2018 Offseason In Review: Minnesota Timberwolves

Hoops Rumors is breaking down the 2018 offseason for all 30 NBA teams, revisiting the summer’s free agent signings, trades, draft picks, departures, and more. We’ll evaluate each team’s moves from the last several months and look ahead to what the 2018/19 season holds for all 30 franchises. Today, we’re focusing on the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Signings:

  • Standard contracts:
    • Anthony Tolliver: One year, $5.75MM. Signed using mid-level exception.
    • James Nunnally: Two years, minimum salary. First year partially guaranteed ($350K). Second year non-guaranteed. Signed using minimum salary exception.
    • Luol Deng: One year, minimum salary. Signed using minimum salary exception.
    • Derrick Rose: One year, minimum salary. Re-signed using minimum salary exception.
  • Two-way contracts:
  • Non-guaranteed camp contracts:

Trades:

  • None

Draft picks:

  • 1-20: Josh Okogie — Signed to rookie contract.
  • 2-48: Keita Bates-Diop — Signed to three-year, minimum salary contract. First two years guaranteed. Signed using minimum salary exception.

Extensions:

  • Karl-Anthony Towns — Signed five-year, maximum salary rookie scale extension. Starts at 25% of the cap. Projected value of $158.05MM. Starts in 2019/20.
    • Note: Starting salary will be worth 30% of the cap if Towns earns All-NBA honors in 2018/19 (projected value of $189.66MM).

Departing players:

Other offseason news:

Salary cap situation:

  • Remained over the cap.
  • Carrying approximately $121.2MM in salary.
  • Hard-capped at $129.82MM.
  • Approximately $2.05MM of mid-level exception available ($6.59MM used on Anthony Tolliver and Keita Bates-Diop).

Check out the Minnesota Timberwolves’ full roster and depth chart at RosterResource.com.


Story of the summer:

Everything else that happened for the Timberwolves during the offseason was overshadowed on September 19 when Jimmy Butler issued a trade request to the front office. The move spawned a stream of chaos, some of it orchestrated and some of it legitimate, but the result was that Butler was in the lineup when Minnesota opened the season, regardless of his wishes.

Butler has expressed a desire to play for a contender and has clashed frequently with younger teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but ultimately the dispute is motivated by money. Butler wants a five-year max deal next summer that would pay him around $190MM. The Wolves have his Bird Rights and are the only team that can extend that offer as long as he stays; everyone else is limited to four years at roughly $140MM. Butler is hoping to be traded during the season to another organization willing to make that commitment.

The Heat and Rockets have been the strongest suitors for Butler since his trade request became public, and Miami reportedly had an agreement in place before the Wolves asked for additional assets. That incident, along with sky-high requests from other teams that pursued Butler, have led many to question whether Minnesota has ever been serious about making a deal. Trade talks have been called “mostly dormant” for now, but Butler has maintained his desire to leave and there’s a strong chance something will materialize before the February deadline.

The Butler soap opera dwarfed a piece of good news that may have a greater impact on the Wolves’ future. Towns agreed to an extension last month that could pay him up to $190MM over the next five seasons. He is already among the league’s best centers at age 22 and should provide a cornerstone for the franchise to build around once Butler is gone.

Key offseason losses:

Jamal Crawford was never happy with his playing time in Minnesota, but the former Sixth Man of the Year knew about coach Tom Thibodeau’s tight rotation before signing with the team. Crawford’s minutes per game dropped to 20.7 last season, the lowest since his rookie year, and his scoring average plunged to 10.3 PPG, his worst since 2001/02. After waiting for an offer all through the preseason, Crawford signed with the Suns this week and will presumably return to his usual level of production.

The Wolves withdrew their qualifying offer for Nemanja Bjelica to open up cap room for free agency. After averaging 6.8 PPG in 67 games, he has moved on to Sacramento. Veteran guard Aaron Brooks, who played 32 games, also didn’t return, along with a few others such as Cole Aldrich and Anthony Brown, but none of them were in Minnesota’s long-term plans.

Key offseason additions:

The Wolves kept their rotation more or less intact, but made lots of changes around the edges. One of those moves was the signing of free agent swingman Anthony Tolliver, who agreed to a one-year deal in July. Tolliver is 33, but just turned in one of the best seasons of his career with the Pistons. He averaged 8.9 PPG in 79 games and shot .436 from 3-point range, giving the Wolves an extra weapon from outside. Minnesota made him its top priority in free agency, with Thibodeau calling him twice.

The Wolves also brought in veteran forward Luol Deng after he accepted a buyout with the Lakers to escape his exile in L.A. Despite being fully healthy, Deng only got into one game last season, playing a few minutes in the season opener before being benched for the rest of the year. He joins Butler, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose as former Thibodeau-era Bulls who have made their way to Minnesota.

Outlook for 2018/19:

More blowups at practice? Posturing for the media? Fistfights in the locker room? Who really knows? The only safe bets are that Butler will continue to push for a trade and Thibodeau will try to keep him as long as possible to help the team win and give himself job security.

The trade deadline is February 7, so something will have to be resolved by then. Butler has made it clear that he plans to opt out next summer, and the Wolves don’t want to lose him without getting something in return. However, it’s not clear if the trade offers will get better or worse in the next three and a half months.

The most logical conclusion is that the Wolves eventually trade Butler somewhere, probably Miami, for a package of young players and draft picks, then start to build around those assets along with Towns and Wiggins. Whether Thibodeau or GM Scott Layden remain in the equation is an open question, as owner Glen Taylor hasn’t been happy with their lack of urgency in finding a Butler deal.

In the meantime, the Wolves will continue to be among the most entertaining teams in the NBA. Maybe not for the right reasons, but it’s hard to look away.

Salary information from Basketball Insiders was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Luke Adams contributed to this post.

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