Heading into the summer of 2022, the Minnesota Timberwolves had some glaring issues that needed to be fixed pronto. Minnesota was out-rebounded in five of the team's six games against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Along with that, the Timberwolves had issues containing the paint all season long with their front-court of Karl-Anthony Towns and Jarred Vanderbilt — both of whom stood under 7-feet tall. In a league that kept getting smaller and smaller, the Wolves were a team that needed to add size to their roster in order to become a ball club capable of getting out of the first round.
The newly hired President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly was made aware of what the team was in most need of. In his first trade as a part of Minnesota’s front office and ownership group, Connelly and his staff went out and acquired Rudy Gobert in exchange for a haul that included five players and five draft picks.
Wait for confirmation, but I believe this is the full Rudy Gobert to Minnesota trade pic.twitter.com/DIs5eKBrxt— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) July 1, 2022
Like last summer, the Timberwolves still faced some glaring roster needs after the team’s first-round exit to the Denver Nuggets. However, the Wolves weren't in need of another blockbuster trade that would blow up the team. Rather, they needed a few smaller moves that could help bolster their bench while still staying within the new cap parameters.
The Money Issues They Faced
The NBA implemented a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that went into effect on July 1st. To shorten the 676-page press release, the new CBA makes it tougher for teams like the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors to exist by putting severe ramifications on teams for dipping too far into the luxury tax, as well as a new salary cap league-wide.
New NBA salary cap numbers for 2023-2024, per sources: Salary Cap: $136M; Tax Level: $165.2M; First Apron: $172.3M; Second Apron: $182.7M; Non-taxpayer mid-level exception: 12.4M. The salary cap and tax levels will rise 10 percent.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 30, 2023
Free agency opened up back on Friday, June 30th. Leading up to then, the Timberwolves didn’t have much finical freedom. After the team decided to waived Taurean Prince before his $7.4 million contract became guaranteed for next season, Minnesota created more room beneath the dreaded luxury tax line; the Wolves had $15.5 million total (via the mid-level exception and bi-annual exception) to spend in free agency on existing and new targets.
The Timberwolves’ future became very expensive this off-season. They now have $443 million tied up between Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid over the next five seasons. Along with that, the team extended Anthony Edwards to a five-year, designated rookie maximum deal that could be worth up to $260 million, Jaden McDaniels is expected to score a lucrative new contract with the team at some point in the next calendar year, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker earned a new, two-year, $9 million contract. In turn, this didn’t leave Minnesota’s front office with much long-term flexibility to spend in the free agent market. However, Connelly and his staff were still able to round out Head Coach Chris Finch’s rotation — while also remaining maintaining flexibility next summer — with the few signings they were able to complete
Free Agent Transactions
The rumors ran wild and free surrounding the Timberwolves leading up to June 30th, so much so that our Canis Hoopus staff maintained a thread including every last rumor and speculation report. Recognizable free agent names that were tied to Minnesota included Donte DiVincenzo, Bruce Brown, Jevon Carter, Caris LeVert and Eric Gordon, to name a few. A common theme among those five guys was ball-handling, secondary creation, perimeter defense, floor spacing, and floor vision — all areas the Wolves were looking to upgrade most from last season. While it would have been nice to see any of those players in a Timberwolves uniform next season, Minnesota. went out and acquired two players that weren't on many fans' radar.
Troy Brown Jr.
Minnesota’s first free agent signing was not one I saw coming. Troy Brown Jr. agreed to a two-year, $8 million contract with the Timberwolves that reportedly has a club option in the second season. The Wolves will be Brown Jr.’s fourth stop in the NBA, after spending his first seasons with the Washington Wizards, then one year with the Chicago Bulls, and most recently, suiting up for the Los Angeles Lakers last season.
The weirdest part of Brown Jr. signing with the Wolves is the fact that Prince agreed to a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Lakers — the team who TBJ last played for. Given how similar their respective roles were, the Wolves and Lakers essentially swapped Prince for Brown Jr., respectively. If that truly was a trade, it would be one that Timberwolves fans may view as a loss. However, TBJ’s signing goes deeper than just his stat lines.
Troy Brown Jr.'s role in L.A. was all over the place. However, you could usually find him spotted up from the corners or cutting into the paint.— Charlie Walton (@CharlieWaltonMN) July 2, 2023
TBJ attempted 117 corner triples for the Lakers last season, connecting on 47 of those (40%).
Played very well in transition. pic.twitter.com/Pg5wjZfiYI
L.A.’s Head Coach Darvin Ham described Brown as a “Swiss army knife” — a player that could fit in wherever the team most needed him that night.
“His game is simple, man,” Ham told The Athletic when asked about Brown’s versatility. “He’s definitely a 3-and-D guy, but he’s a guy you can fit and put on the court with a variety of different players. He doesn’t necessarily need the ball in his hands.”
The Lakers TBJ slotted anywhere from shooting guard all the way up to power forward, depending upon who joined him on the floor. And after L.A.’s team-altering moves at the trade deadline, his role kept changing even more. Regardless of his position, the 6-foot-6 wing would primarily be posted up in the corners or cutting off backscreens to open up his team’s offense.
When looking at Brown Jr.’s shot chart last season, it's easy to tell that he fits nicely in the modern NBA. He shot 40% from three in the corners and 38% from deep as a whole last season. In every aspect, he is a prototypical 3-and-D wing. However, due to an ever-changing role and lack of consistent minutes, we weren't able to see his offense fully blossom with the Lakers.
TBJ’s projected role in Minnesota doesn't look to be much different. Up front, it doesn’t appear he will make the opening-day rotation, as Finch typically likes to run a nine-man rotation. However, as the Wolves became deeper this summer, Finchy could be able to expand his rotation to ensure the health of his star players. Regardless, Brown is a guy who plays better when he’s surrounded by great talent. Along with that, he will be able to play on any given night with any given role — something the Wolves could have used last season.
After bringing in Troy Brown Jr., the Timberwolves still needed to add guard depth off the bench. Minnesota’s consistency in backing up Mike Conley hurt them toward the end of the last season and into the playoffs. Kyle Anderson was used as the team's primary ball handler off the bench, with Jordan McLaughlin not being reliable enough on the offensive end to earn a definite role in the rotation once he returned from a calf injury.
In response to that need, the Wolves went out and signed 26-year-old guard Shake Milton on a two-year, $10 million contract with a team option in the second season.
It was reported that the Timberwolves were in search of bigger combo guards who excelled at floor vision — such as Bruce Brown or DiVincenzo. However, beyond the Wolves’ desire for a player who had the ability to command the offense, Minnesota also needed someone who could score in bunches more consistently than Jaylen Nowell did during a lackluster 2022-23 campaign.
MIN needed some scoring off the bench after parting ways with both Prince and Nowell.— Charlie Walton (@CharlieWaltonMN) June 30, 2023
Absolutely love the signing and value of Milton -- scrappy young guard who plays with a chip on his shoulder and can score in bunches.
Shot 37.8% from three last year on 1.9 attempt per. pic.twitter.com/LW3A7ErrmI
Milton’s ability to pass the ball is a key area for improvement, as is his on-ball defense, but the team re-signing Alexander-Walker should help mitigate that weakness. However, the former Philadelphia 76ers guard’s ability to generate his own offense in the painted area, along with being able to stretch the floor, is what makes him a strong fit with the Wolves.
Looking through some Shake Milton film this morning.— Charlie Walton (@CharlieWaltonMN) July 2, 2023
One of the areas that Milton excels at is attacking defenders with long strides into the paint and rising up with his 7'0" wingspan over the defense.
Will come in very handy when running PnR/PnP with Gobert and Towns. pic.twitter.com/aZRCrWiqUS
Not only can he get his own offense, but the 6-foot-5 guard will also fit incredibly well next to Towns, Gobert, and Reid, as the four of them will most likely see their fair share of pick-and-rolls/pick-and-pops next season. According to NBA.com, the Timberwolves had the 16th worst overall bench lineup, as they outputted a -6.3 net rating last season. Getting defensive stops and scoring on the other end was a massive struggle for the team. While Milton most likely won’t be a needle mover on the defensive end, he will surely give the Wolves some much-needed offense off the bench.
Where Does the Team Stand Now?
As of early July, with No. 53 overall selection Jaylen Clark signing on a two-way contract and the team signing 33rd pick Leonard Miller to a four-year contract, and Matt Ryan potentially returning on another two-way deal, here is how Minnesota’s depth chart shakes out:
Minnesota still has around $2.6 million to spend and one roster space open. While it is possible that the team brings in another player on a veteran's minimum (ex: Austin Rivers), keeping that open roster spot could come in handy at the trade deadline, or if the team wants to be a player in the buy-out market next season.
Either way, we all need to give Tim Connelly and his staff a pat on the back for the job they did so far this summer. They have been able to bring in a wide range of players via the draft and free agency that will field a deeper team capable of advancing further into the playoffs next season and many more years to come.