The Minnesota Timberwolves had a wild 2019 NBA season. Coach Tom Thibodeau was fired. Jimmy Butler was traded, and the memory of the 2018 Playoff run quickly faded. As injuries ravaged the roster they nestled into a Lottery position in the upcoming Draft. Putting this year behind them, lets look at where the team can go in the next 12 months. Here is the first part of a three part series detailing where improvements can be made for next season.
The current roster has eight players under contract for next season with total salary sitting at 109 million. This years salary cap is also 109 million but this may drop depending on attendance numbers in the playoffs. Most importantly for the Wolves they have Karl Anthony-Towns locked in for the next five years. He does have a stipulation in his contract that if he makes All-NBA then he will be bumped up another five million for next season. In both situations they are at the cap, meaning they are unable to be a player in this years free agency, outside of using their mid-level exception.
The MLE is given to teams that are over the cap and is approx nine million this coming year. It can be used for one player or multiple players depending on the teams preference. Including their upcoming first round draft pick, the Wolves will have nine roster spots filled. They will need to sign free agents using the MLE or bring back players whose bird rights they have. If they have a player on the books for three years they own their bird rights and can then go over the cap to resign them. Early bird rights are similar where you can go over the cap to resign the player if you have had them on the team for two years. The only difference being that they can only give 130% of the previous seasons salary.
The first job of new President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas will be to establish some structure around the roster and who the Wolves want to bring back. Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones should be at the top of the priority list.
Tyus Jones had a strong year where he continued to showcase his strong passing ability and savvy court vision. Tyus decision making and passing game are both very sound, and he makes the right reads on defense. His shooting efficiency is a work on, he ranks in the bottom 20% in the league for effective field goal %. Considering all of the above and that he is only 22 years old, Tyus would be worth bringing back somewhere around the 6 – 7 million a year range. A four year deal in this range may suit both the franchise and Jones.
Derrick Rose is slightly more complicated. Rose was a steadying presence on and off the court in a year where the team struggled with injuries and in house issues. Headlined by a 50 point masterclass against the Jazz, Rose showed an improved three point shot and finished at the rim at a career high also. Bringing him back for the right dollar amount would be a smart move. They can offer him the MLE, but with a long injury history a four year deal may be risky. The injury that had Rose shutdown for the rest of the year was his elbow rather than his troublesome knees. If Wolves medical staff deem that there is no long-term damage to his elbow, then a potential three or four year deal worth approx 30 million may suit both parties.
Taj Gibson and to a lesser extent Luol Deng should the next priorities for the front office. Taj provided excellent leadership on and off the court in his two years with the team. An excellent defender, Taj provided strong offense in both his two years in the twin cities. While a slight decrease in efficiency at the rim this year may be a sign that he is slowing down, Gibson would still be worth bringing back around the four or five million a year range.
Luol Deng languished on the Lakers bench for 81 games in 2018, not playing one single minute after an appearance on opening night. After negotiating a buyout at the end of 2018 he joined the ” Timber-Bulls. ” Coach Thibs deemed him surplus to requirements in the rotation and only played him in garbage time. This changed when Ryan Saunders replaced Thibs, he started playing Deng regularly. In 22 games he was efficient on offense while the team was 14 points better when he was on the court. If Deng could be brought back on the minimum he could be a good end of bench rotation option.
If management decide to make the above moves, this would leave two empty roster spots still. Per Cleaning the Glass, none of the rotation players were in the top 20% finishing at the rim for their respective positions. A slasher who can finish at the rim and provide some impact off the bench would be a nice fit for this team.
Depending on how they choose to spend their MLE, Glenn Robinson could be an interesting prospect for them. Robinson is only 25 and has shown ability to finish at the rim and from three point land. After coming off some injuries he could be an option on a cheap deal. Another option could be Wizards wing Jeff Green. Gone are the days of Green demanding massive salaries, but he can be an efficient scorer and good defender. He was in the top 10% of players for at rim finishing, while shooting the three ball at a league average 35%.