With NBA free agency officially set to start July 1st (or tonight, 11:00 pm CDT for those of us in the best timezone), franchises around the league are frantically positioning themselves in what appears to be a new era of the super team arms race. After the Chicago Bulls dealt Jimmy Butler to Minnesota and the Los Angeles Clippers traded Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, two of the NBA’s top 12 players have already switched cities in the matter of one short week. Other notable stars like Paul George, Gordon Hayward, and Blake Griffin could all soon be updating their home area codes as well.
From a Wolves perspective, this is somewhat unchartered territory. While the team has possessed large amounts of cap space in the past, never have they worked from a position of strength rather than a position of weakness. As many have mentioned, the acquisition of Jimmy Buckets gives the franchise three stars under the age of 27, and officially puts the Wolves on the map in terms of recruiting top free agents to Minnesota.
So far this week, we’ve discussed a wide variety of potential free agents that the Wolves could/should go after at 12:01am Saturday morning — including an assortment of talented wing players, a gritty RFA from Alabama, and a laundry list of streaky flame throwers. But what about those free agents the Wolves SHOULDN’T flirt with?
Below is a list of the top five (or bottom 5?) free agents that Thibs & Co. should avoid at all cost based on a multitude of reasons — poor fit, contract demands, etc.
No. 5: Pau Gasol
The Spanish big man was tied to the Wolves last year in offseason rumors before eventually signing with the San Antonio Spurs. After a somewhat head-scratching move that saw Gasol decline his $16.2 million dollar player option, the future Hall of Fame center will join a list of free agent bigs that include Paul Millsap, Blake Griffin, and Serge Ibaka (more on him in a minute).
Playing only 25 minutes a game for the Spurs, Gasol averaged a career-low in points last season (12.4) and tallied his lowest rebounding mark (7.8 per game) since his 2004-2005 season with Memphis. While the overall skill is still (somewhat) intact for the soon-to-be 37-year old, the main concern here is the price. Declining a $16.2 million dollar option suggests that Gasol wants a longer-term deal that provides him more security as he approaches the end of his career.
As it currently stands, Gasol is 6th in the NBA in terms of active minutes played (behind only Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Joe Johnson, LeBron James, and Jason Terry). Four of those players listed will either be free agents this summer or entering the final year of their contract, and the other player is an alien. Forking over a long-term deal (even just 2-3 years) for a player with so many miles on his NBA speedometer is a sketchy strategy for a team lacking consistent depth on their bench.
No. 4: Andre Roberson
At only 25-years old, Roberson seems like the type of high-impact free agent that could significantly alter a franchise’s defense for the better. While that may be true, he simply cannot shoot. Like, at all.
With the departure of Kevin Durant, Roberson saw both his minutes (30.1 per game) and points (6.6) reach career highs last season, despite shooting a career low from the foul line (42.3%) and a horrendous mark from the three-point line (24.5%). While he did earn a spot on the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team, his inability to be relied on from a catch-and-shoot perspective simply won’t help a team already in dire need of outside shooting.
No. 3: George Hill
With PG-needy teams like Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Dallas, Sacramento, and the Knicks all securing their lead-guard during draft week, George Hills finds himself in a rather dicey free agent situation — the list of talented floor generals (Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose, Patty Mills, Darren Collison, Rajon Rondo, etc.) greatly exceeds the list of potential suitors for their services (Toronto, Indiana, New Orleans, Utah, and maybe San Antonio). Hill isn’t as talented as Lowry, and is significantly older (31) than guys like Holiday (26), Mills (28), and Teague (29). Moreover, Hill has only played 50 or more games once in his last three seasons in the league.
As for the icing on the cake, it appears that Hill isn’t all that interested in signing with Minnesota. Per Darren Wolfson:
Hill doesn't want to come here. Would use here as leverage. If he somehow lands here, it's because the $$ was so far greater than all else.— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) June 28, 2017
Considering Hill reportedly turned down a 4-year/$88 million dollar extension with the Jazz earlier this year, opening the vault for an often-injured, 31-year old PG seems like a train wreck of a free agent strategy. Would you rather pay Ricky Rubio (26) $14 million over the next two seasons, or Hill (31) possibly $20+? Exactly.
No. 2: Serge Ibaka
Pros: Serge Ibaka will be only 28-years old when the upcoming season starts, and he is coming off a career year from the three-point line, shooting 39.1% on four attempts per game.
Cons: umm...everything else. Simply put, Ibaka just isn't the same player today that he was when he exploded onto the scene back in 2009. From an advanced metrics standpoint, Ibaka posted career lows in Free Throw Rate (.127) as well as BLK% (4.2%), despite playing the same amount of minutes as he did during his prime OKC years. His blocks per game (1.6) was the lowest mark since his rookie season. Additionally, his TRB% (12.2%) was down almost four percentage points. Despite still being in his late 20’s, Ibaka has basically redefined his game as a streaky outside shooter, rather than a low-post force who defends the rim at an elite level.
Would Ibaka help the Wolves next season alongside KAT? Sure. Absolutely. But for whatever reason, Ibaka’s game has quickly eroded, and with the potential price tag for the big man being north of $100 million, the short-term benefits simply do not outweigh the long-term risks.
No. 1: Derrick Rose
This one’s easy. While most of the above list can be picked apart and debated, the number one spot certainly cannot. The Wolves have been linked to Derrick Rose practically since Thibs took over last May. Rose flourished under Thibs, especially during the 2010-2011 season when Rose averaged 25 points per game and 8 assists, resulting in being named the MVP that year.
However, that was then and this is now. Since his MVP season, Rose has appeared in only 46% of his possible games over a six year stretch, a stretch that has seen his points per game drop from 26 to 18, assists per game get cut in half from 8 to just over 4, and his 3P% fall to an abysmal 22%.
At only 28, Rose has already accumulated a long list of injuries, including tearing the ACL in his left knee and the meniscus in his right. Factor in the off-court drama as well as his inability to show up for games (literally), and there isn’t a single free agent in the league I would rather avoid than Derrick Rose.
If the Wolves are seriously looking to upgrade at PG and want to move on from the Spanish Unicorn, that’s fine (although I will personally ride for Rubio as long as I live). Adding shooters makes a ton more sense today than it did a week ago, especially with the addition of Jimmy Buckets. But if the Wolves truly go searching for an upgrade at floor general, they are better off looking literally anywhere other than Derrick Rose’s house.