On NBA Free Agency next week -@APkrawczynski "the scuttlebutt around the league is that the Wolves are going big game hunting."— KFAN1003 (@KFAN1003) June 24, 2017
The Wolves are heading into free agency loaded for bear.
While the team does not currently have cap space to be able to offer a free agent a max deal, the are sitting at around 19 million of free space that they can use (assuming they renounce Shabazz Muhammad’s cap hold). However, this number can shoot higher quite quickly, as the Wolves could trade Cole Aldrich (7.3 million, guaranteed the following year), trade Gorgui Dieng (14 million), or trade Ricky Rubio (14 million).
That leaves the Wolves with quite a few options if they want to clear the decks to be able to offer a max, or near max, contract in free agency.
So who are they going to offer all this money to exactly? We know they are not looking for a wing, as Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler have those spots locked down, nor a center due to Karl-Anthony Towns. That leaves just point guard and power forward as the possible options.
Signing a new point guard will almost certainly mean the end of Ricky Rubio’s time in Minnesota. While Rubio is certainly on a great contact, as I broke down several months ago here, he could be an ill fit for this roster now that Jimmy Butler is on board. The spacing issues that the Bulls had last season were well documented and Rubio was being publicly shopped before the blockbuster trade. On a team with Wiggins and Butler, three-point shooting is a necessity, which has not been Rubio’s strong suite. So who might the Wolves pursue that qualifies as “big game?”
Could Lowry to persuaded to join the “true north” and leave Toronto? If it happened, that would be quite the exodus of NBA stars from the East to the West just via the Minnesota Timberwolves. Lowry is certainly a star point guard and an amazing three-point shooter. Toronto is also possibly a little squeamish about offering Lowry a full five-year max, or even a four-year max with every year guaranteed. This is because Lowry is a little older, 31 years, and fits into the stereotype of a short point guard, which means he is possibly more likely to decline quickly. Short point guards historically become much worse once they lose that first step, so who knows how long Lowry will be worth that max contract.
For the Wolves, the roster upgrade would be immense. A team with Lowry, Wiggins, Butler, and Towns is ready to contend now. Lowry brings the shooting and playmaking to a team that could be in need of both.
George Hill or Jrue Holiday
I’m grouping both of them together as they are the lesser “big game” for point guards. Both Jrue and Hill would be amazing fits with this roster, as they are more used to playing off-ball with other primary creators, not to mention both are excellent defenders. Jrue probably fits the timeline of the Wolves a little better, as he is much younger than Hill, but Hill is the better player right now.
Either of these players are possible to get, although Hill supposedly does not like Thibs, and the Wolves could theoretically execute a sign-and-trade with either the Pelicans or the Jazz if one of them agreed to sign, as this would not burden the Wolves cap space quite as much and these teams could get something in return for their leaving point guard. One would also hope that neither Hill or Jrue would necessitate a true max contract, more so like 22-25 million.
If the Wolves do not go for a point guard, then that leaves the power forward position as the other possibility. Gorgui Dieng is an excellent player, but he does not fit perfectly with Karl-Anthony Towns as Dieng is really playing out of position at power forward. If the Wolves were able to sign a marquee power forward, that would allow Dieng to come off the bench and play a more split role of power forward and center. So who would be an immediate upgrade?
Blake might be surprisingly gettable, although the Wolves will be fighting many suitors. Now that Chris Paull has been traded to Houston and JJ Reddick has indicated he is leaving, it looks like Lob City is being torn down. Griffin could very easily go to Boston, although they are seemingly deadset on their Gordon Hayward and Paul George plans. So who exactly does that leave as a suitor? The Nuggets will certainly throw a max contract at him, but the Wolves should be more attractive these days. OKC would love to pair Russell Westbrook with Blake, but that will require some cap gymnastics on their part. Miami, however, could also swoop in here.
The Wolves could be a dark horse contender here, as there are quite a few ways that the rest of the real suitors could be occupied. However, it might require Blake to choose the snowy tundra over the sandy beaches of Miami. That seems challenging.
Ah, the long-term free agency dream for Wolves fans. Millsap is a little older at 32, but he would fit the Wolves perfectly. He can shoot threes, defend at a high level, and just generally be the glue guy, but an All-Star version of that glue guy. He would further bolster a defensive lineup with Jimmy Butler and Ricky Rubio. It’s hard to imagine the Wolves not having a good defense if they had Butler, Rubio, and Millsap.
Millsap might also cost a little less than the full-max, but the Wolves still would have to get around 30 million in older to qualify, but it can be done. There are already rumors of this partnership, and have been for quite some time, and is certainly one to keep an eye on. This could very well be the “big game” that finds its way to the Thibs and Co.’s mantle.
Here is the rub, the Wolves will essentially be capped out forever if they sign another player to a max contract. If the Wolves clear out some combination of the flexible assets that they do have, they will have to come in just under or at the cap in order to sign a max player.
The problem is what happens if the Wolves come into the next year capped out with no assets. Andrew Wiggins, if he does not get an extension, will have a cap hold around $20 million. That immediately brings the Wolves close to the luxury tax. If he gets an extension at a conservative $25 million, the Wolves will basically already be capped out. That just allows them to sign someone at the mid-level exception. That’s ok, a lot of teams are in the spot.
But the following year, both Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns will need new deals. That is going to cost a lot of money.
However, the Wolves may consider that worth it if they can get another top-20 NBA player this year to pair with Butler, Towns, and Wiggins. They can figure the rest out later, as in the NBA it is the stars that count.