It feels like a lifetime ago since we’ve seen the Minnesota Timberwolves actually play competitive, official basketball games. After Gersson Rosas swung for the fences with the D’Angelo Russell trade, fans were only able to capture a small glimpse of the “new era” before the world quickly stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Somehow, that was only seven months ago.
While we are just a few weeks removed from the conclusion of the 2020 season, the NBA is reportedly already looking at a quick turnaround. According to ESPN, training camps could begin December 1 and real games starting December 22. Other key details include free agency beginning November 22 (four days after the draft), a 72-game schedule (satisfying local TV deals) and no All-Star game.
While 2020 has forced everyone, professional sports included, to become more flexible, this truncated six-week offseason would theoretically set up a return to a “normal” 82-game season for 2021-2022. Overall, this entire situation is less than ideal and the plan (as reported by ESPN), is certainly ambitious.
Let’s break down three of the biggest questions as it pertains to Minnesota...
What Will the Timberwolves Look Like?
We haven’t seen the Timberwolves and other non-bubble teams play since March. As I’ve said before, it seems sub-optimal to have the worst teams in the league sitting mostly idle for nine months. Sure, they had their own workouts and scrimmages; however, that level of competition pales in comparison to actual live games.
Then again, many were wondering how the quality of the product would look in the NBA Bubble and it actually turned out really well. Of course, the big differentiator here is the travel. There was no travel in the bubble and this latest proposal for the upcoming season obviously includes travel (slightly less depending on how they schedule games, but still). The League will likely do their best to condense this travel — for example, schedule the Brooklyn Nets to play the Lakers and Clippers in a two or three day window, and then schedule the remaining west coast teams in the same week or so (i.e. Golden State and Sacramento).
However the league decides to structure things, it will be fascinating to see how the Wolves look coming off a season winning fewer than 30% of their games and having just three weeks of camp before the season tips off.
Salary Cap and Luxury Tax Implications
Because of the loss of revenue, a unique feature for the 2021 season could be raised salary cap and luxury tax lines. Of course, the luxury tax league could limit the tax line after Minnesota gets out of the tax. This could still be good news.
As has been stated multiple times this summer, this upcoming offseason is not the offseason to have bushels of cap space, and luckily for the Wolves, they won’t. And yet, Rosas will want to continue to find that final piece (or pieces) to build around Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell. If every team in the league, including Minnesota, suddenly had more flexibility, the possibility for more transactions increases greatly.
Those deals may not ultimately materialize for Rosas but at least the potential for chaos would be there.
How Will This Impact Restricted Free Agency?
On a Zoom call with local media members early Wednesday morning, Executive Vice President Sachin Gupta confirmed that while the team isn’t flush with cap space, they will still have plenty of flexibility if they decide to retain their own guys:
Gupta, in responding to a question about the salary cap, said the Wolves are likely to not have a lot of salary-cap room, but will have room below the luxury tax to be able to sign some of their own free agents (like Hernangomez and Beasley, both upcoming RFAs)— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) October 28, 2020
“Their own guys” include the four restricted free agents currently on Minnesota’s roster: Jordan McLaughlin, Kelan Martin, Juan Hernangomez and Malik Beasley. For each of these players, the Timberwolves will have two days to decide whether or not to match another team’s offer.
Two days is typically an insignificant amount of time in the NBA offseason; however, in this expedited offseason, it’s far more significant. Any team offering a deal to a restricted free agent would now have to maintain the cap space to sign that player for two days, likely preventing them from additional moves until then. For Minnesota, an offered player’s cap hold would sit on their books until they decided whether or not to match.
This could potentially be annoying if Rosas wants to make alternative moves but doesn’t know exactly how much room he’ll have. However, this wrinkle could also benefit the team if it deters other competing franchises from trying to make a bid on one of the Wolves restricted free agents.
Regardless of what happens starting on November 18, it’s safe to say these next couple of weeks will be filled with empty rumors, smoke screens, and plenty of aggregation.