Now that the extension deadline for 2015 draft picks has passed, Tyus Jones is officially set to be a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason. With all of the chaos that has taken place, this is a story line that has flown somewhat under the radar.
Aside from the fact the Minnesota native has been a fan favorite since the first moment he stepped on the floor, Tyus has proved to be a valuable player. Solid point guards are valuable, and teams covet them when they find them. Jones has improved each year he’s been in the league, and last year he really started to assert himself as one of the better reserve guards in the NBA.
As always is the case for reserves in Minnesota, the issue for Tyus was mostly that of playing time as opposed to his actual production on the floor. He only received 17.9 minutes per game last season, but his per-36 minute averages of 10.7 points, 5.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals are very strong for a reserve guard. Of the regular rotation players, only Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Taj Gibson has a better net rating than his plus-9.
Why is any of this important as it relates to the Wolves and his RFA? Well, Tyus has been very open about wanting to stay in Minnesota. It would’ve been in Minnesota’s best interest to offer an extension early and possibly get Tyus to take a hometown discount of sorts, especially given how cap strapped they already are.
Now, Minnesota has to let the free agent market determine how much Jones is worth. In all likelihood, there is going to be a team that slightly overpays for Jones in the hope that he can blossom into a starting caliber player with an increased role. In this scenario, Minnesota has passed up the opportunity to retain a useful player on a potentially below-market deal for the alternative of having to match another offer to keep Jones.
A solid reference point for the kind of deal that Tyus could be looking for this summer, we turn to another solid backup point guard, Fred VanVleet. VanVleet signed a contract extension with Toronto this summer that will pay him $9 million each of the next two years. That isn’t an extraordinarily large contract, but Minnesota likely would have been able to sign Jones for less than that, at least on a per year basis. Now, they are open to the possibility of a point guard starved team (looking at you, Phoenix) swooping in with a larger deal that Minnesota will not be able to match, leaving the team without a reliable backup point guard moving forward.
To be fair, only a handful of 2015 draftees signed extensions this year, and I think the only one from outside the lottery is Larry Nance Jr. with Cleveland. Most teams appear content to let players hit RFA, which, while a risk, doesn’t always lead to big offers.
There is, of course, the option that Minnesota will just let Jones walk in free agency altogether. It is difficult, though, to predict what exactly will happen this summer, especially since Minnesota will almost assuredly have a new front office in place by that time after all that has taken place recently.
What we do know for sure in the Wolves missed out on an opportunity to keep a fan favorite who also happens to be an extremely useful player. It’s very possible they wind up paying more to keep him next summer than they would to lock him up right now, but of course restricted free agency is always a crap shoot.
There’s no question teams will be keeping an eye on Jones this season.