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The Timberwolves and the Salary Cap

Before all of the off-season shenanigans begin, let's take a look at where the Wolves stand salary-wise.

Nikola Pekovic is about to get paid
Nikola Pekovic is about to get paid
Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Ok, Let's start with a table. (I'm desperately hoping this works. Tables and charts always foil me).




Kevin Love




Andrei Kirilenko


Nikola Pekovic


Derrick Williams




Luke Ridnour


JJ Barea



Ricky Rubio




Alexey Shved




Greg Stiemsma


Dante Cunningham


Malcolm Lee



Chris Johnson


Mickael Gelabale


Chase Budinger


So there are the basics.* As you can see, I have left Brandon Roy completely off the chart since there is no way he returns and his salary is not guaranteed.

As with most teams, the Wolves salary cap number is dependent on several decisions that confront both player and team. Does Kirilenko opt out? How much will Pekovic command? What options and non-guaranteed contracts do the Wolves exercise? Because of those variables, we can't know precisely what the Wolves cap figure will be as we head toward free agency, but we can make some assumptions and see where they leave us.

The bare minimum amount of guaranteed salary the Wolves are obligated for next season is roughly $37M for seven players. Of course, that's five guards, Derrick Williams, and Kevin Love. Building from there:

Let's assume that the Wolves retain Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale at the salary indicated above, and let's further assume that they pick up the team option on Dante Cunningham. (Fairly safe assumptions, I think; in Cunningham's case, he's clearly worth it, and as for the Johnson and Gelabale, they are somewhat useful and cheap end of the roster players. However, given the possible roster glut, there are no certainties). Those assumptions bring us to roughly $41M for ten players.

A somewhat more difficult call is what the Wolves do with Greg Stiemsma. I believe they can waive him with no 2013-14 obligation if they so choose, but for the moment, let's assume they keep him; that salary is not prohibitive, and the Wolves aren't exactly swimming in bigs. They might choose not to, especially if they draft a big with their lottery pick, and/or if they value the roster spot more than they do Stiemsma. However, if they keep him, we are at roughly $43.5M for 11 players. (We are beginning to see that there may be a roster crunch for the Wolves without further moves, but with three players on non-guaranteed deals--Johnson, Gelabale, and Stiemsma, there should be flexibility).

NOTE: Options (team or player) must be exercised by June 30th. This applies to Cunningham and Kirilenko for the Wolves. Non-guaranteed contracts do not have this deadline, the date for guaranteeing the contract for the upcoming season is a matter of negotiation.

And now it gets more complicated. In large part because of these two guys:

Chase Budinger is an unrestricted free agent this summer, coming off a four year contract during which he was radically underpaid, (smart Rockets), but also coming off a season in which he only played 23 games because of injury. He has expressed interest in returning to the Wolves, especially if Rick Adelman remains the coach, and we might assume that due to their need for shooters, the Wolves have interest in bringing him back. The question is: at what price? How much will his injury plagued (and poor shooting) season effect his market? I'm not sure it will have a huge impact; teams tend to fall into "best case scenario" thinking when the free agent frenzy begins, though there are always guys left over. At absolute minimum, Budinger is going to get $3M a year for 3-4 years; I could easily see that being $5M or more. Let's assume it will be a $4M cap hit for the Wolves in 2013-14 to keep him.

Even more complicated is Andrei Kirilenko's situation. He can either opt in to his 2013-14 contract for north of $10M, or he can opt out in an attempt to find a longer term deal. He has also expressed a desire to return to the Wolves under Adelman. There is an additional complication with Kirilenko, however, which is that the Wolves do not have his Bird Rights if he opts out (whereas they do hold Budinger's Bird Rights because they transfer in trades). This means they cannot go over the cap to sign him (unless he agrees to play for the mid-level exception). If he chooses to opt out, it's going to be tough for the Wolves to find room to sign him. In part because of:

NIKOLA PEKOVIC. The true gorilla in the room. Pek is a restricted free agent and the Wolves must extend the Qualifying Offer to him by June 30th. Once the signing period begins (around July 8th), he is free to sign an offer sheet with any team, which the Wolves then would have three days to match. The Wolves can also negotiate directly with Pekovic, and sign him when the signing period begins.

Once the Wolves extend the QO (of slightly more than $6M), his cap hold will be slightly over $9M (190% of his previoius salary). If and when he signs an offer sheet, that amount becomes the cap number until the Wolves either match or choose not to match the offer.

All of this will happen after the draft. Assuming the Wolves wind up with the 9th pick, that will be another roughly $2M on the cap once the draft pick is made. For the moment, I'm ignoring the 26th pick, which would add another body and a million dollars to things.

So, where does that leave us? If Kirilenko opts IN, then the Wolves are sitting at around $56M for 13 players, plus Pek's $9M hold and they still haven't signed Budinger. If Kirilenko opts OUT, the Wolves are sitting at roughly $46M (not including Pek's hold), and also have a smaller hold for Budinger. Assuming the cap and tax lines stay roughly where they were this season ($58M and $70M), that's going to make it exceedingly difficult to come up with the room to re-sign AK even at, say, $7M a year.

And that's before Pek's actual salary (probably around $12M) comes on line.

We can see that the Wolves are in a complicated situation regarding the salary cap this summer. Not only in terms of money, but also in terms of roster spots, the maximum number of which is 15. They can relieve some of that pressure by waiving any of their non-guaranteed deals, and/or making a two or three for one trade (Williams, one of the point guards, and a draft pick are the likely suspects). They probably will need to shed some salary if they want to bring back all of Budinger, Kirilenko, and Pekovic.

It is going to take some creativity to retain the core of the roster, never mind adding quality pieces to it. We'll see if Flip Saunders is up to the task.

How do you see it playing out? Oh, and what mistakes did I make?

*Salary information from Storytellers Contracts.

Much information from the incomparable Larry Coon FAQ