A quick rundown of the Wolves who can leave on this summer. To set the context, assuming the Wolves waive Cole Aldrich (reducing his guarantee from nearly $7 million to $2 million,) the Wolves will have about $112 million committed to eight players. They will have to make some decisions about how to fill out the roster on the relative cheap in order to avoid going into the luxury tax.
Here are the guys who are out of contract:
Jamal Crawford: Happily we don’t have to spend too much time on Crawford, who has already opted out of his deal for next season and has made it clear he won’t be returning. Whether this is because he wants to ring-chase, he was unhappy with his playing time, he didn’t like it with the Wolves because of Tom Thibodeau or other reasons, I don’t know.
What we do know is that he was a favorite in the locker room, and Jimmy Butler especially wanted to keep him around. We also know that Crawford was catastrophic on the court for the Wolves—a bad signing at the time that only got worse. The team was horrifyingly bad defensively when he was on the court, which cost them significantly. He played the role of scoring sixth man, was the most used bench player on the team, a spot that needs a significant upgrade, though how that might happen is unclear.
As much as we dodged a bit of a bullet with Crawford turning down that option, he can be seen as a bit of a canary in the coal mine in terms of player unhappiness at Mayo Clinic Square. He couldn’t get out soon enough, despite having the support of the Wolves best player and the unlikelihood of getting a bigger payday on the open market this summer.
Nemanja Bjelica: Bjelica is a restricted free agent, meaning the Wolves can match any offer. Whether they will do so remains unclear, but I would bet on him being in a different uniform next season. I’m sure he would like to be.
Bjelica started 21 games this season, and averaged 34 minutes per game in those contests. The starting five with Bjelica in place of Butler was strongly positive and only a little worse than the regular starting five. His 41.5 percent three point shooting was second on the team to Karl-Anthony Towns.
And yet, when the team was healthy, he barely got in the game, averaging just over 14 minutes per as a reserve. Further, despite his excellent shooting, it appeared that his teammates rarely looked for him, and he was unable to utilize his whole game.
I suspect there are teams out there who will offer him, if not the full mid-level of around $8.5 million per, at least close to it, and I doubt the Wolves will match despite their need for three point shooting.
Bjelica is far from a perfect player—he struggles with certain defensive assignments, and sometimes he tries things that he doesn’t have the talent for. More often he gets passive and passes up opportunities. But he’s a useful player that Thibs didn’t seem to know how to use. My guess: He’s elsewhere next season.
Marcus-Georges Hunt: Spent the whose season on the roster, but got very little opportunity. Hunt briefly took Shabazz Muhammad’s spot in the rotation, but was soon relegated to the end of the bench again. Whether the Wolves want to bring him back in a similar role I don’t know. He showed some promise as a defensive wing, but there are any number of similar guys. Given the lack of wings on the roster, many wanted to see him get more playing time to develop and ease the burden, but that never happened.
The Wolves need to find talent, develop and deploy it, a process that seems foreign to them. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hunt is back merely because they need bodies, assuming another team didn’t see something they liked.
Derrick Rose: And now we come to Rose. The long rumored acquisition became real in March when the Wolves signed him after he had been traded by Cleveland and waived by Utah. This was the last thing I wanted, given both his on court play, which hasn’t been good in years, and off-court sliminess.
Rose was predictably awful in nine regular season appearances; predictable because first, he isn’t very good, and second, was coming off a lay-off. But in the playoffs, he got strangely hot from the field, shooting 50 percent and making 7-10 threes (he’s under 30% three point shooting for his career.)
That outlier performance makes it even more likely that he’s brought back, despite it being a terrible idea. He’s clearly a Thibs favorite, so much so that he changed his lineup philosophy to make room for Rose on the court. After months of resisting small lineups, he began deploying Rose on the wing with either Jeff Teague or Tyus Jones, and often with Jamal Crawford at the other wing. With Crawford’s departure, at least we won’t be seeing that anymore.
Frankly, having Rose around all season will make it significantly harder for me to root for this group, and I’ll hold out hope that somehow he winds up elsewhere, but my guess is he’s going to be the Wolves 6th man next season.
Anthony Brown and Amile Jefferson: These were the Wolves two-way contracts, though neither got chances with the big club, spending the entire season in Iowa. I thought there was a chance that Brown could be useful with his three point shooting, but we never found out. Whether either or both are back depends on both what the Wolves want to do and what other opportunities these players get.