The 2023 NBA Draft has happened, NBA Free Agency dust has (mostly) settled, and Summer League has wrapped up. The dog days of the NBA calendar are in full swing, although James Harden, Damian Lillard and whatever ripple effects come from potential trades will surely inject life back into the community.
For the Minnesota Timberwolves, they’ve all but solidified their roster for next season. They added Troy Brown Jr. and Shake Milton in free agency, drafted Leonard Miller and Jaylen Clark, and watched their young talent perform in Vegas.
Now, all they have left is one final open roster spot. Minnesota could simply sign a free agent to fill the spot, but leaving the spot open provides additional flexibility down the road.
President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and Minnesota’s front office has opted to leave the 15th roster spot open thus far, and they’ll have roughly $4.1 million of room under the luxury tax to sign a player if they so choose. After ratifying the contracts of Brown Jr., Milton and Miller, the Timberwolves’ 14-player payroll sits at just over $161 million, according to Spotrac.
Brown Jr. signed a two-year, $8 million deal, with the second year of the deal owing Brown Jr. a non-guaranteed $4 million.
Milton signed a two-year, $10 million deal — again with the second year of the deal non-guaranteed — that will pay him $5 million per season.
Miller signed the “(Sachin) Gupta Special,” a four-year contract that will pay him a total of $8.3 million with a team option on the fourth year. The Wolves have signed second-round picks / undrafted players Naz Reid, Jaylen Nowell and Josh Minott to similarly-structured deals in recent years.
Signing a Free Agent
The Timberwolves could use their $4.1 million in space under the luxury tax to bring in a player, which would likely be a minimum contract at this stage of free agency. If they signed a player to a veteran minimum deal around $2 million, they would still be under the tax and they would have a full roster.
Secondary orchestration is an area to keep an eye on with the current roster, with shaky play from Jordan McLaughlin and a flurry of temporary options cycling through the rotation last season. Mike Conley was a significant addition that provided much-needed stability and shooting at the 1, but he’ll be 36 years old in October and heavy starter minutes might be a tall ask for the 2022-23 NBA Sportsmanship Award winner.
Milton will contribute to backup point guard duties, which he proved to do capably in Philadelphia, but in the case that Conley misses extended time he may not be enough. The SMU standout recorded 240 assists last season, the most of any Philadelphia 76ers guard other than James Harden.
For extended stretches another ball handler could be beneficial for this group. A combination of Anthony Edwards, Milton, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and McLaughlin would be serviceable, but an additional floor general wouldn’t hurt.
With Minnesota’s front-court already featuring Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, recently-signed Naz Reid and Kyle Anderson — and with insurance in Luka Garza coming back on a two-way deal — it’s likely another free agent addition would be a shooting guard or forward if it’s not a point guard.
Milton and Troy Brown Jr. are both solid shooters from beyond the arc — 38% each — but shot relatively low volume in 2022-23. Finding another mid- to high-volume threat from beyond the arc could give Head Coach Chris Finch more lineup flexibility. High percentage, high volume shooters aren’t easy to find, especially late in the summer, but someone like Svi Mykhailiuk — 40% from deep last season — would be a low-risk option.
Potential Mid-Season Trade or Buyout
For a variety of reasons, leaving a roster spot open as you enter the regular season makes plenty of sense.
Although the roster is primed to run it back this fall, NBA rosters can change no matter how solidified they may seem. In the event the Wolves make a trade, they’d have the ability to take back an additional player if their roster is kept at 14 players. That could be relevant if Minnesota doesn’t make a seismic move, and instead looks to be a third team in a three-team deal that takes in a player in order to recoup one or two second-round picks. Some may scoff at that, but the Wolves wouldn’t have been able to trade up and select Miller in June’s NBA Draft without netting three second-round picks in addition to Conley and Alexander-Walker at the trade deadline last season.
If Minnesota opts to stand pat through the trade deadline, they would still be able to add a player in the buyout market. Players like Russell Westbrook, and former Wolves Patrick Beverley and Kevin Love had their contracts bought out following the trade deadline in 2023, and made positive impacts on the teams they joined after becoming free agents in March.
There’s certainly value to be found even after the trade buzzer sounds, and the Timberwolves could be players in the market if they keep their final roster spot open.