Offseason Outlook: Minnesota Timberwolves

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise heading into the summer.

State Of The Franchise

 Jesse Johnson / USA Today Sports Images

Jesse Johnson / USA Today Sports Images

At the start of last season, the Timberwolves were in a state of mourning. The sudden death of ex-coach and team executive Flip Saunders cast a pall over the franchise and it was difficult for everyone in the organization to overcome their grief.

As the season moved along, it was clear that Saunders’ blueprint for turning the franchise around was working. His decision to select Karl-Anthony Towns ahead of D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor with the No. 1 overall pick in last June’s draft accelerated the process toward making the Timberwolves a playoff contender again. Towns quickly established himself as a franchise player, averaging 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds to earn the Rookie of the Year award.

Several other young players — Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng — showed significant development even though Minnesota finished with a 29-53 record.

Owner Glen Taylor decided to shake up the front office and find a high-profile coach to nurture the talented core into reaching its full potential. Interim coach Sam Mitchell was replaced by ex-Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was also given the title of president of basketball operations. Former Spurs assistant GM and longtime Jazz executive Scott Layden was hired as Minnesota’s new GM.

Blockbuster Trade Brewing?

Thibodeau seems intent on getting an established, All-Star-caliber player to pair up with Towns. That was made clear when a report surfaced that the Timberwolves were willing to deal the No. 5 pick as part of a package to acquire Bulls star shooting guard Jimmy Butler.

It’s uncertain whether Chicago would consider moving Butler and go into full rebuild mode. Certainly, the Timberwolves would have to sweeten the pot by giving up one or more of their young assets.

Towns is obviously an untouchable but it’s not out of the question that the Timberwolves would consider moving Wiggins if Thibodeau doesn’t view him as the No. 2 scoring option on a contending team. Wiggins averaged 20.7 points in his second season but he’s not a three-point threat and his defensive box rating of minus 2.5 last season needs to improve dramatically for a defense-oriented coach like Thibodeau.

The club would almost certainly rather part with LaVine and other assets, but that might not be enough to acquire an All-Star entering his prime.

Free Agent Targets

It’s no surprise that unrestricted free agent Joakim Noah has been linked to his former coach.

Noah was unhappy with his playing time last season under first-year Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg before a shoulder injury short-circuited his season. A mobile shot-blocker like Noah would seem to be an ideal fit for a club that finished 28th in defensive field-goal percentage. Though Kevin Garnett is still on the roster, Noah would give the club another veteran leader who would play significant minutes.

The Timberwolves will have anywhere from $26-$29MM to sign other free agents with an eye toward versatile defenders and three-point shooters. The Wolves were 25th in three-point percentage last season and the addition of floor spacers will make Towns an even tougher cover in the post.

Potential Trades

Even if the plan to acquire Butler falls through, the Timberwolves figure to be active in the trade market as Thibodeau tries to reshape his roster.

A couple of Minnesota’s rotation players could be on the move. Point guard Ricky Rubio, who has three years and $42.MM remaining on his contract, would be expendable if Thibodeau isn’t sold on him as his long-term floor leader. LaVine could step into that role, or the Timberwolves could draft a point guard if they keep their pick.

Meanwhile, center Nikola Pekovic‘s career has been sidetracked by injuries and he only appeared in 12 games last season while recovering from Achilles tendon surgery. Pekovic has two years and $23.7MM remaining on his deal, but he’s a proven low-post scorer for a team lacking inside punch.

Another big man, Nemanja Bjelica, was a disappointment in his first season with the club, but was highly sought after during last summer before he signed with the Timberwolves. His remaining contract — two years, $7.75MM — makes him a movable piece.

Draft Outlook

  • First-round pick: No. 5

The Timberwolves could go in a lot of different directions if they don’t deal their pick.

They could opt for a wing shooter like Buddy Hield to improve their perimeter game. They could secure one of the top point guards, either Kris Dunn or Jamal Murray, if they’re intent on dealing Rubio. Or they could hone in on a big man such as Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender to pair up with Towns.

Other Decisions

Muhammad and Dieng are eligible for rookie-scale extensions before next season and it will interesting to see how much the new regime values that duo.

While Muhammad provides instant offense off the bench, he’s a subpar three-point shooter. Dieng is a solid defender — he sports a 2.4 defensive box rating in each of the past two seasons — and Thibodeau can’t get enough of those kinds of players.

Coaching Outlook

In stark contrast to the uncertainty surrounding Mitchell’s future last season, the Timberwolves now have an established playoff coach on a long-term contract. Thibodeau signed a five-year, $40MM deal and his front-office title makes him the unquestioned leader of the franchise.

The addition of Layden echoes what the Pistons did when hiring Stan Van Gundy with the same titles as Thibodeau. Detroit added a proven front-office executive in Jeff Bower to negotiate trades and handle most of the day-to-day front office operations. Thibodeau will work in concert with Layden, but the former Bulls coach will have the final say.

Final Take

The Timberwolves look a lot like the Thunder several years ago. They have star talents in Towns and Wiggins, a la Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, to build around. With Thibodeau in charge, they’re ready to take the next step. If they can pull off a blockbuster and pry an proven, top-tier talent away from a team looking to shake up its roster, the Wolves could find themselves in the playoffs next season.

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents (Qualifying Offers/Cap Holds)

  • None

Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)

Other Cap Holds

Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000

The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.


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7 thoughts on “Offseason Outlook: Minnesota Timberwolves

  1. smittybanton

    I won’t be totally surprised if the Sixers move Okafor to the Suns for #4 and Dario Saric to the Wolves for #5.

    • The Suns don’t need a Center with Alex Len and Tyson Chandler on their roster. And I don’t imagine the Wolves trading the #5 for Saric unless they get a guarantee that he would come over this year (since he could wait another year and come over next year and he wouldn’t be restricted to rookie scale contracts).

      • Ritza Bitza

        The suns need post help in a bad way. Tyson Chandler has been a disaster and Alex len is serviceable at the moment but definitely not the long term answer.

        • They need a stretch four not a big to score. Chandler was brought aboard to provide some defense, leadership and some rebounding. Any team acquiring Okafor has to understand that they guy will most likely never been a rim protector. While his offensive game has the potential to be really good, I don’t think its worth not having an interior defensive presence. As such, they’re better off acquiring a 4 who can handle some of the scoring load and a 5 who can defend and clean up around the rim.

  2. rondo

    The Wolves would be real fools to give up their 5th pick. Sometimes it better to keep your hand!

  3. Nacho Johnson

    The wolves should not be overly concerned with this off-season. They got a top 5 pick (if not traded), an excellent young core, a new coach, and now a new philosophy on defense. I think Thibs should give it a year to see what he has under his guidance. Yeah, obviously do what you can for free agency, but keep Flip’s core to see how they respond.

  4. Wolves2016

    You know how I know you haven’t seen any Wolves games from last season? You think LaVine could be their starting point guard. All it would take would be to watch one game of him when he was playing backup point guard, and one game when he was playing shooting guard and you can see a dramatic difference. Stop acting like an expert on teams you never actually see play.


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