What Offseason Moves are Left for the Wolves?
After a dizzying first few days of NBA free agency, the rumor mill has slowed down as most of the prominent players have found a home. Some lesser known players vying for smaller contracts may wait weeks to sign as teams fill out their rosters. Unfortunately for Timberwolves fans who have already been waiting to see any semblance of player acquisitions, the waiting game will continue. That does not mean that the Wolves are done and will automatically go into the 21–22 season as-is. They will continue to look for options for signings and trades, but it does not appear they will be willing to break the bank (or draft pick stockpile) for a minor upgrade. With that, let’s examine where the Wolves roster currently stands and offer ideas for potential moves that could be left for Minnesota.
The Current Roster
First off, we have some parameters to set. NBA rosters are allowed to carry 15 players during the regular season as well as 2 Two-Way contracted players. In the offseason rosters can have up to 20 players under contract, but we will stick with the regular season limits for now.
As currently constructed, the Wolves have 12 players under contract:
Guards: D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Malik Beasley, Jaylen Nowell
Forwards: Jaden McDaniels, Taurean Prince, Josh Okogie, Jarrett Culver, Juancho Hernangomez, Jake Layman
Bigs: Karl-Anthony Towns, Naz Reid
Both of their Two-Way contract slots are filled as well: McKinley Wright IV and Nathan Knight
Then, the Wolves have 2 restricted free agents that they have strong interest in retaining: Jarred Vanderbilt and Jordan McLaughlin
Finally they have the mystery man, Leandro Bolmaro who is apparently going to be coming over from Europe to join the team this season.
Add that all up and that equals a completely full roster of 15 players under contract and 2 Two-Way players if the return of Vanderbilt and McLaughlin come to fruition and Bolmaro signs his rookie contract as expected.
The Money Situation
Currently the Wolves are over the salary cap, but just over $8 million under the luxury tax limit. That gives them room to re-sign their own free agents, use some of the mid-level exception to sign an outside free agent, take back more money in a trade, or some combination of all 3. It would be tight, but there is optimism that the Wolves could re-sign Vanderbilt, JMac, and bring in Bolmaro ($2.3 million starting salary) without going over the tax line.
Working out a situation like that would fill the roster and essentially remove flexibility to take on any more money without going over the tax this season. A viable option? Sure, but this front office regime has not wanted to be left without flexibility in the past. To me, that points to some sort of consolidation trade coming prior to the season that could also remove the need to re-sign one or both of Vanderbilt and JMac.
With that, we can take a look at potential moves to be made to better consolidate roster spots and reallocate financial resources.
PSA: First I want to go on record in saying that none of these moves is turning the Wolves into a contender, or likely even REALLY improving their chances at the playoffs. It is likely the ship has sailed on anything like that for this offseason. Real tangible improvement is going to come from the core players improving, gaining chemistry, and staying healthy. I am a Wolves optimist, but not delusional in thinking that the Wolves can flip a bad salary and a 2nd round pick for a star.
The Moves Pt. 1: Trades
1. Eric Bledsoe & Brandon Clarke for Taurean Prince & Juancho Hernangomez
The first thing you will notice here is that technically this trade is invalid at the moment because both Prince and Bledsoe cannot be aggregated with other players in trades until later in August. At that point, this trade would be legal. Why would the Wolves take this trade? Well it seems fairly obvious as it would immediately plug 2 holes in the rotation for them. Bledsoe, however bloated his contract may be, is still a rotation-level PG who can start in place of DLo if/when he misses time with injury. Brandon Clarke would be the real prize however. Going into his 3rd season, he is an efficient scorer at the rim with good hands and a soft touch, and is very versatile defensively with great athleticism and strength. He does not space the floor from the 3pt line on offense, but Clarke would still be a good fit in the front court for the Wolves starting lineup.
So if it is an obvious deal for the Wolves, then why would the Grizzlies make this trade? Well for them it acts as a consolidation trade that saves them a bit of money now and a LOT of money heading into next offseason. Not to mention it sends away two below average 3pt. shooters and adds a rotation shooter with size in Prince to fit nicely alongside their superstar point guard. Hernangomez COULD be intriguing if his shooting returns, but he is mainly included because his final year on his contract is his team option, so realistically the Grizzlies could move on from Prince and Hernangomez after this season opening up nearly $20 million in cap space. That would not be possible with Bledsoe and Clarke. Bledsoe and Clarke are also both in crowded situations with multiple point guards (Morant, Tyus, Melton) and big men (Adams, JJJ, Tillman, Anderson) ahead of them in the rotation.
Maybe it takes a 2nd round pick from the Wolves as a sweetener to make this happen, but it could be the type of trade that solidifies 2 holes in the rotation at backup PG and PF. This would leave just enough room to complete the offseason by signing Vanderbilt and Bolmaro, and likely eliminates the need for a JMac return.
2. Kyle Kuzma for Malik Beasley
This trade makes almost TOO much sense for both teams… which means it probably will not happen. A swap of two players in their mid 20’s with very similar contracts that fill holes for both teams. From the Wolves perspective it repurposes their likely 6th man shooting guard for a starting forward. Kuzma would slide in as a starter in the front court and act as a solid offensive complement to the current core of Ant, DLo, and Kat and be a versatile defender alongside Jaden McDaniels. They lose a great volume shooter in Beasley, especially in the 2nd unit, but hopefully that skill can be replaced by a combination of Taurean Prince and Jaylen Nowell.
On the Wizards side, it is all about balancing out the roster. By my count, they currently have 8 guys on the roster that would see minutes at the 3,4, or 5 positions OUTSIDE of Kuzma. A couple of those guys, Avdija and Hachimura, are very young and need as many minutes as they can handle for developmental purposes. Outside of Bradley Beal, how many proven volume shooters do they have among their perimeter players? None. Malik Beasley could immediately come in and fit next to either one of their starting guards, Dinwiddie and Beal, to provide a high volume 3pt. shooting outlet. For a team that hopes to compete this season, that could be much more valuable than a forward like Kuzma whose skills they could likely replicate in house.
3. Derrick Favors for Jarrett Culver, Juancho Hernangomez & a 2022 2nd Round Pick
Is it sexy? No. Is it prudent to trade two guys who could be expiring contracts after this year AND a 2nd round pick for a center who was just salary dumped? Maybe not. But does Favors immediately bolster two of the biggest areas of need, rebounding and rim protection? Absolutely! Ok enough with the questions. Favors is somehow only entering his age 30 season even though it seems like he has been around forever. Per 100 possessions, he has only ever had a negative net rating one time and that occurred in his 2nd season. As a rebounder and shot blocker, he has had consistently solid numbers throughout his career. At 265lbs, he would immediately provide a bruising presence for a team that has sorely lacked one. From the Wolves point of view it is a very small price to pay in terms of assets, but they are locking themselves into 2 years of paying him a near $10 million salary. If it gets everything else across the roster to fit into place, it could be worthwhile.
The Thunder would likely only take this deal if they do not get better offers for Favors. Maybe they would prefer a Wolves 2nd round pick years from now so they have more time to throw it in trades. That would be fine as well. The upside for them is Jarrett Culver. Still only a 2 year veteran, they gain the right to decide if he should get a 4th year or cut bait after his 3rd year. If he does pop and contribute over the next couple of years, they would then own his RFA rights and have the potential to hold on to him on a great 2nd contract. It is not clear how much better they could do for Favors after acquiring him in a salary dump by taking on a 1st round pick.
4. Sign & Trade: Josh Hart (3 years, $27 mil) for Josh Okogie ($4.1 mil) & Jake Layman ($3.9 mil)
Sign and trade moves are always so difficult to predict both in terms of the money a free agent will sign for and the return sent back to New Orleans. It is likely the Wolves also need to include a future 2nd round pick or two to make this work from an asset standpoint. Hart immediately steps in as one of the most versatile guards/forwards on the team. He is a hard-nosed defender, a blur in offensive transition, and an incredible rebounder for a guard (10 rebounds Per 36 minutes last year!). His 3pt. shooting is where he provides the true upgrade from Okogie. Hart is a career 35% 3pt. shooter on decent volume which is nothing spectacular but it also means he cannot be completely left alone on the perimeter. Hart is the type of glue guy that good teams need.
Technically the Wolves could sign him to this contract using their mid-level exception, but the Pelicans do have the ability to match the offer and bring him back. Okogie and Layman (and potentially 2nd rd. picks) are sent back to New Orleans to entice them not to match the offer and let Hart walk. It also allow the Wolves to still have the cap space to bring back someone like Jarred Vanderbilt. New Orleans may not be eager to move on from Hart, but if they are not interested in meeting his contract demands then getting Okogie back could be beneficial, as well as the ability to move on from Okogie and Layman for cap space heading into next offseason.
5. Sign & Trade: Lauri Markkanen (4 yrs, $60 mil, 4th yr player option) for Taurean Prince ($13 mil) & a Future Lottery Protected 1st round pick
Right off the bat, I will say I would not be a fan of a move like this. I am not a proponent of paying a guy like Lauri $15 million per year, and I certainly do not want to give up a protected 1st round pick for the chance to do so. With that said, he is one of the best free agents (albeit restricted) available so we need to discuss his fit.
On paper, Markkanen is a “hand in glove” fit in the Wolves offense. How many teams sport even 1 guy who is near 7’0″ tall and shoots 40% from the 3pt. line on high volume? This would give the Wolves 2 of those players. Lauri has become a sniper from beyond the arc, and not just standing still. He is nimble and able to shoot off of movement. His height and length make his jump shot nearly impossible to contest. With a downhill isolation monster like Edwards surrounded by several incredible 3pt. marksman in the starting lineup, the Wolves would figure to be incredibly difficult to defend. “The Finnisher” is not going to provide much in terms of post up scoring, but he has shown flashes of a little off-the-dribble juice and is a really high level finisher at the rim when he cuts. One could easily see how he helps to make the Wolves offense much more dangerous.
Now defense… the other half of the game. The Wolves biggest defensive holes are rim protection and and rebounding. Markkanen is 7’0″ and 240lbs, so you would be excused for thinking he could help in those areas, but his raw numbers of 7 rebounds and 0.4 blocks Per 36 minutes last season do not inspire much confidence. That matches up pretty seamlessly with his advanced stats showing low rebound percentage and block percentage, and the eye test which commonly shows him a step slow and unable to really make an impact with his height. Maybe it was Chicago’s scheme that was holding him back, or maybe playing alongside other poor defenders was bad for him. Those are legitimate excuses, however they could also be used for the situation here in Minnesota. There is little chance the defense would look any better for him here than in Chicago.
All of that said, if the Wolves do not have to send away a 1st round pick to sign him, then they should go for it. Lauri is big, long, and only 24 years old. Oh and once again he “shoots the piss out of the ball” as Ant would say. Sending away Prince in this deal likely leaves the Wolves some ability to resign either JMac or Vanderbilt as well. In this case I would prefer Vando as he may be needed to find some semblance of defensive prowess. This scenario makes the offense a near instant Ferrari, but the defense would look more like my 2007 Rav4 that needs new brakes.
The Moves Pt. 2: Bargain Bin Signings
1. Paul Millsap: 2 yrs $16 million, team option on 2nd yr
The veteran Millsap heads into his age 36 season hoping to prove that he has something left in the tank. The Wolves pursued him in free agency several times in the last few years, but this could be the time he finally agrees to come here. $8 million per year is likely more than he will get (in my opinion) on the open market, but typically the Wolves need to overpay to get guys to come here in free agency. With that overpay, they also get a team option on the 2nd year which will be helpful if they need to move on after the season. Gersson Rosas loves those team options. Millsap likely slots in as the starting power forward bringing a steady veteran presence to a young starting lineup, but it is unlikely he can effectively play 30 minutes per game after only playing 20 per game last season. The problem is that signing Millsap “saps” all of the Wolves space below the luxury tax and likely means that a reunion with Vanderbilt and McLaughlin would be unlikely. It would take more subsequent moves (and assets) to clear up necessary space to bring Vanderbilt back. At that point, how worth it would it be to sign a 36 year old Millsap as opposed to a 22 year old Vanderbilt. You plug a hole for 1 season while potentially creating a bigger hole for next offseason. Probably not worth it, so I see a Millsap signing as a fairly unlikely option.
2. Bismack Biyombo or Aron Baynes: 1 yr Veteran Minimum Contract
Lumping these two together because they generally fall into the same category for the Wolves. Biyombo and Baynes are both veteran big men with track records of success, but are most likely destined for deep bench/emergency roles this season. Note: Baynes has a “nerve” issue after a slip and fall in the locker room at the Tokyo Olympics, so his status is uncertain. These guys are both options if the team is unable to resign Jarred Vanderbilt. As of now Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid are the only centers with NBA contracts (Nathan Knight is on a Two-Way deal). While also being a power forward option, Vando is also an emergency center in case of injury to KAT or Naz. Without Vando, they need a fallback option to turn to for a few minutes per game if injuries occur. While uninspiring, Baynes and Biyombo both have specific strengths that could help the team. Baynes is a big man who takes up plenty of space and can occasionally shoot from beyond the arc, while Biz is a grinding defensive stalwart and excellent rebounder with almost no offensive game. Inspiring? Not really, but sometimes beggars can’t be choosers.
3. Frank Ntilikina: 2 yrs $10 million, player option on 2nd yr
Judging “The French Prince’s” market value is difficult. On one hand he is a 23 year old point guard who was drafted 8th overall just 4 years ago and has tremendous defensive capabilities. On the other hand the Knicks completely renounced his rights making him an unrestricted free agent, foregoing the opportunity to keep him on a qualifying offer or match any other offer for him. These circumstances make it very difficult to gauge his value. I think a team will sign him soon, but it will not be for much money or a long contract. Ntilikina will seek a role for actual playing time with the ability to reach free agency again a year from now. I think a small 2 year deal with a player option in year 2 seems just about right.
On the Wolves Frank slots in as a competitor for the backup point guard position that is vacant at the moment. As a tenacious defender, he could fit in nicely in backcourts that involve Malik Beasley or Anthony Edwards next to him. Ricky Rubio he is not, but Ntilikina still has some passing chops and ability to be a playmaker. He just needs to shoot the 3pt. shot better than his career 33% mark. If the Wolves feel confident in his improvement there, he would be a fit. If not, they would likely just prefer to resign JMac to fill the backup PG role.