With the NBA offseason finally slowing down, and with school right around the corner, there’s no better time to dish out some report cards and discuss just how good (or bad) the Wolves summer truly was. Special thanks to the Canis crew for coming together to run another five man weave, specifically Kyle Theige, David Naylor, Josh Clement, Dane Moore, and John Meyer.
Let’s get started...
1. What letter grade would you give the Wolves offseason thus far?
Kyle: B+. It seems like it was years ago, but less than six weeks ago the Wolves traded for Jimmy Bleeping Butler. This is a 27-year old superstar entering his prime. That in itself deserves bonus points on the report card; however, it was a few of the smaller moves in July that bumped this grade down.
I obviously didn’t love essentially flipping the younger (and more talented) Ricky Rubio for the older (and less talented) Jeff Teague (plus a 1st round pick). But I get why the move had to be made. As for the rest of the offseason signings ... time will tell, but one really sticks out more than the other. More about that in a minute.
David: B. The Ricky Rubio trade, after seeming inevitable for what feels like eternity, went down abruptly. The immediate signing of Jeff Teague, while aggressive, denied the Wolves significant cap flexibility as they moved later into the free agency window. Taj Gibson should be good, and the blockbuster Jimmy Butler trade obviously puts the Wolves into a vastly different position than they’ve been in for years. It just feels like they could have optimized their big free agent signings differently to shape a more cohesive roster from top to bottom.
Josh: A. This is simply due to the fact that the Jimmy Butler trade supersedes anything else the Wolves have done in the offseason. When thinking about the Wolves, I often return to the simple mantra that stars win championships. They went out and added a star, a real star player, and gave up a few players who were promising in different ways, but the sum of which would likely have never ended up as good as Jimmy Butler. This team is legit now.
However, that is not to say I am a big fan of the other moves. I understand the rationale of the Rubio trade, although the end result may not be preferred. I think the Wolves have painted themselves into a bit of a salary cap bind simply by overpaying on almost every contract they have handed out thus far. But at the end of the day, the Butler trade is like 85 percent of what matters. Management may not be doing so great on the other 15 percent, but they still get the credit for hitting the home run.
Dane: Letter grades are tough and obviously subjective. If the team met 90 percent of your expectation is that an A? 80 percent ... B? 70 percent ... C? Sure let's do that.
My subjective analysis is that the team certainly did not do 100 percent of what I would have liked. I was the conductor of the Paul Millsap hype train. That missed opportunity — especially considering the price tag of what is essentially two years and $60 million — really erks me. Millsap made so much sense from a fit standpoint. Age was the red flag if there was one but after trading for Jimmy Butler the proverbial window moved forward which, in my opinion, made an investment in a 32-year-old very palatable.
I also can't brush over Butler being acquired. Any disappointment in missing out on Millsap is usurped by bringing in the king of getting buckets. If I am pounding the table on the value of a two-year $60 million deal for Millsap, I need to karate chop straight through the table when considering the value of Butler — a far superior player than Millsap — at two years and $39.8 million.
No Millsap and the addition of Butler put the Wolves in the "A range" but then some sub-par assignments were turned in. Jeff Teague at three years and $57 million barely receives a passing grade and Taj Gibson two years and $28 million is probably even worse. That isn't to say those players won't be effective. I am actually very excited to see Teague create offensively in a way we have not seen for years in Minnesota. And as for Taj, he has all of the intangibles.
But, again, the cost was hefty. The price tag of Teague and Gibson had some real ill effects in the Wolves ability to acquire a third wing. That position is still fairly ambiguous, even after the Jamal Crawford signing. Odds are, one of Butler, Crawford, and/or Andrew Wiggins miss some time this season. That warrants some fear. Fear that could have been stymied if there were a few more dollars to have been spent on a wing (C.J. Miles, P.J. Tucker, etc.).
Overall, with better top-end talent, I believe the fear factor of a thin bench should be tempered. But with the wing depth being all but ignored, I'm dropping the grade down out of the A-range to a B-plus. An offseason acquiring Butler requires an optimistic grade even if it did come in the same offseason that lost young talent and a Spanish Unicorn.
John: You guys all hit on the key points here, especially that getting Jimmy Buckets to Minneapolis is the most important move of the offseason and the biggest acquisition in the history of the organization. [Shark Tank voice] For that reason, it’s been a great summer for the Wolves. I go back and forth on this, but B or B+ sounds about right. I still can’t believe Butler is a Wolf, though there’s so much else to dissect.
As a Rubio guy, I am not in love with the move to basically flip him for Jeff Teague, who costs $5 million more, and a future first via OKC. The money adds up over time. Sure, Teague will help in ways off-ball offensively that Ricky could not, and I have warmed up to his game over the past few weeks, but defense is a part of basketball (I know, right?) and my gut tells me Rubio’s best seasons are still ahead of him. Oh well. This was pretty much destined to happen. I need to constantly remind myself that. Things just got awkward between Rubio and the organization. Anyways, getting the OKC first is good and Teague’s ability to be average to good in every area across the board is appealing to me. Slight downgrade in the PG department, in my opinion.
The reason for my grade (because adding Butler starts it at an A+) is mostly due to the lack of wing depth, which is an obvious issue that scares me at this point. Mike Dunleavy or Anthony Morrow or Alan Anderson (Tony Allen would be ideal, but I have a hard time seeing him leaving Memphis) or whoever they can add for the veteran minimum isn’t going to fix that. [Knocks on wood] Relying heavily on Jamal Crawford as the primary backup wing, a player who has fallen off a cliff in the last two seasons, seems destined to fail. But I admit he adds a “been there, done that” presence that should help in the locker room. Maybe he can teach Wiggins some of his insane dribble moves.
I hate to be the guy who is so worried about wing depth but it’s a legitimate concern in my eyes. I get that Thibs will lean on Wiggins and Butler to carry the load but injuries can’t be turned off in real life. Shit happens. What if Jimmy or Andrew sprain an ankle? Is Jamal going to play 38 minutes? Is that going to be fine? (It won’t be fine.) As much as I have changed my face about the Taj Gibson signing — my assumption is he will really help turn the defense around — I would have spread that $14 million out differently ($28M over 2 years) with my eyes on a wing like C.J. Miles, Bojan Bogdanovic or Vince Carter. They could have used the rest to add one of these guys still on the market that doesn’t want to sign for the minimum before exhausting all the other options. If the direction needed to be GET A DEFENSIVE BIG MAN, then JaMychal Green (younger/can shoot) was my clear preference, and Memphis has still done nothing with him in restricted free agency. But yeah, again, Jimmy Butler is awesome, Taj will help bring the defense together in a meaningful way, Teague can play off-ball and kill defenses in high pick-and-rolls. Things are good.
2. What Wolves offseason move did you like the most?
Kyle: Trading for Jimmy Butler might have been the biggest move of the offseason, but the most significant move involved someone who will never step foot on the court (at least not during regulation). According to Jon Krawczynski, the Wolves came to terms recently on a new contract with assistant coach and dapper suitsman Ryan Saunders.
Ryan Saunders' contract had expired in June. Worked w/o one in summer league. No longer the case. New deal to stay with Wolves.— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) July 21, 2017
Saunders has played a significant role in the player development of guys like Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and Andrew Wiggins, and is beloved by all levels of the Wolves organization. Add in his recent wedding and it’s been a very successful summer for Mr. Saunders. Congrats!
David: It would be pretty ludicrous to say anything but the Jimmy Butler trade, looking back over the list of moves. It’s very rare that the various NBA talking heads almost universally declare one side of a trade the winning side, and rarer still that the Wolves are that winning side. The Wolves got themselves an All-Star player at an extraordinarily reasonable price, and while I will continue to believe in Zach LaVine and root for his continuing success, the trade was an enormous win for the Wolves’ future.
Josh: Well the obvious answer is getting Jimmy Butler. I kind of low-key like the Justin Patton draft pick, simply because having a solid back-up Center on a rookie deal is great, assuming he pans out. However, that implies the Wolves stop signing Bigs to large contracts which negates the usefulness of having a young, cheap center.
I’m very curious to see what happens with our backup point guard spot. Tyus Jones no longer is competing with Kris Dunn for minutes and it seems the job is his. That is likely a good move.
Dane: Butler is the obvious answer but something I am excited about, tangentially related, is the role that seems to now be available for Tyus Jones. Kris Dunn's presence, even if he was going to be playing exclusively at the two, was going to steal some minutes from Jones. I just have some real belief in Jones being a player. That belief isn't purely born out of statistics as I believe the sample is just not large enough with Jones. But I do really appreciate the flashes I have seen from him. And he just turned 21...
3. What Wolves offseason move did you like the least?
Kyle: Signing Taj Gibson. At 31 years old, Gibson doesn’t stretch the floor and is coming off his lowest BLK% (2.6) of his career. The inability to shoot threes and/or protect the rim are major red flags for a team already significantly lacking in both areas. I get that Taj is a Thibs guy, but it definitely feels like the money could have better invested in players like Patrick Patterson, JaMychal Green, etc.
David: As my answer to question 1 may have indicated, the point guard rotation of June 30 and July 1 was my least favorite move of the offseason. Putting aside all referendums on which of Rubio and Teague is the better player, even just the difference in cap hit may have allowed the Wolves to do different things both this season and next. Rubio’s cap hit is just under $5 million less than Teague’s new contract, and just over $4 million less next season. It’s not the end of the world either way, but that little bit more space may have allowed the Jamal Crawford signing to be the next tier of player up, or it could have allowed the Wolves to sign another player above the minimum.
Josh: All of the contracts they gave out this summer look pretty questionable. I think they overpaid for Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, and Jamal Crawford. All of these players certainly bring a more veteran presence, but the Wolves are certainly going to be relying a lot on Crawford for minutes and he may or may not be washed at this point.
Dane: As eluded to before, I have changed my initial stance of hating the idea of Teague being the point guard Minnesota brings in. I have become intrigued by the way in which he will be able to operate in the mid-range as a passer and shooter. It will be very different than Ricky Rubio. But that is probably a conversation that requires some more digging and/or anecdotal evidence.
I am going to go with the Gibson acquisition as the move I liked least. Which is funny to say as in all of the TimberBulls talk over the past year Gibson would have been the player I desired from those Bulls teams most. Behind Butler, of course.
I've already touched on what I believe is a poor value at 2-$28, so this is more so on the "type" of player Gibson is. I wonder if in 2017 he doesn't more profile as a backup center. The lack of stretch with Gibson is well documented and that may be enough evidence but I also have one specific memory from watching Gibson and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs last season.
Gibson didn't play in the end of game situations often in that Thunder vs. Rockets series. Gibson was often taken off the floor (if not forced) in that series. Granted, the Thunder had two other very good bigs in Steven Adams and Enes Kanter but I, personally, viewed the acquisition as a potential needle mover for the Thunder at the trade deadline. It was not. While Gibson became the starter for the Thunder, in actuality he was the third big in OKC.
That is a roundabout way of saying, the Wolves are not getting Gibson from the 2012 Bulls. He will bring a huge intangible element but I am skeptical (or confused) with how valuable that is. If Gibson is, in fact, a backup center then he is not worth $14 million per season, especially year two of the deal when he is 33-years-old.
John: I’m with most of you here, it’s Taj Gibson. I would have re-allocated that money. There isn’t much more to say about the move. Taj can (and likely will) have a positive impact being a glue guy that keeps the defense in line, but this was a bad contract to quickly hand out in free agency, one that killed their flexibility moving forward in the offseason. Thibs probably gives this signing an A+ so for now I will have to trust that he is a genius that looks at this way differently and I am the real idiot here. The hope is that Gibson can have a similar impact as KG did on the defense in 2015-16. We know Butler is >>>>> Tayshaun Prince. We can work with this. The real change has to come on the defensive end.
4. With valuable roster spots still available, which remaining minimum-salary free agent intrigues you the most?
Kyle: Brandon Rush. Remember him!? I know at times last season it seemed like Rush was mentally checked out, but the University of Kansas product did shoot 39% from three, has experience playing in Thibs’ system, and is an active body that can give the Wolves valuable minutes on both ends of the court. Considering the list of remaining free agents is bleak, one could argue getting Rush back at the minimum would be a homerun-type steal.
David: Anthony Morrow. While his 2016-17 was not the most successful in his most important area (three point-shooting), his 30.8% was so far below his career average that it seems most likely to be an outlier (and his tiny sample size in Chicago looked much better than the rest of the year). Morrow is a low-usage piece who can slot nicely in whenever Wiggins or Butler hits the bench, who should add exactly what the Wolves need: spacing. Even with last season, Morrow’s still a career 41.7% three point shooter over almost 2000 attempts. Absolutely worth it.
Josh: Can you play marginal defense? Can you stand in a corner and shoot threes? Can you guard positions 2 and 3? Are you alive and/or younger than 35? That basically seems to be the criteria for what I am looking for with the Wolves remaining spots. This team needs wings. The response to the Taj signing divided Wolves fans, with some claiming that we “need to see what Thibs’ plan is” before rushing to judgement. Well the Wolves are running out of options. I’m of the opinion that the bench guys matter, especially Wing players, and there is about to be a lot of hand wringing about the minutes Wiggins, Butler, and Towns are going to play.
Dane: K.J. McDaniels is a name I am looking at that seems to have gotten very little buzz. He has had a bizarre career after he entered the league with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2014 (same year as Wiggins).
McDaniels was supposed to be a first round pick in that 2014 draft but dropped to the second pick of the second round. Infuriated by the lack of respect, he bet on himself and only agreed to a one-year deal with the Sixers. His thinking was that after showing out for a year he would attract interest and sign a more meaningful deal as a sophomore. He absolutely showed out for the Sixers. There was a point of that rookie season where his name was amongst Wiggins and Nikola Mirotic as potential Rookies of the Year.
Through 52 games he was great with the Sixers but as the trade deadline rolled around, he was on an expiring contract, the Sixers had 12 wins, and he seemed likely to bolt in the offseason. In response, Hinkie got all Hinkie with it and traded McDaniels to the Houston Rockets for future assets.
In Houston, McDaniels never became part of the rotation. The most tick he got for the rest of the season was 8 minutes and 47 seconds in the final game of the season. Taking him from All-Rookie Team candidate to benchwarmer.
McDaniels hasn't done much of anything since that season. He played a mere 293 minutes for the Nets last year. The freakin' Nets. While he has been anything but impressive since the first half of his rookie year (don't even look at his advanced stats) he remains a truly gifted athlete and only 24-years-old.
For the Wolves, McDaniels represents the rare opportunity to sign an elite athlete who is still young and would be a fun flier (and fly-er) to take a chance on. He fits the age range of the Wolves other young pieces and could be had on the cheap, maybe even an unguaranteed second year. All of that said, he can't shoot and that is the Wolves biggest need on the wing. Whoever the Wolves sign to round out the bench will be uninspiring, at least McDaniels would be young.
John: Will The Grindfather, Tony Allen, take the veteran minimum? It seems unlikely but that’s my dream signing at this point. Here’s what Eric in Madison wrote about him in his column about all of the players left for the Wolves to potentially sign:
Tony Allen is probably the top wing player left. He’s 35 years old, can’t shoot the ball, and can be expected to miss some games every year. He can still guard people about as well as any wing in the league, however. He led the league in steal percentage in two of the last three seasons (including last year,) and was named second team all-defense the past two seasons, after his “FIRST TEAM ALL-DEFENSE” run earlier this decade. He brings some grit with him, something the Wolves can use more of, and would no doubt be appreciated by Tom Thibodeau. So far he has not been willing to accept a minimum deal; hopefully the Wolves are a team he would consider if that changes.
Michael Beasley would be another interesting guy to look at, but he’s a 4. That doesn’t help the wing depth. He can still get buckets off the bench though and there’s some value in that. They could play some weird small-ball lineups with him. This is also very selfish of me ... I loved SuperCoolBeas when he was with the Wolves. Another thought: Brandon Rush says he doesn’t think he will be back with the Wolves for a second season but he knows the system, can hit threes, and developed chemistry with half of the roster last year. Bringing him back would be good with me.
5. What non-Wolves related offseason move did you like the most?
Kyle: Less than a year removed from losing Kevin Durant to the Warriors, Sam Presti somehow turned a salary dump into one of the league’s best 15 players. While Paul George to the Los Angeles Lakers is the NBA’s worst kept secret, Presti showed some major onions pairing PG13 with recently crowned MVP Russell Westbrook in what should be a top-4 team in the Western Conference next season. Even if George bolts next summer, Presti unloaded Oladipo’s 4-year/$85 million dollar contract, and will have the financial flexibility to strike yet again.
David: Paul Millsap’s move to Denver should be so much fun. The frontcourt combination of Millsap and Nikola Jokic should be delightful, and while there are questions about the Nuggets on the defensive end given how terrible they were last season, they are going to score approximately all of the points. The Northwest Division is going to be an absolute nightmare next season.
Josh: Everything. This offseason was great, as far as the NBA is concerned, as the league is evolving (or devolving) into the premiere soap opera of our times. In terms of personnel moves, I think the big winners are the Thunder and Rockets. Both teams made sneaky good signings that Wolves fans have been clamoring for all offseason. I love P.J. Tucker on the Rockets, as well as Luc Mbah a Moute. The Thunder nabbed Patrick Patterson on the cheap too. Of course, these moves only look so good when you already pull of getting Paul George or Chris Paul.
Dane: I really liked it when the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to the Wol... Oh, wait. Of the moves made so far, Chris Paul and Paul George are the biggest needle movers. Duh. But Irving and Carmelo Anthony could have a major impact somewhere. The one team whose offseason I'm not sleeping on is the Golden State Warriors. Swaggy P and Omri Casspi (who doesn't suck, even though he did in Minnesota) are the bench moves that matter. What did they lose? Ian Clark. Yeah, they'll be great. Is it 2020 yet?
John: I’m going to go a different route here and look at the NBA draft. The Sixers trading up for Markelle Fultz is going to be a game-changer for that franchise, and it’s easily one of my favorite moves (I love it for the Celtics too because Jayson Tatum is also a stud that already possesses an array of moves and stellar footwork on the offensive end). This trade was a win-win for both organizations. My guess is we will look back and say that was the move that really helped bring everything together in Philadelphia, pushing the Sixers back to relevance. Fultz’s fit with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric (among others) looks incredible on paper. I think he’s going to be a stud point guard in the Association. Fultz is exactly what the Sixers needed.