One approach that the Wolves could take is to hang onto Kevin Love and try to improve their bench as much as possible in the hopes of making the playoffs and (the ultimate pipe dream) convincing Love to stay.
One reason that this is a plausible strategy is that the Wolves' starting five, at +272, was the most productive five-man unit in the entire NBA (edging out Portland's Lillard-Matthews-Batum-Aldridge-Lopez (+210), Golden State's Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Lee-Bogut (+254), and Indiana's Hill-Stephenson-George-West-Hibbert (+270).
The Wolves' bench, however, was one of the worst in the NBA; by the raw +/- on 82games, none of the Wolves' bench players was a net plus. To even the most casual viewer, the bench's inability to score was obvious. The Wolves badly needed a backup point guard capable of initiating an offense, a backup wing player capable of knocking down threes, and a backup forward capable of doing anything productive. J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Chase Budinger, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Shabazz Muhammad failed in these roles throughout the 2013-14 season.
Here are three deals that could drastically reshape the Wolves' bench.
Why Neal is useful to the Wolves: Neal, 29, is a career 39.4% three-point shooter. Last year, his 23.9 usage rate was ninth among players who played fewer than 28 minutes per game, and his true shooting percentage of 53 was in the middle of the pack of those players; it may sound strange, but that kind of high-volume, middling-efficiency shooting is what the Wolves bench lacked this year.
Why the Hornets do the deal: The Hornets, who have no backup point guards on their 2014-15 roster, would likely shuffle the deck on backup guards for a second-round pick and moderate cash savings.
2) Alexey Shved for Will Bynum (saves $282,815; both contracts expiring, but Shved has a team option)
Why Bynum is useful to the Wolves: Bynum, like Neal, is a high-volume, middling-efficiency player; Bynum's usage rate of 24.7 was ahead of Neal's, but his true shooting percentage of 50 was below. Unlike Neal, Bynum is also a very good distributor who can score and dish off the bench.
Why the Pistons do the deal: Bynum is 31 and Shved is 25. Even though Bynum is more productive, Shved has potential, and it makes sense for a rebuilding team to audition a player with potential instead of employing a 31-year-old known quantity.
3) Chase Budinger, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and pick 1.13 for Thaddeus Young (saves $221,706; Budinger and Young have player options for 2015-16)
Why Young is useful to the Wolves: Young generates a lot of steals and competently rebounds and scores from either forward position. At 26, he's still in his prime. Although his PER, rebounding rate, and true shooting percentage dropped last year, that likely reflects the lead-dog scoring role that the awful cast in Philly required him to take. In his more natural supporting role, he's efficient and versatile, and could own the first-man-off-the-bench role, integrate seamlessly with most combinations of Wolves starters, and provide the front-court bench scoring that the Wolves have sorely lacked. While there's a danger that Young could leave after this year, the Wolves would have his Bird rights, and a $9M+ player option would be tough for him to pass up.
Why the 76ers do the deal: The prevailing rumor at the deadline was that the Sixers would deal Young for a first-round pick in this year's draft. They would likely assume the risk that Budinger opts into a $5M salary in 2015-16 for another lottery pick in this year's deep draft.
With these moves in place, the Wolves would be committed to about $67M for 11 players, about $4M over the projected cap line and about $10M below the projected tax threshold. They could use their 2014 mid-level exception to go after a two-way wing player like Trevor Ariza or Thabo Sefolosho, both of whom ESPN project to receive near the full MLE. P.J. Tucker could be a lower-budget option.
If the Wolves decide to try to revamp their bench and go for it this year, they have the assets to improve on a reserve unit whose only real bright spot was Gorgui Dieng. Last year, many significant bench minutes came from Shved, Hummel, Budinger, Cunningham, and Mbah a Moute. Reallocating those minutes to Neal, Bynum, Young, and someone like Ariza, Sefolosha, or Tucker would go a long way to giving the league's most productive starting five the support it deserves.