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NBA Free Agency Begins: Where do the Wolves Stand?

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The free agency season begins tonight. Let’s talk about it, shall we?

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA free agency free-for-all begins tonight at 11 pm CDT, as teams are allowed to begin speaking to players and reaching agreements. Contracts cannot be signed until the moratorium ends on July 6th, but much of the league’s business will be finished by that time.

Although there are big names on the market this season—LeBron James being, as always, the biggest domino, along with Paul George and the Kawhi Leonard saga—this is likely to be a more restrained free agent summer than we’ve seen recently, largely because there is so little cap space available around the league. This is of course the result of the massive cap spike of 2016, which has been followed up by a couple of relatively stagnant years, leaving teams with massive contracts they signed two summers ago, and little flexibility.

This certainly applies to the Wolves (though they spent most of their money last summer, on the likes of Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson.) Here’s a look at where they stand heading into tonight.

(Many thanks to Suspicious Sal for his consulting)

Wolves Salaries and Holds:

Jimmy Butler 20,445,779
Andrew Wiggins 25,250,000
Karl-Anthony Towns 7,839,435
Jeff Teague 19,000,000
Taj Gibson 14,000,000
Gorgui Dieng 15,170,787
Tyus Jones 2,444,053
Justin Patton 2,667,600
Josh Okogie* 2,142,360
Kevin Martin** 1,360,305
Cole Aldrich** 2,056,021

TOTAL: 112,376,340

*Okogie’s number is officially a cap hold until he signs his contract, but I included it in the guaranteed salary list because there is no question he will sign for that amount.

**Martin is dead cap. This is the final season of his stretched deal.

**At the time of this writing, the team has not officially announced it is waiving Cole Aldrich. The above list assumes they will, leaving just over $2M guaranteed.

In addition to the above, the Wolves have several cap holds, but since they are over the cap, they are not particularly relevant to how much the Wolves have to spend. These figures do not count toward the tax line or the apron until they become actual contracts. Here are the two significant ones:

Nemanja Bjelica 7,504,998
3 open roster holds 2,495.781

Bjelica’s cap hold remains until the Wolves either rescind the qualifying offer and renounce him or they sign him to a contract for a different amount. If he signs an offer sheet, the cap hold becomes the amount of the first year salary, which obviously converts to Wolves guaranteed salary if they match, or goes away entirely if they don’t.

The Wolves are also charged with holds for three empty roster spots, but of course those go away when they sign actual players.

The key number, however, is that $112M figure above. The tax line is estimated to be around $123M, and the apron around $129M. I am confident the Wolves intend to avoid the tax, and certainly will not risk the apron, which would hard cap them.

This makes it very difficult to use the full MLE (approximately $9M), especially if they wanted to use it all on one player. That would push them to a place where filling out the roster, even with minimum players, would likely put them over the tax line.

It may come down to a choice between using Bird Rights to match a deal Nemanja Bjelica signs or using the bulk of the MLE. There appears to be no way for them to do both unless they find a way to move off some salary in trade.

We’ll be discussing the early free agency goings on right here. Join us and share your takes.