The Minnesota Timberwolves have just two days to improve (or restructure) their team via a trade. The trade deadline, February 8th at 3 pm, is usually one of the most exciting times in the NBA, as teams are frantically engaged in a flurry of discussions.
The Wolves, for their part, would typically be a team that is designated as a “buyer,” as they are amidst their first real playoff push in more than a decade. The team could certainly use some help on the wing position (as we have been noting since the summer) and during the playoffs that need could become even more apparent as the Wolves have a good chance to face a team like the Warriors or Rockets that will go small and play a bunch of rangy wings. The Wolves do not have the skill set to truly match up with those teams right now.
However, as many writers have been noting, this may become a quieter trade deadline due to the clogged books that most teams are facing because of the 2016 offseason where many teams handed out massive contracts that immediately became negative assets once we learned that the salary cap would not be having a second major jump.
As Zach Lowe recently reported in his recent trade deadline primer, a lot of teams that would typically be able to utilize expiring contracts as a positive asset, such as Derrick Favors or Cole Aldrich, are unable to move these players for any positive reward. The teams that need cap space, for the most part, are bad and able to wait till the contracts clear the books. The teams that have the expiring assets do not want to take on long-term salary because the bad contracts across the league are such albatrosses that it is not worth it to take them on.
Last month, Eric in Madison noted that the Wolves really do not have the assets to participate heavily in the trade discussions. This is primarily due to the last offseason, as the Wolves consolidated their assets in order to trade for Jimmy Butler, but also because the decisions the team has made in free agency has not lent them much to work with.
It is pretty easy to cross off a bunch of players from plausibly being moved. The recent free agent signings like Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford aren’t going anywhere. If Jeff Teague would be moved, it would happen over the summer rather than now. Tyus Jones is one of the few low-cost players on the Wolves who is likely part of their future plans, so the team certainly needs him. Nemanja Bjelica might get some traction in trade talks, but I have absolutely no idea what his value might be due to his injuries and inconsistent play.
Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins are off the table. Wiggins would theoretically be the player that the Wolves could ship out for a ton of assets, but if the Wolves didn’t really consider moving him for Kyrie Irving, then Wiggins is here to stay.
That does not leave much left. Gorgui Dieng is the only “good” player the Wolves have that could plausibly be traded, but the big market is so heavily saturated that it is tough to see the Wolves getting much value in return, or if he is even considered a positive asset in the current NBA environment. It does not make sense for the team to move him simply to get him off their books, as Dieng is still a great contributor and the Wolves are not quite in dire need of cap space yet.
So that leaves Shabazz Muhammad (who wants out), Justin Patton (who has not played a minute in the NBA), Cole Aldrich and his expiring contract, and the OKC first-round draft pick to be conveyed this year as the Wolves main assets. Not exactly a hoard.
Zach Lowe also reported in his article that the Wolves are wary of moving the OKC first, as they are fully aware that with Wiggins’ extension, and Towns’ upcoming extension, they are going to need young cost-controlled players to be real contributors.
So what can the Wolves get for these assets? Probably not much. The Atlanta Hawks are in fire-sale mode, so the Wolves could try to pick up a few pieces there like Marco Bellineli and Ersan Ilyasova. Bellineli could be a useful player and is still a decent shooter, but Ilyasova pretty much replicates what Bjelica brings to the table.
The other fire-sale happening, the Charlotte Hornets, probably have too big of a price tag for the Wolves. Jeremy Lamb is an option, but its hard to see the Wolves getting away with snagging him for essentially a late first round pick.
The Jazz reportedly have almost everyone on the table, but it’s easy to imagine they back off a lot of those discussions now that they are on a hot streak.
Joe Harris on the Nets is probably a player that a lot of teams are eyeing, as he has been shooting a hair over 40 percent from deep, but again the Nets have no motivation to sell low to the Wolves, unless they are somehow convinced that they can successfully turn Shabazz into a useful NBA player.
Really, the Wolves are not in a position to be much of a buyer or a seller. It’s tough to imagine the team going “all-in” this year, as they are clearly worse than the top-tier teams. This was never meant to be the all-in year anyways, more so a getting their feet wet in the playoffs type of year.
It makes more sense for the Wolves to wait till teams start buying out players and try to snag a useful veteran on the cheap like Luol Deng or maybe Joe Johnson.
For the Wolves, should be another quiet year at the trade deadline.