The Wolves have the day off from practice today before returning to work over the weekend. With the day off, Ricky Rubio has mulled the possibility of heading to the Ryder Cup on Friday depending on how his legs feel.
Interesting names have peppered the sidelines throughout the first week of camp. Most notably Mike Krzyzewski and much of his Duke staff. The Duke coach attended the first day of Wolves practice after he and his staff reportedly met with Tre Jones (Tyus Jones’s younger brother) and Gary Trent Jr. at Apple Valley High School on Monday.
Was talking KG w/ Sam Mitchell for podcast. Got this text during chat: whole Duke staff led by Coach K at Apple Valley HS to see Tre Jones.— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) September 27, 2016
In addition to seeing Tre Jones last night + attending #Twolves practice today, Duke's Coach K met w/ Gary Trent Sr. Jr. a top 2017 target.— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) September 27, 2016
Former Wolves assistant and head coach Randy Wittman has been at practice as well this week. Wittman, like Krzyzewski, was simply at practice as an observer, however, another former Wolves assistant, Ed Pinckney who was with the Wolves from 2007-2010, attended practice in what is likely to become a full-time assistant role. Pinckney was on the Denver Nuggets bench last season and was a defensive specialist coach with Thibodeau in Chicago.
The Final Roster Spots
With the buyout of Kevin Garnett, one roster spot is available on the Wolves 15-man roster. This spot is likely to be filled by one of three players on the training camp roster who have non-guaranteed “summer” contracts. Those three players are 37-year-old Rasual Butler, 33-year-old John Lucas III, and 26-year-old Toure’ Murry.
Rasual Butler: Small Forward/Shooting Guard, 6’7”, 215 lbs.
On paper, Butler seems the most likely to grab the final roster spot. Butler fills the need of an additional wing shooter - 36% from distance in his career. Butler, unlike Lucas III, and Murry played in the NBA last season. Butler was with the San Antonio Spurs - 46 games, 432 minutes. Two seasons ago, for the Washington Wizards, Butler played in 75 games and was a meaningful bench role player - 20.1 minutes per game, 38.7 3-pt% while posting a positive offensive and defensive impact according to win shares, via basketball-reference.com
Butler also has some brief experience playing under Thibodeau with the Bulls in 2010-11.
John Lucas III: Point Guard, 5’11”, 165 lbs.
Lucas III seems very confident in making the roster and serving as a mentor to the young players saying, “we are going to be around each other the next 6-7 months.” Jon Krawczynski, also, remarked that Lucas III expects to make the Wolves roster:
One thing that stood out today at Wolves camp: John Lucas III speaking very confidently. Clearly expecting to make the team.— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) September 28, 2016
Again, on paper, the deck seems a bit stacked against Lucas III to make the roster as the team is assuredly going to carry three superior point guards in Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn, and Tyus Jones. Lucas III does bring maturity and especially experience. Lucas III played parts of two seasons under Thibodeau in Chicago, his self-proclaimed best years as a pro.
After Derrick Rose went down with an injury in 2011-12, Lucas III played a big role for the Bulls that season. He recorded career highs in the following key areas, again, per basketball-reference.
Usage Percentage: 26.0
3-pt %: 39.3
Per 36 minutes: 18.3 points, 5.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds
Toure’ Murry: Point Guard/Shooting Guard, 6’5”, 195 lbs.
Since going undrafted in 2012 following his graduation from Wichita State University, Murry has moved around Summer League teams, and played for various NBA teams D-League affiliates. His most notable NBA experience came in 2013-14 while playing for the New York Knicks in 51 games as a point guard.
Murry played for the Wolves Las Vegas Summer League team this July. Through that experience, Murry has been under the watchful eye of Thibodeau and the rest of the Wolves staff. In Las Vegas, Murry gathered experience playing and practicing with Tyus Jones, Kris Dunn, and Adreian Payne. In the Summer League, he often played off the ball, so as to give primary ball-handling duties to Jones and Dunn.
If nothing else, Murry is on the record as being fond of the game of basketball...
I really LOVE to play the game of basketball.— Toure Murry (@toure_murry) September 24, 2016
The Pekovic Roster Spot
A second roster spot could become available if a buyout is reached with Nikola Pekovic, who was recently ruled out for the entirety of the 2016-17 season.
Pekovic last played in game action for the Wolves on January 31st, 2016. That sets the date of January 31st, 2017 as the marker in which the Wolves can apply for the determination that Pekovic has suffered a “career-ending” injury - potentially making him eligible for what the NBA labels as a medical retirement.
This decision on whether Pekovic has suffered a career-ending injury will be made by a physician designated by the NBA and the players association and will not occur until Pekovic has been waived and Minnesota applies to have the salary removed.
Even if Pekovic is deemed eligible for medical retirement at the end of January, the Wolves are not completely off the hook. If Pekovic eventually returns from his career-threatening injury, the salary will be included back on the Wolves’s salary cap. There is, however, a grace period of 25 games after the player returns to determine if he’s healthy enough to continue.
For example, if Pekovic is medically cleared to play in 2018-19, the Wolves will again incur his contract once he plays 25 games. If he never again plays 25 or more games, the Wolves are in the clear.
Since Pekovic is on a guaranteed contract, the only ways to open up his roster spot this season are:
- Wait until January 31st to apply for medical retirement, and potentially have Pekovic’s contract deleted from the salary cap and roster entirely. They could still waive him before the season, however.
- Buyout or waive Pekovic’s contract completely. 2 years - $23.7 million
The $12.1 million the Wolves owe Pekovic this season isn’t a hindrance, being as the team isn’t even at the salary floor with the inclusion of Pekovic.
The downside of option two is being on the hook for $11.6 million from Pekovic next season. The Wolves will likely be looking to be aggressive on the free agent market next off-season, signing new players and retaining current players at larger dollar amounts. The list of players with expiring contracts includes Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad, Brandon Rush, and Jordan Hill.
If Pek’s salary stays on the books, they have the option of stretching his cap hit as well.
If we are to glean anything from Lucas III’s comments, maybe a buyout is in the works and the Wolves are simply willing to bite the bullet of the contract in it’s entirety so as to utilize all fifteen roster spots.
Which of the three players on non-guaranteed contracts would you like to see the Wolves roster for the 2016-17 season?