As August officially draws to a close, so too do the dog days of the NBA offseason. It’s been over four months since the Minnesota Timberwolves last played a meaningful basketball game, and while the the 2018 offseason wasn't as eventful as 2017, it still was packed full of rumors, player acquisitions, and storylines.
With that in mind, I’ve recruited the help of my two good friends John Meyer and Josh Clement to summarize their takes on this latest offseason and get us ready for the 2018-2019 season. With training camp just a few short weeks away, it’s time for another three-man weave.
1. Let’s start this off with a softball…what letter grade would you give the Wolves 2018 offseason?
Kyle Theige: B+. Unlike last offseason, the Wolves entered the 2018 summer without much ammunition, which meant expectations were surely to be tempered. However, the Wolves still managed to acquire two players with first-round talents in the latest NBA Draft despite having only one first-round pick, and strung together logical free agent signings to address needs without sacrificing future cap space.
All of these things are really important. The Wolves now enter Year Three of the Tom Thibodeau regime with the same starting five as they had last year, a starting five that (when healthy) showed they could stand toe-to-toe with any team in the NBA. Despite Thibs’ desire to “win now,” the Wolves didn’t compromise their flexibility going forward to satisfy the desires of their head coach, instead selecting the more long-term approach of their President of Basketball Operations.
The main course for 2018-2019 will be the same as last season, but kudos to the front office for finding a better mix of side dishes to compliment the principal dish.
Josh Clement: B. The Wolves did not do anything too exciting this offseason, but that was always going to be the case as the team was essentially capped out. There were a few ideas for more of a shakeup thrown out there, such as trading Gorgui Dieng for Kent Bazemore, but there were no real rumors that anything like that could actually happen.
But the team (potentially) hit it out of the park with the draft. Okogie and Bates-Diop were both great value picks and they provide some much-needed depth to the wing positions. Both players fit into the mold of the NBA of the future, which is certainly a pleasant surprise.
Everything else is on the margins. The Bjelica-Tolliver swap is likely a lateral move, although at the end of the day the Wolves saved money on that. Bringing Rose back is less than ideal, but the team did not overspend. Having Jamal Crawford decide not to pick up his player option was extremely fortunate.
John Meyer: You guys hit on most of the key points. Given their cap situation and lack of flexibility, the offseason feels like a success. Somewhere in the B range feels right. Crawford was a huge negative on the floor and removing him from the mix is going to help a lot. I would have probably tried harder to re-sign Bjelica and expand his role next to Towns, but the fact that Tolliver won’t drive everyone insane with pump fake threes, and is likely the more reliable option given the injuries that always seemed to hold Belly back, that flip doesn’t change a ton for me.
The low-cost additions of James Nunally and C.J. Williams are intriguing though it’s fair to wonder how much either will play — particularly Williams, who can only spend 45 days of service with the Wolves during the regular season, since he signed a two-way deal, with the rest of the time being spent in the G League unless the front office decides to convert his contract to a standard deal. Thibodeau and Layden also hit a homerun in the NBA draft.
One knock against them this offseason is probably just that the KAT max contract extension has lingered on for longer than one would like. It’s fair to wonder what the hold up is. All of the Jimmy Butler rumors and whispers, while not really backed up by any real evidence that he wants out of Minnesota, have dominated discourse and that has probably hurt the way many people perceive the offseason. But continuity is key for the Wolves and winning typically cures everything! (At least that seems to be the common message Tom Thibodeau is driving home to the fan base.)
2. Do you think any of the Wolves new additions (Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop, Anthony Tolliver, C.J. Williams, and/or James Nunnally) will average more than 15 minutes a game next season?
Theige: The obvious answer here has to be “yes.” Last year, four players (Jamal Crawford, Nemanja Bjelica, Tyus Jones, and Gorgui Dieng) all averaged 15+ minutes off the bench. It’s a near certainty that the Wolves bench will be improved for the upcoming season, so the reliance on the five starters should decrease (key word here is should).
Clement: I think Okogie and Tolliver both seem to have a decent chance to crack more than 15 minutes a game. Bjelica averaged over, so Tolliver will likely soak up those minutes. Okogie will likely be the best backup wing off the bench, as I’m not counting on the Derrick Rose experience to go particularly well and, even if it does, Rose is almost certain to miss some games. Okogie will get his chance.
Meyer: Tolliver is a yes for me, and it seems like the plan might be to throw Okogie into the fire and just ask him to defend his ass off, space the floor, and attack in transition off the bench. So, if there was one other guy that could average 15 mpg Okogie seems like smart money. Of course, if Nunnally surprises right off the bat with his sweet shooting stroke and defends enough to please Thibs those minutes might become his. KBD and Williams don’t seem likely to crack 15+ mpg this season, unless injuries come into play.
3. What’s your take on all of the off-court stuff (Jimmy/Towns, Towns/Thibs, TimberBulls/Timberwolves) that has taken place over the last year? Is it something or nothing?
Theige: It’s clearly something, and to pretend it’s not is somewhat crazy to me. Good teams always have talented players, and talented players usually carry strong egos. The Wolves are no different – a good team whose talented players (Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns) also possess strong egos. Conflicts like this among star players is just par for the course.
But good teams also (usually) have good management. The amount of smoke billowing around this team as of late doesn’t necessarily promote many feelings of trust, togetherness, or communication, and that in itself is a major problem. Can it be resolved? Absolutely, but it won’t be done through the media, on Instagram, or through the current strategy of “deny, deny, deny.”
Listen, It’s hard to win in the NBA, and it’s even harder to do so over a sustainable amount of time. The Wolves have showed they can compete with the NBA’s best, but to do so again going forward will take more work off the court than on it.
Clement: It’s certainly something but it could easily turn into nothing. Winning cures all ills, right? If the Wolves keep on winning then the main fulcrum in this relationship, which is essentially Towns vs Thibs, will be fine.
The Wolves may lose out on a few guys due to the fractured relationships, as Bjelica certainly seemed ready to go out and Gorgui Dieng’s issues are not going to get ameliorated. Hopefully, the Wolves are not too stupid to recognize that Tyus Jones is an easy replacement to Jeff Teague after Teague’s contract runs out, but of that remains to be seen.
If things fall apart, Butler is almost certainly going to start sniping at guys to the media. That would not be a fun time.
Meyer: I think a lot of this stuff tends to get blown out of proportion because the league is so popular nowadays and fans want to speculate on every single little thing these guys offer them to speculate on (guilty as charged). But with that being said, I don’t doubt that there are some weird and very key relationships inside of Mayo Clinic Square that need to be worked on. How does Towns seriously feel about Thibs? Does Butler like Towns? Do the personalities of the two stars in Minnesota mesh well enough to move forward with it long term? Does any of this matter as much we might think? Those seem like fair questions to ponder and the constant silence and protective nature of everything going on around the team probably doesn’t help calm anyone's nerves.
Still, I don’t think the Wolves all hate each other and can’t effectively co-exist.
4. According to our friends in Las Vegas, the Wolves Over/Under win total for this upcoming season is 44.5. If you had to bet a sizable amount of local currency, would you go OVER or UNDER?
Theige: As the self-appointed gambling expert here at Canis, I will once again provide you a clear and efficient strategy to guarantee your happiness come next spring. If you are anti-Thibs (or simply just enjoy chaos), open the toolbox and hammer the OVER. If the Wolves do indeed win 45 or more games, the likelihood of them reaching the playoffs for the second straight year is almost (almost) a lock. Yay playoffs!
However, if the Wolves do fail to reach that 45-win plateau, resulting in a step backwards from last season, I would expect Glen Taylor to make significant changes, both to the coaching staff and the front office. Winning games creates expectations, and failing to meet those expectations often times results in change. If the Wolves can’t build off the momentum of 2018, change will undoubtedly come.
Clement: Hammer that over. The Wolves won 47 games last year and missed Jimmy Butler for a significant portion of the season. Barring a serious injury, it is hard to see how the Wolves would be worse than last year. Similarly to how Vegas gave the Raptors a low Over/Under last year when they just ran things back, I think the Wolves will exceed their projections easily.
Meyer: I will say 49 wins and the Over. Top level talent and continuity will help the Wolves a ton. I think they made the right tweaks in the rotation that should allow them to improve this season.
5. In your opinion, will Jimmy Butler be in a Wolves uniform at this same time next year?
Theige: Short preface – I really enjoy Jimmy Butler and also really enjoy bringing an optimistic view to my fandom of this team. However, I am also a realist, and while the Thibodeau era has had its moments, this entire experiment does seem headed for unavoidable change, in my opinion.
If Jimmy does leave, I can’t see a scenario when Thibodeau doesn’t as well (either by choice or by force). Taj Gibson will be a free agent next year, as will Derrick Rose. Jeff Teague will have one remaining year on his contract, and could be enticing to teams who strike out on premier free agents next summer.
For me, this entire thing is about one person and that is Karl-Anthony Towns. If the Wolves do ever win a championship, it’ll be with him as the best player, not Butler. Armed with a caveat of young, talented players (Andrew Wiggins, Justin Patton, Jones, Okogie, Bates-Diop) as well as all their own future picks, I do think a pivot is inevitable. Not necessarily a rebuild, but a pivot.
Clement: I think so. The Wolves future is going to split based upon this season. Either the Wolves will be good and it makes sense to continue the Thibs experience (along with Jimmy) or everything is going to get blown apart again.
Jimmy Butler is amazing at basketball and the Wolves simply do not have a way to replace his talent if he leaves. They should be doing everything they can to keep him, as that ensures that the early part of Karl-Anthony’s Towns career is filled with legitimate competitive basketball.
If you have NBA stars, you keep them. That is the only way to be good.
Meyer: The majority of people seem to think Butler is as good as gone next offseason, but the Wolves can offer him more money than anyone else and probably more power and control in the organization than most if not all franchises if Thibs remains in the fold. I’m sure Butler is open to the idea of moving on from Minnesota and needs to be convinced this season, but at the end of the day he would be giving up a lot of money on his last big deal if he wants to head for LA, New York, or somewhere else.