The front-office makeover at Mayo Clinic Square has brought a renewed energy and optimism to a downtrodden fan base. There is a belief that the new brain trust will improve communication, make better use of available information, and modernize operations in pursuit of on-court success.
But therein lies the rub: Success in the NBA is largely determined by talent. No matter how smart, driven, and personable everyone involved is, it won’t help without good players on the court.
For all of the excitement fans feel about Gersson Rosas’ first off-season, the truth is he is quite limited in his options. The Wolves, as things are currently constructed, are going to be over the cap not only this off-season, but almost certainly in the summer of 2020 as well. The players on the roster that have trade value are the guys you would like to keep and build with.
But the truth is, they aren’t good enough. Adding a draft pick and maybe a 3rd or 4th tier free agent or two with their exceptions isn’t going to move the needle for this team. Perhaps if things go well, the current roster with some tinkering on the edges makes the playoffs, maybe even as a middle seed if the breaks really go their way. While I’m not a championship-or-bust fan, that’s not a ceiling they should be aiming for.
Rather, in order to give themselves opportunities to raise that ceiling, they need to change the structure of their roster and cap situation, and the sooner the better.
The way to change the structure of the roster and salary cap is to trade Andrew Wiggins.
To recap: Andrew Wiggins has played 400 NBA games and over 14,000 minutes, and it’s hard to argue he has moved forward at all. For reasons, the Wolves gave him a maximum salary extension after his third season despite knowing he was nowhere near that valuable. They were counting on him improving drastically, which was always a stretch, and two years later (one year into his five year deal) it hasn’t happened.
The chances of it happening now are very small. At best now we can hope for incremental improvements, but continuing to invest roughly 25 percent of the salary cap in Wiggins is just throwing good money after bad.
At this point, Wiggins occupies a place in a player group we might define as Guys Who Score But Don’t Do Much Else. (Disturbingly, even his scoring prowess has regressed over the past couple of seasons.) The usual destiny for guys in this group is to be big scorers on bad teams—think Kevin Martin in Sacramento. (Martin was a much better scorer than Wiggins.) And in fact, that’s what Wiggins has been throughout his career—a scorer on bad teams. It’s time to change that.
Getting off Wiggins’ deal for shorter-term money would open up more possibilities for the front office to shape the roster. Smaller salaries are easier to move. Cap space could come earlier. In short, as long as the Wolves are paying Wiggins, their options are severely limited. They simply cannot afford to have a player making max money and not contributing at a star level.
The problem of course is how to manage it. We start with the 11th pick. In a draft without obvious difference makers, at least in the late lottery, using the pick to help move the massive boulder that is the Wiggins contract makes sense. Of course, given the perceived weakness of the draft, the 11th pick has limited value to other teams.
Having spoken to a couple of people with a more direct and clear sense of the market, it would likely take more than the 11th pick to move off Wiggins’ deal, depending of course on what would come back to the Wolves. (This, by the way, is indicative of just how bad his contract is viewed around the league. It’s one of the worst.)
But realistically, there is very little I wouldn’t move to get off that deal. The 11th pick and Josh Okogie? Sure. A future pick? As long as there are protections, why not?
Like everyone, I dislike spending assets just to move a contract, but the truth is that deal is a disaster. This isn’t one more season of Jeff Teague, or even two of Gorgui Dieng at around $17M per. This is four more seasons at an average of around $30M per season. It’s just untenable for them to really make meaningful and positive changes and build something resembling a contender under the handicap of that contract.
What the new front office needs is a pathway to flexibility, and the only way they get that is by moving Andrew Wiggins. If this week’s draft pick can help them do that, they should use it that way.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that they are pursuing this avenue. Rather, rumor currently has it that Rosas is focused on trying to move up in the draft, apparently in a bid for Coby White. If something along these lines happen, we will of course have reaction and analysis, but my initial feeling is that the cost of moving up is probably not worth it, especially with the mountain of Wiggins’ contract blocking real progress. Better to work toward a cleaner slate as quickly as possible in order to start remaking the roster.
Whatever they choose to do, the beginning is just a couple of days away now. We’ll know more Thursday night.