Now that the Wolves have traded Jimmy Butler for Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and Jerryd Bayless, the Wolves salary cap picture has the potential to look slightly more flexible.
Right now, going into 2019 offseason, the Wolves have at least Covington, Karl-Anthony Towns, James Nunnally (partially guaranteed), Keita Bates-Diop, Andrew Wiggins, Saric, Gorgui Dieng, Josh Okogie, and a projected 2019 first round pick under contract.
If we assume that Jeff Teague picks up his player option of $19 million, this would bring the Wolves just above the projected salary cap of $109 million with $113 million under contract. This would allow the Wolves to certainly use their full non tax-payer Mid-Level Exception, be able to take on a slightly larger contract in a trade, or give Tyus Jones a reasonable extension, as they are well below the luxury tax line of $132 million.
However, while the Wolves roster has significantly more certainty going forward, as the core of the roster can remain in place for at least the next two years, there are going to be a few key factors determining what the future looks like.
The most pressing question is the point guard market in the upcoming free agency period. Next year, the Wolves have the opportunity to keep their current point guard core of Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones or potentially reshape the position.
Many teams have been hoarding their cap space due to the upcoming stars on the market such as Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, and Kevin Durant, but a few teams are also getting their bad contracts off their books from the cap spike years. This means that there is potentially a buyers market where the cost of acquiring a point guard may be high.
However, the point guard market is going to be incredibly deep.
At the very least we are going to see (deep breath) Ricky Rubio, Jeremy Lin, Kemba Walker, Darren Collison, Rajon Rondo, Cory Joseph, Milos Teodosic, Ish Smith, Patrick Beverley, D’Angelo Russell (RFA) J.J. Barea, Emmanuel Mudiay (RFA), Elfrid Payton, Terry Rozier (RFA), Isaiah Thomas, Tyus Jones (RFA), Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. McConnell, and Spencer Dinwiddie enter the market.
Now, all of those players are at very different levels in their career. There are the veterans who may fit particular teams better due to their distinctive playing styles such as Ricky Rubio and Patrick Beverley. The wayward young point guards of Mudiay, Payton, and Russell. The journeymen in Rondo, Collison, Joseph, and Teodosic. The potential up-and-comers in Dinwiddie, Rozier, Brogdon, and maybe Tyus Jones. Finally, the crop is headlined by Kemba Walker, the star of the group.
This has different implications for both Teague and Jones. For Teague, he certainly fits in with the upper level of these players, such as Beverly and Rubio, but he will be turning 31 next year. This may be his last large long-term contract and he could able to trade in his $19 million player option for something like a three-year $36 million contract. Will he risk waiting another year for that?
For Tyus, it is hard to think that a team will go too crazy throwing an offer sheet at him. The maximum that would seem likely would be something like what Fred Van Vleet got, which was about $9 million a year. However, if a team is trying to pry away an RFA, they would likely be more interested in going after bigger names like D’Angelo Russell or Terry Rozier, particularly with Tyus’ slow start to the year.
So let’s say Teague opts out for a longer deal with whichever team that may be. That would give the Wolves nearly $15 million in cap space, which certainly does not seem enough in this market to get a real upgrade at point guard like with Kemba Walker, who is deservedly going to be looking for a major deal after his team-friendly $12 million a year.
The other most significant factor in the Wolves financial future (barring an unexpected trade of Andrew Wiggins) is moving on from Gorgui Dieng. While Dieng’s contract looked more than reasonable at the outset, the Wolves simply do not have the need for a backup center with his skill set considering the current positional overlap on the roster.
This move may be more plausible this offseason as he will have just two years left on his contract.
However, if we imagine the Wolves are able to create a scenario where Teague declines his player option and Dieng is moved (with no additional assets nor incoming salary). The Wolves have almost $31 million in cap space, which is likely something like what they would need to get a player like Kemba Walker. It seems unlikely the Wolves could make that much cap space without sacrificing a first round pick or Tyus Jones. Major financial flexibility seems unlikely next year.
Of course, if the Wolves do nothing, then they end up with a decent amount of space in 20-21, but they will have to be thinking about a Saric extension at that time, which would eat into that space before it is really used unless the Wolves let him go into RFA to allow themselves to stay under the cap.
The Wolves future certainly has a lot more possibilities now that Butler has been moved for two rotation players that are locked into below-market contracts for at least the next two years. This should give the Wolves the ability to surround Towns and Wiggins with more complimentary role players. How the Wolves deal with the point guard situation and if they are able to trade Dieng will determine exactly how much flexibility they will have.