Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees and more will be covered as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.
- Kevin Garnett: Two years, $16.5MM. Signed via Bird rights.
- Andre Miller: One year, $1.499MM. Signed via minimum salary exception.
- Tayshaun Prince: One year, $1.499MM. Signed via minimum salary exception.
- Acquired the draft rights to Tyus Jones (No. 24 overall pick) from the Cavaliers in exchange for the draft rights to Cedi Osman (31st overall pick), the draft rights to Rakeem Christmas (36th overall pick), and Minnesota’s 2019 second round pick.
- Acquired Damjan Rudez from the Pacers in exchange for Chase Budinger.
- Karl-Anthony Towns (Round 1, 1st overall). Signed via rookie exception to rookie scale contract.
- Tyus Jones (Round 1, 24th overall). Signed via rookie exception to rookie scale contract.
- Nemanja Bjelica (2010 Round 2, 35th overall). Signed for three years, $11.7MM via mid-level exception.
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
- Anthony Bennett (fourth year, $7,318,289) — waived (declined by default)
- Gorgui Dieng (fourth year, $2,348,783) — exercised.
- Zach LaVine (third year, $2,240,880) — exercised.
- Shabazz Muhammad (fourth year, $3,046,299) — exercised.
- Adreian Payne (third year, $2,022,240) — exercised.
- Andrew Wiggins (third year, $6,006,600) — exercised.
Following a decade of futility, the Timberwolves finally have real hope of becoming a perennial playoff contender in the near future. Via trade and the lottery, they have the top picks in the last two drafts and both have shown a world of talent. There are also some talented pieces around the duo of small forward Andrew Wiggins and power forward Karl-Anthony Towns. Tragically, the architect of the rebuilding project will not get to see his vision of the franchise’s rebirth come to fruition.
The Timberwolves, as well as the entire league, suffered a shocking blow when coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders died at the age of 60 on Oct. 25th due to complications from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Originally, Saunders and his doctors were highly optimistic he would beat the disease. When it announced his diagnosis in August, the team referred to his ailment as a “very treatable and curable form of cancer” and said that he could continue his dual role. Saunders took a leave of absence the following month and when owner Glen Taylor revealed late in training camp that Saunders would not return this season, it was clear that the situation was dire.
Former Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, one of Saunders’ ex-players, replaced him on the bench while GM Milt Newton added the duties of running the team’s basketball operations. Mitchell’s future as the team’s coach beyond this season is unresolved but as Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently pointed out, his lineup decisions in the early going suggest that he’s focused on the franchise’s long-term success.
It certainly helps to have a large building block, literally, to solidify that foundation. Their options, once they won the lottery, boiled down to two big men — Towns and Jahlil Okafor. In the weeks leading up to the draft, Saunders became enamored with Towns and there was no drama on draft night concerning their selection. Saunders fell in love with Towns’ versatility, noting that he could not only score in the low post but also hit shots from the perimeter. Saunders was also impressed with Towns’ ball handling and shot blocking.
The early-season results have fortified the notion that the Timberwolves made the right choice, even though Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis have also made strong impressions. He recorded eight double-doubles in the team’s first 13 games while averaging 2.4 blocks.
Minnesota added another first-rounder when it traded three second-rounders to the Cavaliers for the 24th overall pick. The Timberwolves made the trade for the rights to Duke point guard Tyus Jones, who had the floor vision and leadership to develop into a quality NBA point guard, as Eddie Scarito of Hoops Rumors noted in his Prospect Profile. Thus far, Jones hasn’t gotten much of an opportunity to show those skills as he’s buried behind starter Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine and Andre Miller. But he adds depth to that position and may gain a more prominent role if the team decides to trade Rubio down the road.
That was the only trade the Timberwolves made during the offseason, other than a minor swap with the Pacers of two small forwards. They acquired Euro veteran Damjan Rudez for Chase Budinger, a move that cleared some salary cap space. Rudez is making $1.15MM this season while Budinger exercised a $5MM option on his contract, but the teams were able to swing the deal because of prior trade exceptions that they exercised.
A move of greater consequence came in July when Minnesota agreed to a three-year deal with one of Europe’s top big men, Nemanja Bjelica. Minnesota had held the power forward’s draft rights for five years and the reigning Euroleague MVP decided it was time to give the NBA a try. He negotiated a buyout agreement with his Turkish team with some monetary assistance from the Timberwolves. Bjelica earned a rotation spot during training camp, though he has been slowed recently by a knee injury.
The other notable moves the club made involved the signings of longtime veterans to help nurture the young talent on the roster, as well as divorcing themselves from young power forward Anthony Bennett. The frontcourt upgrades that the Timberwolves made removed any meaningful role for Bennett, whom the team acquired in the 2014 blockbuster with the Cavs that delivered Wiggins while shipping disgruntled Kevin Love out of town. A buyout agreement allowed Bennett to join the Raptors once he cleared waivers.
There was little debate that Kevin Garnett would re-sign with the club that originally drafted him and end his storied career in Minnesota. Garnett inked a two-year contract and has not only contributed on the court but has also served as an ideal mentor for Towns. Towns recently told NBA.com’s David Aldridge that he learns something new every day from Garnett.
Another old Saunders favorite, Tayshaun Prince, signed a one-year contract. Prince was Saunders’ starting small forward during his three years as head coach of the Pistons. Prince has played regularly in the early going, though his stats have been modest. But his impact also goes beyond the court, as he serves as a role model for the team’s wing players, particularly Wiggins.
Miller has similar responsibilities as a backup point guard, though he still has enough left in the tank to play effectively when oft-injured Rubio is sidelined. He can offer sage advice to LaVine and Jones and assist in their development.
The Timberwolves were not interested in making a lot of big moves this offseason. They were mainly concerned with molding their young core into a winning unit, with the aid of trusted veterans that could impart their knowledge to the likes of Towns and Wiggins. The future certainly looks bright, even though it’s likely Minnesota is headed for its 11th consecutive losing season. Sadly, the man responsible for the rebuilding project won’t be around to see the improvement, but his impact will be felt for many years to come.
Eddie Scarito contributed to this post. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of it.