at his size. He is due for a decent contract outside of Indiana since his skill set is valued around the league. A fun fact about him, he was Derrick Williams’ teammate in college.

Moe Harkless

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Harkless may be my favorite free agent this summer. Harkless is 23 years old only and hasn’t really been given the opportunity to showcase his talent yet. Although he is a restricted free agent, it may be difficult for Portland to match an offer if they plan to retain Allen Crabbe and sign another free agent this summer. Harkless is the prototype stretch-4 who can guard both small and power forwards. Harkless also has the ability to hit the three (shot 38% in his second season). Moe seems like the definition of a late bloomer and could fit well as the starting power forward in a year or two. If the Wolves can find a way to sign him to a reasonable long-term contract, they may have found a steal in free agency here.

Mirza Teletovic

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Teletovic can come and join the Wolves being someone who made him impact on Karl-Anthony Towns by draining a game-winner in his face. Teletovic is older and doesn’t have a ton of experience in the league but is one of the best shooters around. He is an absolute competitor and could solve the Wolves issues with spacing and three-point shooting for fairly cheap. He could be a short-term fix at power forward and just enough to help the Wolves make a playoff push.

Marvin Williams

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Williams has been around and had a breakout season conveniently as his contract was expiring. Another stretch-4 who can shoot and guard both forward positions. He is a bit older than what the Wolves would want so it would be ideal to give him a two-year deal. The Wolves may lose him to competition nonetheless if they don’t want to give him a three or four year deal.

Luol Deng

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The most ideal free agent available. Luol Deng played his best basketball under Tom Thibodeau and now is a small-ball 4 that is versatile enough to come off the bench or start for the Wolves. If there is any free agent the Wolves have a realistic shot at landing that can truly turn the Wolves into a playoff team, it is Deng. He is still good defensively and can shoot. He wouldn’t have a problem being the 4th of 5th option on the floor either. Seems like he makes the most sense.


There are many other options that the Wolves could pursue but these guys make the most sense. Best case scenario is that the Wolves are able to land two of these guys. My preference of signings would be Moe Harkless and Solomon Hill to reasonable deals.

There are chances the Wolves talk to Joakim Noah and Al Horford but there is little sense in them coming here unless they don’t want the best contract that could be offered to them. Both players can make more for longer elsewhere and play in roles that probably fit their careers better.

I also hope the Wolves stay far away from Kent Bazemore. He is 27 and underwhelming in terms of what he can do, in my opinion. There are younger, cheaper options the Wolves could pursue that minimize the risk associated with using cap space on these guys. Bazemore will likely get a hefty deal somewhere, my hope is that it is not here.

If the Timberwolves are looking to make a reunion happen, the members of the All-Minnesota NBA team happen to all be free agents this summer. If you are not familiar with this team, it is essentially players who are in the NBA that are from Minnesota. Players included on this team are Kris Humphries, Jon Leuer, Alan Anderson, and Cole Aldrich. Although he has been out of the NBA for a year or so, Nate Wolters runs the point guard of that team, who also could sign with a team. All of the guys could potentially fit with the Wolves, although I don’t see Thibodeau being inclined to sign any of them.

The madness starts on Friday. Do you agree with this list? Anyone that we missed? Let us know!

A Long Term View of the Wolves to Clear up the Short Term

When I disagree with the majority of Wolves fans on a subject, it typically inspires me to write. The stance on the Al Horford is one of those instances. While I love Horford as a player and  a mentor for his Dominican brother Karl-Anthony Towns, I generally don’t see him as a great fit for a couple reasons that aren’t necessarily related to his style of play. Horford is a great player and would definitely serve as a great mentor for the young pups. He is an anchor defensively and can stretch the defense with his shooting ability. He also managed to win a national championship in college dealing with Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer on the team. That is truly impressive.

The reason for being against Horford is long-winded. It took me down a path of the long-term outlook of the team. The team is young and could go in a multitude of directions over the next five years. But its important to look at the roster’s cap space and how it aligns with what the team is attempting to accomplish in that given season. What the team may be thinking about as a top priorities in a given season. Its very idealistic.

To do this, I have to assume a consistent career trajectory for the young players. I have to assume career-changing injuries don’t happen. I have to assume extremely significant moves aren’t made on a year-to-year basis. The outlook is focused on how the current players and assets play into the future. So it’s hard to do. But we will take a stab at it given what we know. First, here are the players’ salaries drawn out through 2019-2020. That is only four seasons from now. (via HoopsHype.com)

PLAYER NAME 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21
Ricky Rubio $12,700,000 $13,400,000 $14,100,000 $14,800,000 $0 $0
Nikola Pekovic $12,100,000 $12,100,000 $11,600,000 $0 $0 $0
Kevin Garnett $8,500,000 $8,000,000 $0 $0 $0 $0
Kevin Martin $7,085,000 $3,336,000 $0 $0 $0 $0
Andrew Wiggins $5,758,680 $6,006,600 $7,574,322 $9,846,619 $0 $0
Karl-Anthony Towns $5,703,600 $5,960,160 $6,216,840 $7,839,435 $10,191,265 $0
Nemanja Bjelica $3,950,000 $3,800,000 $3,950,000 $0 $0 $0
Anthony Bennett $3,650,000 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Zach LaVine $2,148,360 $2,240,880 $3,202,217 $4,428,666 $0 $0
Shabazz Muhammad $2,056,920 $3,046,299 $4,237,401 $0 $0 $0
Adreian Payne $1,938,840 $2,022,240 $3,100,093 $4,333,931 $0 $0
Tayshaun Prince $1,499,187 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Gorgui Dieng $1,474,440 $2,348,782 $3,384,596 $0 $0 $0
Tyus Jones $1,282,080 $1,339,680 $1,397,400 $2,444,052 $3,573,204 $0
Damjan Rudez $1,149,500 $1,199,000 $0 $0 $0 $0
Andre Miller $1,093,525 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Greg Smith $197,111 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
TOTALS $72,287,243 $63,600,641 $29,650,000 $14,800,000 $0 $0
We will look at seasons in the view of what the team is trying to accomplish as of the off-season. A few things to note. This is a rough outlook. I am not taking exact figures to project anything, just a broad forecast. There will be a lot of generalizations about dollar figures that may not be completely accurate. I am also not a salary cap expert. Just throwing paint and seeing where it sticks. So here we go..

2016-17 Season

Goal: Make the Playoffs

Priorities: Development of Players.

There is no doubt that for the next season the Wolves will want to make the playoffs. The team is young but with a coach like Thibs, its possible to make it happen. The playoff experience in this season would be extremely valuable for the young guys down the road. They will get to taste what it’s like. They will get to build on it for the future. So Thibs and Scott Layden have to be thinking that adding a couple veterans to the team could help boost the Wolves into the 8th spot. Using Flip’s model of mentoring, getting guys that can contribute and teach will be a top priority in Free Agency.

Thibodeau has said the Wolves will acquire players that align with the trajectory of the current roster. So this leads me to believe that whatever player that is signed/ traded for either is young enough to grow with the Wolves or old enough to contribute for two seasons max and fall off the books before the slew of contract extensions begin. This is precisely why I don’t believe Al Horford is the guy for the job. Horford is 29 and has a history of injuries that have plagued his career. With the cap increasing, Horford will seek Max dollars for a long time. With Horford in his prime now, he will regress as his salary increases. I wouldn’t be opposed to offering a Max contract to Horford if he were willing to take one for two, maybe even three years. But if I am Horford, I can get a four-year max offer or better in many places due to the Salary Cap increase.

Speaking on the Salary Cap increase quickly. The entire league more or less has cap space. The Wolves will have a maximum of $28M available this summer. That is going to lead to many players getting overpaid. The value of money is less when everyone has it, right? Save the cap space for someone worth it. KD would definitely be worth it. Other than that though, stick to the plan and focus on making the playoffs.

So who fits into helping the Wolves making the playoffs without burning a hole in our pockets? If I am the Wolves, I am looking at Luol Deng and Jamal Crawford. Deng has been impressive playing the stretch four and has a history with Thibs. His defense is great and a very good 3-point shooter. Outside of Crawford being LaVine’s mentor with their connection to Seattle, Thibs has historically been a fan of Jamal Crawford. Crawford could help the Wolves scoring off the bench and step into the 1 or 2 as needed. A combination of these two guys fill some gaps for the Wolves. They also compliment the team if they decide to trade the 5th pick and Shabazz, as I suggest in my piece for last week.
What to do with Shabazz Muhammad is going to be something figured out over the course of the coming summer and/ or the 16-17 season. Where does he fit on the bench and in his role. Can he defend to be a net-positive player? Can the Wolves maximize his trade value? To me, he seems most valuable packaged alongside a draft pick if being traded. But I also think his ability to score off the bench will be necessary going forward, at least in the short-run.
2017-18 Season
Goal: Make the Playoffs, maybe advance
Priorities: Compete, Development, Retain Dieng
Summer after year 1 with Thibodeau. Fans expectations will likely become a little more realistic. We will also have a better idea of what this team is actually capable of. It will likely be the end of KG’s career, which financially means $8M will open up in cap space. If the Wolves follow the formula of getting cheap, formidable veterans in 16-17, they could potentially make a big splash in free agency this summer to make a push in 17-18. Things to note: LaVine and Wiggins will be 22 prior to the season and Towns will be 21.
A big decision will be what happens with Gorgui Dieng. How does he fit as a piece of the puzzle. Dieng will be 27 prior to the season and will likely look for a contract extension during the 16-17 season or will enter restricted free agency. Seeing a decent amount of cap space in the summer before 17-18, the Wolves could offer a contract similar to what Ricky Rubio received. Dieng will likely be a starter or at least an important part of the Wolves’ rotation. I can see him getting overpaid here, but offers enough to almost deserve it. The question will be, will he get a max contract? Again, this depends on many outcomes of the 16-17 season. But from a Wolves perspective, that may be a trap. The Wolves will need to extend LaVine, Wiggins and Towns who are 5-6 years younger.
The Wolves will likely have some trade bait. Depending on the league cap space environment and what happens between now and then, Nikola Pekovic will be on the final year of his contract for the 17-18 season. If there is a team looking for cap space then and the Wolves can benefit from taking on a contract of equal value to help them in the playoffs, it may be worth considering.

2018-19 Season
Goal: Compete for Western Conference Title
Priorities: Retain Talent
If we do the math, LaVine/ Wiggins will be 23 and Towns 22. This seems so far away but yet these guys stay so young. If you are still reading this from the top, you are awesome and this is why the Horford signing would be problematic. The Wolves will have a lot of extensions to start thinking about prior to the 18-19 summer. Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine would potentially be restricted free agents this summer if not already extended. Chances are Andrew Wiggins would receive a max contract and Zach LaVine close to that. Cap Space will be of essence to retain these guys. The only guys under contract as of now would be Towns, Tyus Jones and Ricky Rubio.
Rubio will be moving into the final year of his contract. He will be 27 going into the 18-19 season. It will be known at this point whether he is a part of the future of the franchise. Health and shooting will be big factors to deciding that by this point. If he proves he is a significant contributor to the success of this team, he will likely look for near max money. Ideally, whoever is signed in the summer of 2016 will be expired by now. Dieng could be taking in a significant amount of money and if the Wolves did replace Pekovic’s salary, there may not be enough pie to go around with LaVine and Wiggins.
Here is where the VERY rough estimates start getting thrown around: Wiggins at $20M, LaVine at $20M, Dieng at $17M, Towns at $8M, and two others accounting for, lets say, $10M (one being Tyus at $3M). That is $75M for 6 players alone. The league will likely have a salary cap of over $108M since the cap is projected to be around that for the 17-18 season once the new CBA is agreed upon.
Long story short, that leaves no less than $33M for the remaining 9 players on the Wolves roster, knowing the team will likely need to extend Towns to a max contract the next summer. This means, for Rubio to remain with the Wolves after this season, he will not be able to get a max contract. So this will be an interesting headline if and when we get to it.

2019-20 Season
Goal: Championship
Priorities: Retain Towns, development
I won’t go into too much depth here but before this summer will be finding a way to keep Towns long-term. The Wolves core will be entering their very early prime years. This is no excuse to not compete nonetheless. The Wolves have to believe that prior to the 19-20 season, if all things go right, they should be competing for a championship.
Chances are the Wolves have a ton of players we can’t predict will be on the roster at this point. So the development of role players, preferably younger, will be important since the Wolves will have money tied up.

Conclusion: If all goes well, the Wolves will not have all the flexibility in the world if they look to hold on to Wiggins, LaVine, Towns, and Dieng. But if they all develop, it may make sense to keep that team together. What we do see is that free agency decisions we make this summer, do impact what the Wolves do in what should be a pivotal summer prior to the 18-19 season when the Wolves should be competing. Ideally whoever the Wolves target this summer are short term boosts that don’t have long-term salary implications.