So now that the big trade has been completed, what roster issues remain for the Timberwolves and what options do they have to solve them?
First, the roster:
I asked in another thread for people to describe to me what a good version of this Wolves team looks like. How do they play? Where do they excel? There are times when it's hard to see what that looks like unless Andrew Wiggins really becomes a superstar. Without that, one suspects that this is not a good team and has some pretty mismatched parts.
One thing is fairly clear, though: this is the bounciest and likely quickest of foot Timberwolves team ever. Whether that ever translates into wins is a question, but they are going to have to make use of those attributes if the answer is to be yes.
Some of these players are simply going to have to get better for this team to be good, but it's all going to have to start with an aggressive defense that forces lots of turnovers. They currently have three of the top 10 steals generators from last season on the roster in Rubio, Brewer, and Young. The hope is that Wiggins can use his physical gifts to stifle perimeter players and generate a fair amount of turnovers himself, though he was not a prolific ball thief at Kansas.
In the paint, the Wolves will likely rely on Gorgui Dieng to develop as a shot blocker and rim protector who helps send the ball the other way. At some point, the Wolves will have to be good in the half court, it's unlikely that point is this season. They will need to rely on turnovers and transition to provide their best moments this year.
One thing is true: the roster is very young, and remains unsettled. The 15 names above represent the guaranteed contracts currently on the books, and is the maximum number of players a team can control during the season. Which leads to some roster questions:
Glenn Robinson III. The Wolves drafted him in the 2nd round, and at the moment, they do not have a roster spot available for him.
Flip suggested it'll be tricky finding a roster spot for GRIII but then talked like he expects him to be on team— Jerry Zgoda (@JerryZgoda) August 24, 2014
This is all well and good, as GRIII appears to be a pretty good second round pick; someone who could perhaps wind up contributing in the NBA at some point. The problem beyond the lack of a roster spot is the incredible logjam at his natural small forward position. With Wiggins, Brewer, Budinger, Muhammad, and Hummel also being primarily small forwards, it's very awkward for the Wolves to add another, even if the plan would be for him to spend most of his time in the D-League.
J.J. Barea Which leads us to J.J. I don't see how the Wolves can keep Barea on the roster under the circumstances. They signed Mo Williams to take over as backup point guard, and J.J. isn't the type of guy you probably want around if he isn't going to play. The team probably needs a third point guard, though Flip has made noises about Zach LaVine being able to slot in to that position. Whoever it is, it isn't J.J. The problem is that nobody wants to take him. In his chat today, Jerry Zgoda suggested that buying him out is a viable alternative.
The Wing Overload As suggested above, a swap of J.J. Barea for Glenn Robinson III doesn't really solve the roster issues. There are already likely too many players who either a) reasonably expect to play, or b) Flip will want to play for those spots. I am assuming that the starters are likely to be Martin and Wiggins. That leaves Brewer and Budinger as veterans along with LaVine and Muhammad as younger guys who Flip drafted and is presumably committed to. While conceivably a couple of those guys can carve out a few minutes at the four spot, realistically that's six guys for two positions without mentioning Hummel or Robinson.
Ideally, the Wolves could find a way to move Corey Brewer as well as Barea. The Brewer contract was ill-advised last summer, and it's hard to see how he fits now. The Wolves were marginally able to overcome his weaknesses (shooting, rebounding) at the three spot because their power forward was so far above average in those areas. In addition, Brewer was able to convert in transition better than he ever has in the past due to Kevin Love's brilliant outlet passing. Without Love, and without consistent three point shooting from the 4 spot, Brewer's utility suffers. As conservative as I am about my expectations for rookies, it's hard to see how Wiggins won't be able to replicate what Brewer does fairly early on. Running the floor, aggressive-but-inconsistent defense, and 30% three point shooting.
His salary is going to be hard to move, especially given that he has a player option for 2015-16, but much like J.J., there is very little reason for him to be on the roster.
The TPE The Wolves come out of the weekend trade with a $6.3M traded player exception. This allows them to absorb a player(s) in trade with salary cap numbers up to that amount. It cannot be combined with players to take on a more expensive player (Can't trade Brewer for an $11M player using his salary and the TPE, for example). It lasts for a year before expiring. It is unlikely that they will use it this summer, as they are already over the cap and using the TPE would put them close to the tax line. I doubt Glen Taylor wants a $75M+ payroll in what is unlikely to be a winning year.
If it's used at all, it seems more likely that it would be used next summer, when the Wolves will have a better idea of their needs. However, using it requires that a team wants to dispense with a useful player making no more than $6.3M in exchange for cap space and maybe draft picks. Teams generally like to keep good players making that sort of salary, so my guess is that the TPE will go unused.
The Love trade puts the Wolves on a new path, and we can see that the team hopes its new core emerges with Ricky Rubio leading a set of younger players. But there are still adjustments that the Wolves needs to make as we head toward training camp next month.