INTRODUCTION: TWO SIMPLE GOALS FOR THE OFFSEASON
(Easier said than done.)
Let's face it, Timberwolves fans can become pretty negative at times. I will never admit that the negativity is unjustified, as the Wolves record over the past decade speaks for itself, but I want to use this space for something more constructive today, only lightly peppered with the slings and barbs ridiculing misfortune. I've yammered about good process before and this article can be seen as a companion piece to that one. This is a thought exercise intended to put those principles of good process into concrete hypothetical scenarios and maybe make up an oxymoron or two along the way. Let's start this thought exercise with a few simple premises.
1.) The ideal final size of the roster is 14, to facilitate in-season moves.
2.) The Timberwolves are not going to pull off some crazy four team nine player trade to completely reshape their roster. At the very least, such an unlikely event cannot be the plan for the offseason. If they are able to finagle their way into a bigger deal, that is great, but we shouldn't count on it.
3.) Minnesota isn't competing for a playoff spot next season, nor attracting big free agents. Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, et al aren't walking through that door.
4.) In this exercise, Flip Saunders is no longer the President of Basketball Operations for the Wolves and we don't have to worry about his idiosyncratic biases and sympathies. "But Flip wouldn't do that" is not a valid response. This is about what I think the Wolves should do, not what they will do.
What should the Wolves do? In my mind, they should have two overriding goals for the 2015-16 season.
GOAL #1) Continue to rebuild by acquiring promising young players and future picks without sacrificing future flexibility.
GOAL #2) Not be a complete embarrassment on the court. Give the young players a semi-competent structure within which to develop and give the fans a fun, competitive team that they can get excited about.
The Wolves failed both of these objectives this year, squandering two first round picks on power forwards unlikely to help them in the future and posting a worse record than the team synonymous with tanking, complete with possibly the most ignominious season sweep in Minnesota Timberwolves history. Let's see if we can sketch a simple plan that will point the franchise towards these twin goals.
There is much more to Goal #2 than I will be covering in the article. This article will primarily cover player personnel decisions, but the Wolves have major coaching, medical, and analytic issues that need to be fixed. The Wolves would likely be best running a pace and space attack around Rubio and I have no idea what they were trying to do defensively this season. The medical staff's track record speaks for itself, and investment in a world class analytics team to provide input on in-game tactics and player evaluation should more than pay for itself. We've talked about these issues in depth before at Canis Hoopus, and probably will again. Consider them noted, but beyond the scope of this article.
Not the Wolves head trainer, contrary to popular belief.
PART ONE: STATE OF THE ROSTER
(It ain't pretty)
Current Roster (Years/Salary)
C: Nikola Pekovic (3/36), Gorgui Dieng (2/4*), Kevin Garnett (FA), Justin Hamilton (FA)
PF: Anthony Bennett (2/13*), Adreian Payne (3/7*)
SF: Andrew Wiggins (3/19*), Shabazz Muhammad (2/5*), Chase Budinger (1/5), Robbie Hummel (FA)
SG: Kevin Martin (2/14), Gary Neal (FA), Zach LaVine (3/8*)
PG: Ricky Rubio (4/55), Lorenzo Brown (FA)
*Includes Team Options (Rookie Scale Contracts)
The Wolves have five players slated to become free agents: Kevin Garnett, Gary Neal, Robbie Hummel, Lorenzo Brown, and Justin Hamilton. Chase Budinger and any player whose rookie option they decline before next season will become expiring contracts.To get a sense for who the Wolves should keep or trade, let us break down the roster by category, using the perhaps unfair dichotomy of Asset or Albatross with each player's rank by ESPN's RPM in parenthesis. Rankings are out of 472 and current as of April 9th.
Core Pieces (Major Asset): Ricky Rubio (58), Andrew Wiggins (286)
Veteran (Asset): Kevin Martin (280)
Veterans (Albatross): Nikola Pekovic (121), Chase Budinger (426)
Young Guys (Asset): Shabazz Muhammad (284), Gorgui Dieng (188)
Young Guys (Albatross): Zach LaVine (472), Anthony Bennett (469), Adreian Payne (462)
FA (Minor Asset): Robbie Hummel (337), Lorenzo Brown (NR), Justin Hamilton (342)
FA (Out That Door With Nary A 2nd Thought): Gary Neal (420)
FA (Elephant In The Room): Kevin Garnett (102)
Pekovic counts as an albatross because of his contract & injury issues. The other four players are albatrosses because of on-court production, though it is probable at least one of the four improves next season. This exercise really drives home the point of how many roster spots the Wolves used on guys who were not ready to contribute to a winning team this season or possibly ever. To make matters worse, two of the Wolves top three players by RPM are unlikely to play much next season. Nikola Pekovic has already re-re-re-re-injured himself and Kevin Garnett's status remains up in the air. For this article, I am proceeding under the assumption that Pekovic will be unable to contribute much, if anything, next season and will return to part-time duty for 2016-17.
On the bright side, this metric paints Rubio as a good player, Dieng and Bazz as possibly useful bench guys, and I think we can all agree that on/off metrics don't capture the abilities that Wiggins has shown at times this season. Once he begins to harness his talents more consistently, I expect that ranking to skyrocket. That's about it for the bright side. Nearly half the roster was among the least beneficial players in the league, which is why the Wolves are on track to finish with the
2nd worst record in the NBA.
Likely Additions & Subtractions
Nemanja Bjelica (PF, Serbia). Bjelica is an intriguing prospect who has been rumored to come to the Wolves on a mid-level contract next season. He is a tall, skilled power forward who can rebound, pass, shoot, and should start for the Wolves next season. Josh McRoberts may be a realistic NBA comparison. Minnesota desperately needs a rotation quality power forward, and I think it's unlikely that they would do better than Bjelica in the open market. If he is anything like advertised, he could end up playing 30 minutes a game next year.
Gary Neal is out the door. He's one of the worst defenders in the league, reportedly was unhappy about being traded to Minnesota, is on the wrong side of his prime, and is a free agent. There is no reason to offer him a contract for next season, especially as Zach LaVine is perfectly qualified to back up KMart, shoot a lot of 3's, and not play defense.
Justin Hamilton is also somewhat redundant. Dieng and Bjelica both fill the role of "skilled big with questionable D" more effectively. The roster needs a tough defender as a change of pace to those guys, not a guy who can be mistaken for Robbie Hummel at times. I like how he's played at times and best of luck to him; he'd make a decent pickup if the Wolves need more mid-season injury replacements next year, but I don't think Minnesota would regret letting him walk this summer.
PART TWO: THE DRAFT
(More picks than roster spots.)
Minnesota 1st Round Pick (Median Projection: #3). The best case scenario is that the Wolves win their first lottery and draft Karl-Anthony Towns. If the Wolves get the 3rd pick in the draft, their median outcome, I would be happy with either Justise Winslow or D'Angelo Russell. If the Wolves drop all the way to 5th, there is still a chance they could nab one of those two if Mudiay is taken in the top four. If not, Willie Cauley-Stein fills a need and should be the best option on the board if Towns, Winslow, Russell, and Okafor are gone. I would draft Okafor in the event of the Wolves picking 4th with Towns, Winslow, and Russell off the board, but I think the odds of that probability occurring are approaching zero. I would be hesitant to take him in front of the aforementioned three because of the team building problems an offensively minded center with no jumper creates, but I think he will likely turn into a very fine player. Drafting Mudiay would likely be a mistake primarily because of the high level of uncertainty around his true talent level and secondarily because of his likely inability to coexist with Ricky Rubio. Mudiay might have to be as good or better than John Wall to make (Mudiay - Rubio) > (Winslow or WCS). As of the middle of April (opinions change), if I were running the Wolves, the most likely outcome would be drafting Justise Winslow.
Minnesota 2nd Round Pick (Projection: #31 or #32). It's way too early to start projecting the 2nd round. That said, as of right now my favorite candidates at this spot are Delon Wright and Justin Anderson. Robert Upshaw, Chris McCullough, Arturas Gudaitis, and Norman Powell are also intriguing possibilities here, based on Draft Express' current mock draft. I also like T.J. McConnell and Branden Dawson as undervalued defense-first players, but each should be available as an undrafted free agent, making his selection here a waste of resources. Picking Winslow and Anderson might lead to some roster balance issues, as the Wolves desperately need a 2nd string point guard, but taking the best player available in the draft and then releasing the roster's dead weight over the summer seems like a wiser plan than reaching to fill a need in the draft, as I previously argued in the "Good Process" article.
Sacramento 2nd Round Pick (Projection: #36). This spot will probably be used on a promising Eurostash (I would target Lithuanian big man Arturas Gudaitis or Russian forward Aleksander Vezenkov, but that could change depending on who enters the draft and is available at that slot). However, it is important to be flexible and not be completely locked in on a European player here. For example, if two players you have rated as top 20 prospects fall to #32 and #36, then you obviously take them both and worry about fit later. If Delon Wright and Justin Anderson, for example, both fell that far, I would take Wright at #32, Anderson at #36, and either trade a couple guys or not bring back Robbie Hummel and/or Lorenzo Brown. It would be disappointing to see those guys leave from a fan's perspective, but worth it to increase the team's talent level. Alternatively, the pick could be used to trade for a player, preferably a promising young player buried on a bench somewhere. Were I GM, I would make serious inquiries about Atlanta's Mike Muscala, Milwaukee's Miles Plumlee, and Toronto's Bebe Nogueira (pending a thorough medical checkup), to give just a few examples.
This is where the roster becomes crowded. Those of you especially skilled at counting will notice that, in this plan, the Wolves will have 16-17 players following the draft. Without knowing the draft order and player availability, it is impossible to determine in advance what players the Wolves will have on the roster by following this advice. I am very opposed to drafting for fit over talent, so I would not try to "balance" the draft by drafting one interior player and one perimeter player irrespective of the players who happened to be on the board. This likely means that the Wolves will have to let go of 2-3 players after the draft to field a balanced roster that can weather an injury or two without completely imploding. I'll show you what I mean using three hypothetical scenarios.
Post-Draft Roster #1
C: Karl Towns (#1), Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Garnett, (Arturas Gudaitis #36 - Eurostashed)
PF: Nemanja Bjelica, Anthony Bennett, Adreian Payne, Chris McCullough (#32)
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Robbie Hummel, Chase Budinger
SG: Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine
PG: Ricky Rubio, Lorenzo Brown
Post-Draft Roster #2
C: Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Garnett, Robert Upshaw (#36)
PF: Nemanja Bjelica, Anthony Bennett, Adreian Payne
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Justise Winslow (#4), Shabazz Muhammad, Justin Anderson (#32), Robbie Hummel, Chase Budinger
SG: Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine
PG: Ricky Rubio, Lorenzo Brown
Post-Draft Roster #3
C: Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Garnett
PF: Nemanja Bjelica, Anthony Bennett, Adreian Payne
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Robbie Hummel, Chase Budinger, (Aleksander Vezenkov #36 - Eurostashed)
SG: Kevin Martin, D'Angelo Russell (#4), Zach LaVine
PG: Ricky Rubio, Delon Wright (#32), Lorenzo Brown
...Or any of a million other possibilities. The purpose is to show the differences in the Wolves needs after different drafts. Draft #3 leaves the Wolves with a balanced roster and only a forward to jettison to make it to the magic number of 15. This shows the simplicity bestowed by a highly rated NBA ready point guard falling to the Wolves at #32. However, reaching for a player like Terry Rozier just to balance the roster would not be a wise use of that resource, and betrays one of the principles of good process referenced in the previous article - always draft the best player available. Draft #3 still leaves the Wolves with some work to do, however, as that big man rotation is not making it through the season competently or intact. An additional big who can both play defense and stay on the court is desperately needed.
Draft #2 leaves the Wolves with 17 players and two point guards. Clearly some housekeeping is needed, as three players need to be jettisoned. A nonfunctional big and at least one wing can go to trim the roster to 15 and a 2nd wing will need to be cut or traded to make room for that third point guard no Timberwolves fan will ever want to go without ever again following the 2014-15 season.
Draft #1 leaves the Wolves at 16 players and two point guards. In this case it is fairly clear that one big and one wing need to be cut or traded to make space for that much needed 3rd point guard. This draft also shows the way Towns immediately makes the big rotation work. Towns-Dieng-Bjelica would combine for the lion's share of the minutes when healthy and eliminate much of the horrific performances alluded to in the RPM numbers shared above.
Keen-eyed readers may also notice the Kevin Martin trade possibilities that drafting a wing in the top 5 provides. Acquiring Justise Winslow, the player I would be most likely to draft before knowing the lottery order, would allow the Wolves to start Winslow and Wiggins together on the wing, deal Martin for a future pick, and open another roster spot without sacrificing too much on-court production.
PART THREE: FREE AGENCY
(Making the most out of limited maneuverability.)
Garnett & The Cap
I wanted to put this off for as long as possible, but we need to talk about Kevin. Besides the Wolves lack of depth at point guard, there is also a lack of depth on the interior. This is created by Nikola Pekovic's injury woes and Kevin Garnett's uncertain status. The thought of cutting Pek has occurred to me, but I would like to follow the advice of everyone's favorite Ent: don't be hasty. Stretching his contract would be a mistake, as it would put dead weight on the cap in years the Wolves should be competitive and have better uses for that cap room. This would clearly violate Goal #1. Cutting him this offseason would leave his contract on the books and preclude him from helping the team in 2016-17 and 2017-18. Were I running the Wolves, I would have Pekovic's health re-evaluated next summer. If he can't play in 2016-17, then I would consider cutting him to free that roster space.
This brings us to Garnett, who is better than the rest of the Wolves motley crew of bigs when healthy and on the floor, but those conditions appear to be all too rare these days. Simply put, Minnesota cannot afford to waste two roster spots on centers who don't play if they are to avoid embarrassing themselves next year (Goal #2). If Garnett can give the Wolves 1500 minutes, then that may be beneficial enough to re-sign him to a 1 year contract. Based on his career trajectory, I am operating under the premise that Garnett is unable to handle a 1500 minutes workload going forward. In that case, it would be harmful to the short and long term health of the franchise to re-sign him this offseason. Painful as it may be, the Wolves should offer him a job somewhere in the organization and move on.
A Garnett retirement would bring the roster down to 15, but the Wolves would still need, depending on the outcome of the draft, either a backup point guard or a backup center, preferably a defensively-minded one. In the event of a Garnett retirement, the Wolves would owe $61 million dollars to 12 players (2 picks at roughly $5 million, Pekovic, Rubio, Martin, Bennett, Wiggins, Budinger, LaVine, Muhammad, Payne, Dieng).
The salary cap is projected to be roughly $66 million, leaving the Wolves with two options. They could renounce their free agents and use that cap space or they could retain their cap holds to stay over the cap and use the mid-level exception before using minimum salaries to complete the roster. Since the amount of projected cap room is almost the same as the MLE ($5 million), with the lion's share of that money projected to go to Nemanja Bjelica either way, the only advantage of staying over the cap would be to allow the Wolves to re-sign Kevin Garnett at a higher salary than the minimum.
On the other hand, if the Wolves can trade some players for little in return, they could renounce Garnett's rights, get under the cap, and sign another player or two that could help them next year in addition to Bjelica. Let us consider plausible trades first and subsequent signings second.
Trade #1: Anthony Bennett to the Knicks using the J.R. Smith trade exception. After the Knicks blow all their cap space on Rajon Rondo, Reggie Jackson, or whoever, Phil Jackson will be looking for more ways to upgrade the team. This gives them a cost-free way to kick the tires on a former #1 pick who still might have a little potential. Maybe we could get a future 2nd rounder out of this deal as well. If Jackson questions why you want to make the deal, just mumble something about cap space and quickly change the subject.
Other Anthony Bennett into a trade exception candidates: Boston (Rondo), Denver (McGee), Sacramento (Terry). I'm relatively confident that a competent GM could talk one of those four franchises into taking Bennett once their cap space is gone, maybe snagging a 2nd round pick in the process. He's a 3rd year rookie! He was a number one pick! The cap is going up! One year flyer! What do you have to lose! This trade would have to happen after teams blow through their cap space in the first week of free agency, and have little other recourse to upgrade their rosters.
Trade #2: This trade depends on the outcome of the draft. If the Wolves draft two bigs, as in Draft Scenario #1, then another trade may not be necessary. The Wolves could use the final roster spot on a backup point guard and only make a trade if they get excellent value for one of their players. If the Wolves draft two perimeter players, as in Scenario #2, then it may be time to trade Kevin Martin and/or Chase Budinger to open up space for another big man. If the Wolves draft a point guard, as in Scenario #3, that mitigates the need for a trade, as the Wolves can use their final roster spot on another big.
But before proposing another trade, the Wolves need to answer a series of questions.
1.) Is Chase Budinger back?
Here are Budinger's pre and post All Star game splits.
Budinger still isn't a big part of the Wolves long term plans, given his injury history and defensive limitations. But, if the player we've seen the second half of the season is the real Bud, finally recovered from his many injuries, than it would be smart to keep him and trade him to a contender desperate for shooting next season. If you think the past 20 games have been a mirage, then you try to deal him over the summer and accept anything you can get or even cut him to open the roster spot. Without any inside information, I'm too optimistic about his final quarter of the season to just cut him this summer.
2.) Is Adreian Payne a lost cause?
It hasn't been pretty. Touted as a NBA ready prospect, Payne has displayed approximately zero NBA skills, unless you count "out of control energy" to be a NBA skill. For those of you more swayed by statistical evidence, his PER is single digits, his Win Shares are negative, and his RPM would be last on 20 other teams. If you think he's a bust, then trading him this summer for a 2nd rounder would be wise, sunk costs be damned. I think he's a bust.
3.) How many years does Kevin Martin have left?
Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late
This is the same principle I quoted in my process article last year. You may think a Martin trade would violate Goal #2, as Martin has a very beneficial effect on the team's spacing and might be the most potent offensive threat on the roster. However, he'll turn 33 next year, he's never been very durable, and his defense is fast approaching catastrophic status. If the Wolves can receive something of value for Martin (a future pick in the 20s), I think they would be wise to take it. Wiggins' flexibility between the 2 and 3 gives them a lot of options when looking to replace Martin. The Wolves drafting a perimeter player like Russell or Winslow would also make a Martin trade much more defensible from an on-court perspective. However, I think it is unlikely that the Wolves could or should trade Martin in time to open cap room this summer. His value should be higher in the fall, when teams are locked in to their rosters and have fewer ways to solve their deficiencies.
4.) What is the lowest draft pick we would accept in return for each of our players?
Level I - Top 55 protected: Nikola Pekovic, Anthony Bennett
Level II - 2nd round pick: Adreian Payne
Level III - Top 40 pick: Chase Budinger, Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin
Level IV - Top 20 pick: Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad
Level V - Elite prospect(s): Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio
The most realistic scenario for a front office operating under these presumptions would be a trade of Payne during the offseason (I would talk to the Nets, Wizards, Pelicans, and Mavericks) and a midseason trade of either Budinger or Martin to a contender desperate for 3 point shooting. After the Wolves jettison Hamilton, Neal, Garnett, Bennett, and Payne for Bjelica and two draft picks, they would have two open roster spots for free agents and about $5 million in cap room. If any of those players could not be got rid of without too high a price (Garnett blackmailing Taylor, nobody willing to take Bennett for nothing, etc), the Wolves would not have any cap room and could only sign minimum salaried players, and possibly use the Room Exception, which is not much more than the Veteran's Minimum. In that case, Hummel or Brown may have to be let go to balance the roster.
This finally brings us to the free agents the Wolves should target this summer. If you cast your mind back to the oft-referenced "Good Process" article, you'll remember that I warned against signing bench players in the $5 million range. I would like to update that number for inflation. Briefly, the NBA's new TV deal means that players who would have made $3 million will now sign for $5 million and players who would have made $5 million will now sign for $7-8 million. Most of the players listed below can (optimistically) be signed for about $5 million, now a fair salary for a fringe starter in the new cap environment that will take hold next summer. I also advised waiting out the market a little. The Wolves won't have much of a choice there, as they won't know whether or not they have cap space until making a Bennett trade, which would be dependent on another team to run out of cap space. (The other way to get that space would be to trade Martin or Budinger for a pick on draft night. If they get a good deal they should do it, but as I mentioned before, I think they will be much likelier to get a good deal for those players during the early part of the season.)
The two major holes on the roster, almost no matter who the Wolves let go or draft, are a tough defensive big man and a steady backup point guard. In the scenario the Wolves actually have cap room, they would use that money ($5 million) to plug one hole, and use a minimum roster spot or the Room Exception to address the other. It is possible to split that money and use $2-3 million on a backup big and $2-3 million on a backup point guard, but I am assuming players will get paid more than we expect this summer based on projected salary cap increases.
Mid-Level Contract Candidates
Point Guards: Cory Joseph, Jeremy Lin
Both of these point guards are players I would feel comfortable gifting with the Wolves hypothetical cap space. Lin is worth more than this, but may be undervalued after having spent the season undergoing irrational benchings and bewildering schemes courtesy of Byron Scott. Lin gets to the rim, knows how to run an offense, and is a good enough 3 point shooter to play off the ball next to Rubio for 10-15 minutes a game. Joseph isn't on Lin's level as a shooter, but is a good pick and roll player and a much tougher defender, which fits with what will hopefully become the Wolves ethos as Ricky and Wiggins take over the team. This is plan A for the Wolves, especially if the Wolves draft a big man, but both of these players will probably receive better offers from other teams, which leads us to plan B (or Plan A if the Wolves draft a guard).
Bigs: Bismack Biyombo, Alexis Ajinca
Each of these big men would instantly become the Wolves best rebounder and rim protector. Biyombo is better on defense, and improved Charlotte's rebounding percentage by nearly three full points when on the court, but #TeamAjinca is huge (7'1), just reaching his prime, and a much better offensive player (60% True Shooting on a 21% Usage this year). I would rather have Biyombo, because I still believe he has elite defensive upside, but would be very happy making either player the Wolves 2015-16 starting center.
Like I wrote above, the Wolves are going to want to wait out the market for a relative bargain. One or two of these guys will probably sign immediately, and the Wolves will have to hope that one of them initially falls through the cracks. It is likely that one of them will, but it is not certain.
Other Veterans To Target: Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, C.J. Watson, Kyle O'Quinn, Aron Baynes, Darrell Arthur
Each of these players is flawed. Stuckey is coming off a career year and isn't much of a shooter, Brooks doesn't play defense, Watson is also coming off a career year and is on the wrong side of 30, O'Quinn is a decent rim protector but isn't a very savvy defender yet, Baynes is a savvy defender but isn't much of a rim protector, and Arthur is a bit of a tweener and doesn't have an efficient offensive game. All of them are much better than what the Wolves have relied on for stopgap minutes this year and help the team accomplish Goal #2. Most of these players would cost less than the four main targets listed above, so you might be able to sign two with your leftover cap space.
Minimum Salary Candidates
NBA Guys: Jeff Adrien, Jeff Withey, Tarik Black, Sam Dalembert, Nick Calathes, Nate Wolters, Ish Smith
Jeff Withey is in a weird situation. He's been very productive in the limited time he's been on the court, but Monty Williams does not trust him and he was stuck behind Asik and Ajinca this year. Adrien did well his first time around and Black is the bigger, younger, less polished version of him. Dalembert disappeared this year, but maybe he has a bounceback year playing at the minimum. Nick Calathes may be returning to Europe, but is underrated. Wolters and Smith are competent 3rd point guards in a pinch.
D-League Guys: Khem Birch, JaMychal Green, Willie Reed, Joe Jackson, T.J. McConnell (projected undrafted free agent), Tim Frazier
I've written about most of these guys before. I think T.J. McConnell has a very good shot at having a similar career to players like Derek Fisher and Eric Snow. I mean that as a compliment.
Trade Candidates: Mike Muscala, Bebe Nogueira, Miles Plumlee, James McAdoo, Shelvin Mack. I would look for young guys with no clear route to playing time. Maybe they could be had for a future 2nd rounder or #36 this year. Most of the other teams would probably say no, at least on Muscala and Plumlee, but I'm not completely sure one way or the other. It certainly wouldn't hurt to try.
PART FOUR: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
(Setting ourselves up for the re-re-re-re-rebuild.)
Where would following this advice place the Wolves at the end of the offseason? Here are a few possible directions the offseason could go.
Best Case Scenario
C: Bismack Biyombo, Karl Towns, Nikola Pekovic
PF: Nemanja Bjelica, Mike Muscala, Robbie Hummel
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Chase Budinger
SG: Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine
PG: Ricky Rubio, Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown
This is the sunshine & puppies "everything is awesome" roster. Wolves get the #1 pick and trade guys who have underperformed. Delon Wright falls to #32. The Wolves trade #36 for Mike Muscala. The rest of the league undervalues Biyombo. The acquisition of so many bigs means that Gorgui has also been traded for a future 1st rounder. The Wolves fill all their holes and only use 14 roster spots, giving them the flexibility to snag the next guy who unexpectedly blows up in the D-League. Budinger and Martin become valuable in-season trade assets. Things probably couldn't work out this well, but it's fun to consider a possible best case scenario.
Middle Case Scenario
C: Alexis Ajinca, Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic (Arturas Gudaitis Eurostashed)
PF: Nemanja Bjelica, Adreian Payne, Chris McCullough
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Justise Winslow, Shabazz Muhammad, Chase Budinger
SG: Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine
PG: Ricky Rubio, Shelvin Mack, Lorenzo Brown
The Wolves get a lower pick, are unable to trade Payne, do not get Wright in the draft, and are forced to let Hummel go to make everything fit. Still, Winslow is a fine prospect and Ajinca and Shelvin Mack (acquired for a future 2nd) fill major holes. This is a roster that should be much more competitive next season and is set up for future success. Martin and Budinger can be traded for picks during the season, in which case Wiggins could slide to the 2.
Worst Case Scenario
C: Gorgui Dieng, Willie Cauley-Stein, Nikola Pekovic
PF: Nemanja Bjelica, Anthony Bennett, Adreian Payne
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Chase Budinger (Aleksander Vezenkov Eurostashed)
SG: Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine, Norman Powell
PG: Ricky Rubio, Lorenzo Brown, Joe Jackson
In this scenario, the Wolves drop to #5 in the draft and a lot of good prospects decide to return to school. This is not a knock on Norman Powell, who I think the numbers underrate. In this scenario he'd be a good value. They are also unable to trade any dead weight, and consequently have no cap space. This is the "do no harm" roster. There is a 3rd major building block to add to Wiggins and Rubio, there are several expiring contracts, and the roster is balanced so that no one should be forced too far out of position. The Wolves will have another top ten pick next year to continue building. It's the absolute baseline that the Wolves should be compared to. If the roster ends up in a worse position than this heading into next season, it will be organizational malpractice.
This October, the Wolves will face up to six decisions on rookie extensions.
No Brainers: Wiggins' 3rd year ($6.0), Bazz's 4th year ($3.0), Dieng's 4th year ($2.3).
Really Bad, But I See Enough Potential To Run It Back: LaVine's 3rd year ($2.2).
I Don't Think So, But Training Camp Could Sway Me: Payne's 3rd year ($2.0). Payne has been really bad and is really old for a rookie. If he doesn't look much better in training camp next fall, there are better uses of the roster spot to be had around the minimum (guys like Jeff Adrien & Tarik Black for example).
Nope Nope Nope Nope Nope Nope Nope Nope Nope: Bennett's 4th year ($7.3). In my best laid plans, he is not on the team by this point, but there is no way the Wolves should pick up this option. There are better players available for 1/10th of this salary.