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Offseason Outlook: Minnesota Timberwolves

Guaranteed Contracts

Non-Guaranteed Contracts


  • None

Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (1st overall)
  • 2nd Round (31st overall)
  • 2nd Round (36th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $56,065,800
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $947,276
  • Options: $0
  • Cap Holds: $31,367,104
  • Total: $88,380,180

The Timberwolves lay claim to the longest playoff drought in the NBA, but with the luck they’ve seen over the last calendar year, it certainly looks like the tide is turning in Minnesota’s favor. It’s been nearly 10 months since the franchise officially sent Kevin Love to the Cavaliers in exchange for a package that included the reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, who flashed definite superstar potential during his first year in the NBA. With a roster chock full of young talent and the No. 1 selection in the upcoming draft, the Wolves have a chance to be one of the NBA’s best teams in just a few seasons; they’ll just need to manage their resources correctly, beginning with the moves they make this summer.


Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

For the first time in franchise history, the Wolves own the top pick in the draft. There’s always the chance that team president Flip Saunders swings a trade to move down in the order or makes an off-the-wall choice, but odds point to Adam Silver calling either Karl-Anthony Towns’ or Jahlil Okafor’s name as the first overall selection next week. Both of the big men have a chance to become cornerstone players for whatever team selects them, but Towns’ outside shooting and superior low-post defense seemingly make him a better fit alongside back-to-the-basket monster Nikola Pekovic, whom the Wolves inked to a five-year, $60MM deal just two summers back.

Pekovic has had trouble staying healthy since signing his big contract, and while Gorgui Dieng has shown he’s capable of contributing during his absence, Towns’ offensive versatility and defensive prowess could improve the club’s less-than-stellar floor spacing and nearly non-existent rim protection; two components crucial to today’s NBA. Plus, Towns could play alongside either, as his skillset means he could see plenty of time playing the four at the next level. Reports originally pegged Saunders to prefer Okafor, but the latest rumors suggest Towns might be the Wolves’ top choice. A frontcourt consisting of whichever big man they choose alongside Pekovic, Dieng, Adreian Payne, and Anthony Bennett is a solid young group with a chance to be exceptionally deep from top to bottom, especially with mentorship from future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett.

Garnett is entering free agency, but he’s reportedly expected to re-sign with the team for two more years. The Wolves have apparently wanted him to do so since the trade that brought him in from the Nets, and while it seemed in April that KG hadn’t made any definitive decision just yet, that looks like the direction he’s been leaning, and Saunders anticipates that he’ll be back. Just what sort of money Garnett will make isn’t so easy to predict. Minnesota has the Bird Rights necessary to pay him up to the max, but he’s no longer worth that sort of money, and even the $12MM he made this past season seems like a bit much. Perhaps Dirk Nowitzki‘s three-year, $25MM contract with the Mavericks, one that provides an average annual value of about $8.3MM, will serve as an example to follow for Garnett’s two-year arrangement. Nowitzki made tremendous financial sacrifice, but he’s a significantly more productive player than Garnett is at this point, and that was especially so last year when he signed. Such a deal would allow the Wolves plenty of room to use the full $5.434MM mid-level exception without having to worry about the projected $81.6MM tax line.

It would apparently take that mid-level amount to sign Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica, whose NBA rights the Timberwolves own. Bjelica and the Wolves seem to have mutual interest, but shelling out a long-term mid-level deal may well be too rich for Minnesota’s blood. A handful of teams have interest in trading for his rights, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities, and while another report casts doubt on any pursuit from one of those teams, the Wolves seem to have a chance to pick up another asset for the future in return for Bjelica, who’s already 27.

Attaching Bjelica to Chase Budinger in trade proposals would ostensibly make it easier for the Wolves to offload the six-year veteran small forward, whom the Wolves reportedly sought to trade early last season and again at the deadline. The Sixers apparently had interest just before the deadline, and given Philadelphia’s affinity for draft-and-stash talent like Bjelica, that could be an avenue for Minnesota to explore this summer. Budinger was somewhat more productive this past season than in 2013/14, so that would help Saunders find a new home for him, though the now 27-year-old did compile the sixth-most minutes on Minnesota’s injury-hit roster this past season.

Trade rumors swirled around Ricky Rubio this spring, with conflicting reports painting different pictures of whether he wants out and whether the Timberwolves would be pleased to accommodate such a wish. Rubio himself said he’d like to stay, and Saunders mentioned Rubio among the team’s building blocks, calling him a “great point guard,” so neither side is giving any public indication of trade interest. It’s unlikely that any player, aside from Wiggins, anyway, is truly off-limits on a team that just finished with the league’s worst record, but with a new four-year, $55MM extension kicking in for next season, Rubio probably isn’t going anywhere, at least until he can prove his health to potential suitors. It’s tough to envision any team wanting to take on a player signed to eight-figure salaries for that length of time who’s coming off a 22-game season and who’s played in only 65% of his team’s games over his career.

Indeed, the Timberwolves have the opportunity to enter next season with much of their roster intact. They’ll have the chance to tender inexpensive qualifying offers to Arinze Onuaku, Justin Hamilton, and Robbie Hummel, with the latter two seemingly the most likely candidates of the trio to return next season. Saunders has shown a fondness for both players, although he declined to make a qualifying to Hummel last year before eventually re-signing him. Given the team’s potential depth down low, it seems like Hamilton is a long shot to be back next year, while Hummel might be offered a one-year, minimum salary pact to stick around, though that’s just my speculation.

The Wolves can begin next season as the first team in NBA history with three consecutive No. 1 picks on their roster, so more optimism is present than usually surrounds a 16-win team. Still, Minnesota has a long way to go to become a contender, particularly in the brutal Western Conference. The Wolves should improve on their record from this past season with better health and continued development of their youthful core in 2015/16, but with limited cap flexibility, especially with Garnett poised to return, a palpable limit exists on just how much better the team can be next season. A Bucks-style leap from the league’s worst record into the playoffs the very next year doesn’t appear to be forthcoming for Minnesota.

Cap Footnotes

1 — Budinger’s salary for 2015/16 was originally in the form of a player option, but in April he formally opted in.
2 — The cap hold for Hamilton would be $947,276 if the Timberwolves elect not to tender a qualifying offer.
3 — The cap hold for Hummel would be $1,144,000 if the Timberwolves elect not to tender a qualifying offer.
4 — The cap hold for Onuaku would be $947,276 if the Timberwolves elect not to tender a qualifying offer.
5 — See our glossary entry on cap holds for an explanation of why players like Jeffers technically remain on the books.

Chuck Myron was a contributing writer to this story. The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post. 

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