LeBron James will be a Los Angeles Laker for at least three seasons. Paul George committed long-term to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Durant re-upped with the two-time reigning champion Golden State Warriors. What’s more, Chris Paul stayed in Houston while the Phoenix Suns used almost all of their cap space to pry away Trevor Ariza, the Rockets crucial combo-forward. Yet again, July 1 provided NBA fans with ample reason to stay glued to their phone, and raised further questions as to why this event begins in the middle of the night.
For the Wolves, the start of the offseason has been far less exhilarating, but that was to be expected for a team with little capacity to overhaul their roster.
Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden began free agency with nothing more than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (MLE) — slightly under $9M — and veteran minimum contracts to round out the roster. And if they do decide to dole out the entire MLE, it will force them to move other salary to stay under the luxury-tax penalty this upcoming season. Still, with such a saturated market, the MLE could allow Wolves brass to add a meaningful contributor to their lineup.
Here’s what you may have missed over the weekend:
6/28 – Nemanja Bjelica’s Qualifying Offer
On Thursday, Thibodeau extended a qualifying offer to Bjelica, making him a restricted free agent (RFA). As a result, Bjelica has several options. He can sign the one-year, $4,937,499 deal and return to Minnesota, he can sign a multi-year extension with the club too, or he can test the market as an RFA. If Bjelica is offered a contract from another team, the Wolves will be able to match it and retain the Serbian big-man. If he doesn’t find an additional suitor or get the Wolves to give him a multi-year deal, he’ll sign his qualifying offer and be a member of the team for another season.
So far, all signs point toward Bjelica testing the waters. While many teams will be interested in the 6’10” sharpshooter, there are fewer with cap space to make him an offer that Thibodeau won’t match. It’s also important to note that because the Wolves possess his bird-rights, they can give Bjelica a contract outside of their MLE.
This makes Bjelica a restricted free agent. Bjeli is expected to test the market. Wolves hopeful they can retain him but bracing for an offer that would be too pricey.— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) June 28, 2018
6/30 – Cole Aldrich Waived
Two days later, Cole Aldrich’s highly-anticipated guarantee date arrived. In an effort to bolster flexibility, the 29-year-old, Burnsville native was waived from the roster. He was due $6,956,021 in 2018-19, but was only guaranteed $2,056,021. Consequently, the Wolves will still be on the hook for just over $2M, but saved nearly $5M under the tax by making this move.
Previously with the Los Angeles Clippers, Aldrich was Thibodeau’s second free agent signing after joining the Wolves. Over two seasons in his home-town, Aldrich appeared in 83 games. But during the past year, he was relegated to garbage-time duty behind a deep group of capable big-men. By all reports, Aldrich was an excellent veteran presence that the locker room will miss.
7/1 – Derrick Rose Re-Signed to a Minimum Contract
Just after midnight on the east coast, one of the easiest moves to predict was formally announced:
Wolves have locked in Derrick Rose for 1-year, $2.393 million, according to sources.— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) July 1, 2018
As Krawczynski said in a later tweet, the fact that Rose agreed to this deal in the opening hours of free agency speaks volumes about his relationship with Thibodeau. After being claimed by his former head coach at the end of last season, Rose enjoyed a modest resurgence highlighted by an uncharacteristic hot streak from beyond the arc (not sustainable.) Without knowing what moves the Wolves will make before next season, Rose figures to fill the role of gunner off the bench. He’s likely to contribute the same instant offense that Jamal Crawford did last season, while also providing a modicum of defense that his 38-year-old predecessor could not.
Before July 1, it was easy to imagine Thibodeau offering Rose a portion of the MLE in order to convince the former MVP to stay in town. Such a move would have all but hamstrung any goal of bolstering the team’s wing-depth, a far more pressing issue. Additionally, concerns about Rose’s character and role on a team that needs shooting and defense make this a suspect signing. But at the veteran minimum, he’ll at least add injury insurance and bench production without crippling the Wolves’ fiscal capabilities.
Just one day into July, Thibodeau has focused on making decisions around his current roster of players. But according to local reporters, he’s expressed interest in a myriad of free agents at the same time. If you look at Darren Wolfson’s (5 Eyewitness News) twitter feed, you’ll find a laundry list of players that the Wolves have “called on.”
Some of those names include Vince Carter, Mike Scott, David Nwaba, Ian Clark, Derrick Favors, Corey Brewer, Davis Bertans, Jeff Green, Malcolm Delaney, Treveon Graham, Anthony Tolliver, Nick Young, Lance Stephenson, Dante Cunningham, Amir Johnson, Trevor Booker, Jabari Bird, Tyler Ennis, Gerald Green and Jerami Grant.
As it turns out, Thibodeau and Layden are doing their jobs; it’s hard to glean a lot of meaningful inferences from such a long list of potential targets. At this point, it’s probably more useful to look at the players who could have been fits but have already signed elsewhere:
- Will Barton and the Denver Nuggets – four-years, $54M.
- Marco Belinelli and the San Antonio Spurs – two-years, $12M
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the Los Angele Lakers – one-year, $12M
- Omri Casspi and the Memphis Grizzlies – one-year deal
- Rudy Gay and the San Antonio Spurs – one-year, $10M
- Joe Harris and the Brooklyn Nets – two-years, $16M
- Mario Hezonja and the New York Knicks – one-year, $8.6M
- Ersan Ilyasova and the Milwaukee Bucks – three-years, $21M
- Doug McDermott and the Indiana Pacers – three-years, $22M
- Glenn Robinson III and the Detroit Pistons – two-year, $8.3M
- Lance Stephenson and the Los Angeles Lakers – one-year, $4.5M
- Gerald Green and the Houston Rockets – one-year, $2.4M
Sensible free agent options are dwindling quickly. At the same time, the number of teams with money to spend is shrinking. Given the Wolves’ limited ability to offer substantial contracts, it shouldn’t be too surprising that players would gauge the market before engaging with Thibodeau.
Despite the flurry of activity, a bevy of useful names remain available. Among them: Avery Bradley, Anthony Tolliver, Dante Cunningham and Corey Brewer. It’s almost time for the Wolves to start making actual offers.