- Wolves center Noah Vonleh has been relegated to the bench a lot lately, tallying eight healthy scratches in the last 10 games heading into tonight’s contest against the Jazz (he has yet to play tonight, too). Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune details Vonleh’s plight. The forward signed a one-year, $2MM contract with Minnesota expecting an opportunity to play, but thus far has seen sparse playing time.
While D’Angelo Russell ultimately landed with the Warriors in free agency as part of a complicated sign-and-trade deal involving Kevin Durant, reports at the time indicated that the Timberwolves made the All-Star point guard their top offseason priority. Anthony Slater of The Athletic confirms as much in an in-depth piece on Russell, citing sources who say Minnesota’s initial offer to Russell was worth about $107MM over four years.
The Wolves and Warriors were two of three serious bidders in the mix for Russell, according to Slater. The Lakers were also in play and would potentially have been willing to make an offer in the $100MM range, but were in a holding pattern as they pursued Kawhi Leonard.
Minnesota “desperately wanted” to pair Russell with Karl-Anthony Towns and had spent much of June planning their recruiting pitch for the 23-year-old, Slater writes. However, when the Warriors put a maximum-salary ($117MM) offer on the table for D-Lo near the start of free agency, it didn’t take him long to choose Golden State.
As Slater details, word of Russell’s tentative agreement with the Dubs broke when D-Lo was being transported back via helicopter from his meeting with the Wolves. “The mood in the cabin changed” when that news came out, Slater writes.
“An awkward goodbye on the tarmac,” a source told The Athletic.
In addition to the fact that the Warriors’ offer was more lucrative financially, Russell was intrigued by the idea of teaming up with two potential Hall-of-Famers like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Speaking to Slater, Russell said he was excited about the idea of getting to “take a year and just learn from all these guys” — he caught himself when he realized he was talking as if expecting a trade.
“Well, we signed a four-year deal,” Russell said. “Hopefully, four years.”
According to Slater, Russell would like to remain with the Warriors for the entirety of his contract, but recognizes the team faces certain roster and cap constraints and knows nothing is guaranteed.
“Yeah, you know, that’s what sucks more than anything,” Russell said of not being able to settle in for the long-term. “Like, it sucks more than anything. That’s kind of what I’m doing now though. I’m kind of just putting two feet into the house that I’m in now.
“… I can’t control if (Warriors president of basketball operations) Bob Myers is like, yo, let’s go get such and such for this and make this pick,” D-Lo added. “That’s his job. I can’t control it or say anything about it, especially if I’m a part of it. So I don’t waste energy worrying about it.”
Nuggets head coach Mike Malone said he considers expanding Michael Porter Jr.‘s role “everyday”
“I really do,” Malone said (via Mike Singer of The Denver Post). “We met as a staff yesterday and today, this morning prior to shootaround, when you’re 1-4 [over the last five games] and your offense is kind of holding you back, you have to have all options on the table.”
Heading into the night, Porter was averaging just 8.6 minutes per game and has appeared in just 10 contests for Denver.
Here’s more from the Northwest Division:
- Jamal Murray left the Nuggets‘ contest tonight with a torso injury, Singer tweets. The point guard injured himself during a collision with Ben Simmons. There’s no word yet on the severity of the ailment.
- Matt John of Basketball Insiders examines whether the Timberwolves will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. Minnesota would like to add more talent, though its hard to envision the team making a substantial trade without including one of its core pieces.
- The Jazz remain buyers and could certainly use some help after a disappointing start to the 2019/20 campaign, John writes in the same piece. Utah’s bench has struggled and adding depth could be the key to turning around the club’s season.
A day after Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the Rockets were willing to surrender future assets for help on the wing, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer identifies one specific target Houston is eyeing. League sources tell O’Connor that the Rockets have “serious interest” in Timberwolves forward Robert Covington.
Houston isn’t the only team with interest in Covington — O’Connor hears from multiple sources that playoff teams are monitoring the availability of the veteran, who will turn 29 on Saturday. As a very effective three-and-D player with a favorable contract, Covington could net a strong package for the Wolves if they decide to move him before this year’s deadline, O’Connor writes.
In 22 games (all starts) this season, Covington is averaging 12.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 1.3 SPG with a .455/.369/.902 shooting line for Minnesota. He has an $11.3MM cap hit, with guaranteed salaries of $12.1MM (2020/21) and $13MM (’21/22) to follow.
For the Rockets, putting together a trade package for Covington might be tricky. While Houston could offer its first-round pick in 2020 and/or 2022, matching salaries would be an issue. The team signed Nene to a contract loaded with incentives in the hopes of using him as a salary-matching piece in a deal for a player like Covington, but the NBA ruled that Nene’s outgoing salary in a trade can only be $2.56MM (his guaranteed base) rather than $10MM (his actual cap hit), limiting the club’s options.
The Rockets are also right at the tax line, meaning they could face stricter salary-matching rules, depending on how a deal is structured. If Houston is unwilling to trade one of its five highest-paid players (James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and P.J. Tucker), the club would have to package at least three smaller contracts for someone like Covington, which would be difficult for Minnesota to accommodate.
For what it’s worth, new Wolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas was Daryl Morey‘s top lieutenant for years in Houston, so Rosas will be very familiar with the Rockets’ roster.
- Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins remains committed to staying aggressive and attacking the basket this season, Chris Hine of the Star Tribune writes. Wiggins has averaged a career-best 24.9 points on 45% shooting through 17 games. He’s seen his numbers slightly regress in the past couple of weeks, but that won’t deter the 24-year-old from continuing to do what he does best. “I feel like that’s how it goes,” Wiggins said. “I just haven’t been hitting. It’s not just shots. It’s layups. It’s stuff around the rim. I’m right there to drop it in, and they’re just going in and out. I’m just going to keep doing the same thing and I know it’s going to drop.”
- Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune assessed rookie shooting guard Jarrett Culver‘s uneven start for the Timberwolves. Culver is shooting 36.9% from the field, 25.9% from three-point range, and just 43.5% from the free throw line. At 10-11, Minnesota harbors legitimate playoff aspirations in the West, where the team is currently seeded seventh. Improvement from Culver could make a significant difference in a playoff push, and he remains optimistic that his shooting would stabilize. “I’ve put in a lot of work,” Culver said, “so I trust it and I know it’s going to fall.”
Here are Saturday’s G League assignments and recalls from around the league:
- The Thunder assigned Deonte Burton to the Oklahoma City Blue after he served a one-game suspension for a locker room altercation with a teammate, tweets Royce Young of ESPN. “I think it’s pretty clear, one-game suspension and we’ll all move on,” said coach Billy Donovan, who attributed the incident to healthy frustration over the team’s slow start. The second-year shooting guard is averaging 2.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in 12 NBA games this season.
- The Wizards assigned Admiral Schofield and Justin Robinson to their Capital City affiliate so they could play in tonight’s game, the team announced on Twitter.
- The Timberwolves assigned Jaylen Nowell to Iowa, according to a tweet from the team. The rookie shooting guard has gotten into just two games for Minnesota.
- In a leftover move from yesterday, the Clippers recalled center Mfiondu Kabengele from their Agua Caliente affiliate.
- Timberwolves forward Keita Bates-Diop is slowly but surely forcing his way into the team’s rotation, Chris Hine writes for the Star Tribune. Bates-Diop, 23, was drafted 48th overall in 2018 by the Wolves after spending four seasons at Ohio State. He’s averaged 8.9 points in seven games (17.9 MPG) this season.
Andrew Wiggins has failed to live up to the expectations of a No. 1 pick but Gersson Rosas didn’t see that in him when he took over the Timberwolves‘ team president role. Rosas saw the 6’8″ wing as a distressed asset and someone he could help to improve.
“I’m a player development guy at heart,” Rosas told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. “I love these kind of projects.”
Rosas was with the Rockets as James Harden bloomed into the superstar that he is today. Harden’s ascension didn’t happen overnight and the executive knew patience would be key with getting the most out of Wiggins. Stability would be another factor. Minnesota had shuffled through head coaches for much of the forward’s time with the club but with Ryan Saunders came familiarity. Saunders has been with the franchise in lower coaching roles since Wiggins came into the league and two have a strong relationship.
The front office wanted Wiggins to work on his three-point shot this summer and according to Mannix, he spent more of the offseason in Minnesota this past summer than he has in any other year to accomplish that goal. He constantly reminds himself to take the three if it’s available, which is just part of the game plan of taking better shots overall.
The results? Wiggins, who turns 25 in February, is averaging career-highs in a bevy of categories with points (25.3), assists (3.3), player efficiency rating (20.1) and true shooting percentage (.550) among the stats that reflect his improvement.
“Anytime you have better play, more efficient play as you grow your usage, that’s something that’s pretty interesting,” Rosas said. “That’s him doing the work, the system helping him out and everything trending in a very, very positive way. It’s a commitment to competing, working and buying into what’s we’re doing that’s going to work for him. It’s going to work for our team.”