clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Few (Too Many) Thoughts: The Wolves, Free Agency, and Harrison Barnes

Should the Wolves make an aggressive offer for upcoming restricted free agent Harrison Barnes?

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

It is late January and the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves with a record of 13-31 and, once again, fans are left to contemplate more about the upcoming draft and summer than the playoffs. Despite their record arguing otherwise, I don't believe that the Wolves are that bad. Their poor record in games in which they have led by 10 points or more (9-11), their overall inexperience and youth, and the questionable coaching decisions are a big reason for their lopsided record. Now that's not to say they are good. They aren't good. They just aren't as bad as their record implies.

Keeping this in mind, the Wolves find themselves in a prime position to be active this coming summer in free agency, which potentially could advance the team past their mediocre tendencies and, in my mind, towards being playoff contenders. The way I see it, the Wolves have three primary holes: 1. coaching philosophy 2. the lack of a "3-and-D" type wing and 3. another big who can stretch the floor and play alongside Karl-Anthony Towns (whether that is a stretch four or a stretch five is a debate for another day). Realistically, the team could mend all three of these holes over the summer by signing a new head coach and signing/drafting the 3-and-D wing and the stretch four.

There are a few interesting names that will be on the market this summer that fit these profiles, but one of the more interesting names is Golden State Warriors' wing Harrison Barnes. Barnes is due to hit the market as a restricted free agent this summer after turning down the Warriors' four-years, $64 million extension offer this past summer. Barnes is a good example of a 3-and-D wing who is young and about to enter the prime of his career.

Barnes has not been a main option in his time with the Golden State Warriors, often relegated to being the fourth or fifth option when he is on the court. Because of that, it isn't entirely known what his offensive ceiling is. On the season, Barnes is a 40% three-point shooter, a skill the Wolves desperately need, and is particularly deadly from above the break, where he is connecting on 50% of his attempts (18/36 as of writing this).

Below is his offensive shot chart via NBA Savant:

And here is his defensive shot chart (a.k.a. the players he is defending's shot chart):

While Barnes isn't particularly deadly from the corners this season, it should be mentioned that he shot 51.3% (40/78) from the left corner last season, he is shooting league average from the right, and is above average at finishing around the rim. Add in his defensive skills and he is exactly the type of player that the Wolves need: a wing who can hit three-pointers and is an above average defender.

In theory he is the perfect player to match with Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns. Playing him alongside Wiggins would allow Wiggins to primarily play the two, which would allow him to go up against smaller defenders and stay away from guarding more physical wings. He could also guard opponents' fours from time to time and could be good in pick-and-roll action with Towns. In an article written by ESPN's Zach Lowe in September for Grantland (RIP Grantland), Lowe talks about how poor Barnes was shooting out of the pick-and-roll last season (he converted only seven shots in 24 attempts) and how he would need to improve at this aspect of his game if he wanted to be a max contract player. Barnes has improved this season as he has hit nine shots in 17 attempts, placing him in the 94.5 percentile of pick-and-roll ball handlers according to (yes, these are both small sample sizes, but there is improvement).

The question is, however, how much is Harrison Barnes worth? Lowe argued in the previously mentioned piece that signing Barnes to a max contract would be a bad idea. I can't disagree with his logic (he is way smarter than me, after all), but I would imagine the value of Barnes' upcoming contract will rely heavily on the Warriors pursuit of free agent to be Kevin Durant. If Durant signs with Golden State (which isn't out of the realm of possibility), one would think that Barnes would become much more expendable and could probably be had for a much cheaper price.

Keep in mind that Barnes is a restricted free agent, however, so signing Barnes to a max contract offer sheet is probably the only realistic shot a team would have at prying him away from Golden State, especially if Durant to Golden State doesn't matriculate. So should, or even could, the Wolves make an offer to Barnes?

As of right now, the NBA's salary cap is projected to jump to around $89 million for the 2016-17 season (it currently sits at roughly $67.1 million) and the Wolves are expected to have $68.9 million tied up in salary next season, according to Basketball Reference. What follows deals with some assumptions (and you know what they say about assuming), and I am anything but a salary cap expert, but hear me out. Say the Wolves trade Kevin Martin and receive only second round draft picks (a likely scenario) before the trading deadline on February 23, let Damjan Rudez walk by not accepting his team option for next season, and sign Harrison Barnes to a max contract worth roughly $22.25 million a year (he's been in the league for three seasons, so his max contract would be worth 25% of the salary cap). We also have to assume that the Wolves sign two players at the same dollar value as the likely leaving/retiring Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller. These moves would put the Wolves' expected 2016-17 salary at approximately $82.6 million. The team then signs their first round draft pick (worth somewhere around $2.8-$4.7 million depending on draft position) and the team still finds themselves under the cap with a maximum salary of $87.3 million.

In the summer of 2017-18 the salary cap is projected to swell to $108 million and the Wolves are currently on the books for $51.3 million (including the team options of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, and Tyus Jones), but this is the season where things could get interesting. With Adreian Payne on the trade block as mentioned by Darren Wolfson in one of his recent podcasts, I think it would be safe to assume that they wouldn't pick up his $3.1 million team option, so that would push the Wolves salary down to $48.2 million. Add the roughly $22.25 million that is owed to Barnes and $10 million in other free agents and rookies (which is roughly equal to what is owed to Kevin Garnett, Prince, and Miller) and the team salary would sit around $80.5 million. At this point the team would have to decide to either retain or dispose of Shabazz Muhammad and/or Gorgui Dieng, if they haven't already. No matter what, I think the team should still find themselves under the $108 million salary cap.

The next season, Wiggins will be due for a contract extension, but Nikola Pekovic's contract will come off the books (assuming it hasn't already), so the team should have enough to give him a maximum contract or a contract similar to Kevin Love. The season after Towns will be due for a contract extension and one would think the team would be able to move pieces around so that he could sign for the max (depending on the salary cap, of course). It should also be mentioned that the Wolves will own the Bird Rights of both Wiggins and Towns, which would allow the team to go over the salary cap to keep either of them in Minnesota and only one of them can get the max contract.

*       *       *

Essentially, this is just a long winded way to say that the Wolves will have the money to go after a max contract player, either this summer or next. The team could also take other steps to get a player like Barnes such as offering up players like Shabazz Muhammad or Gorgui Dieng in a trade or sign-and-trade scenario; everybody on the roster not named Wiggins or Towns should be made available for the right price. I like the idea of keep Muhammad on the team because of the scoring he could provide coming off the bench and because he has shown improvement as the season has gone on. Also, Dieng is a high quality back up center that could probably start on a few teams, but if involving either player in a sign-and-trade for Barnes is the only way to get him I, I think the Wolves should pull the trigger.

All this being said, the Wolves aren't known for being big spenders in free agency and they rarely make an Earth shattering move. However, this team is on the precipice of taking that next step to become perennial contenders and they could make that next step if they sign a 3-and-D wing or a stretch four. Whether Harrison Barnes is the answer or not is up for debate, but I think his name should at least be in the conversation. He is a young player (only 23) who is a good three-point shooter and a solid defender on both the wing and in the post, all of which the Wolves desperately need.

Barnes has improved every year since entering the league three years ago and is a vital member on one of the most dominant teams the NBA has ever known. He is often used as the fourth or even fifth option with Golden State, meaning we don't fully know what he could do if he was more of an offensive focal point. Signing him to a max would definitely be a risk and there is the possibility that signing him to that big of a deal would be jumping the gun in terms of accelerating the success of the franchise. But I truly think this team is close to becoming the next "big thing" and I would appreciate that the team was willing to take a risk in attempt to become a championship contender. But maybe that's why I write about the Wolves rather than run them.