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Wolves Wednesday: Lap of Luxury

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The news out of Mayo Square has slowed as of late, so it’s time to do what I do best: reckless speculation!

Minnesota Timberwolves NBA basketball team owner Glen Taylor, left, introduces new team president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas during a press conference at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Monday, May 6, 2019.
Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP

Up until now, it’s been a fairly electric offseason for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

First there was those rumors of Glen Taylor simply keeping Ryan Saunders and Scott Layden, followed by an official president of basketball operations search, followed by the hiring of Gersson Rosas (friend of the website), followed by an official (we think) head coaching search, followed by the hiring/promotion of Ryan Saunders. Mixed in between those major moments was the departure of nearly all of the assistant coaches, results of the NBA Lottery, announcement of the All-NBA teams (thus increasing the Wolves KAT space), and the acquisition of the NBA Trade Machine (well, sort of).

With the front office rebuilt and the head coach finally selected, the available khantent is pretty dry. With the NBA Draft a little over two weeks away, the Wolves will continue to have a variety of players in town for private workouts, but the rumor mill won’t really start to pick up until after the NBA Finals conclude (I’m sticking with Warriors in 6 by the way).

So what exactly is there to talk about right now? Well, while listening to the Dane Moore podcast over the weekend, a thought occurred to me. In the pod, Dane and Charlie Johnson outlined three possible paths for the Wolves offseason:

  1. Re-signing one player from last season (Tyus Jones, Derrick Rose, etc.) and then using the mid-level exception (MLE) to fill out the roster.
  2. Simply letting all impending FA’s walk (the names listed above plus Taj Gibson, Anthony Tolliver, etc.) and using all available cap space to sign some cheap, fresh faces.
  3. Getting Glen’s approval to spend more aggressively, resulting in the Wolves entering the infamous Luxury Tax territory.

On the surface, it would seem like options #1 or #2 are the logical choice for the franchise. After all, this is a rebuilding team that isn’t remotely close to being a perennial contender, so the assumption that the owner would fork over millions of extra dollars in luxury tax penalties seems extremely unlikely.

However, according to Dane, not everyone around the league thinks the idea of the Wolves entering the tax is that far-fetched:

The third path was one that I had thought of as similarly unlikely. But when the KAT news went down, I tweeted out what the cap figures are now, a spreadsheet, this and that, and wrote my article and all these things. But then a few people from around the league texted me and were like “why are you assuming that the luxury tax is this hard line in the sand (for the Timberwolves)?”

Dane went on to discuss how paying the tax for one year could benefit the Wolves ability to expedite the rebuild while still maintaining flexibility down the road. After all, the luxury tax system is currently set up to penalize multi-year offenders (also known as “the repeater tax”), and isn’t as damaging for a franchise who pays it one year but not the next. With Jeff Teague coming off the books next summer and Gorgui Dieng one year closer to his contract expiring, you could see a path for Rosas & Co. to increase their spending this summer while still avoiding the repeater tax in 2020.

All of this got Konspiracy Kyle to thinking... what if Gersson Rosas brokered a deal with Glen Taylor to retain Ryan Saunders as head coach in exchange for a guarantee to increase spending (including the luxury tax) to help foster the necessary changes that Rosas has promised since his arrival?

Hear me out: we know that Gersson Rosas was far and away the most desired candidate after meeting with the Timberwolves version of their Leadership Committee (this has been confirmed by basically every person involved in the process). It’s also been well-reported by The Athletic that Rosas and Glen met face-to-face at Glen’s Mankato mansion in late April to negotiate a deal and hammer out the details of Rosas’s vision. We also know that despite hiring Ryan as his next head coach, Rosas has offered the “Associated Head Coach” position to at least one other candidate who interviewed for the job (Juwan Howard) and might be actively offering it to another:

We also know that Glen has already shown an enhanced desire this spring to open up his checkbook, hiring Sachin Gupta away from the Detroit Pistons to fill a position that previously had not existed within the franchise (vice president of basketball operations).

Simply put, Gersson Rosas is not a dummy. He’s already dealt with one ownership group that was too controlling and too limiting of his power, thus resulting in his short stint with the Dallas Mavericks. If he assumed that keeping Ryan Saunders was a necessary step to ultimately attaining his dream job, why wouldn’t he simply agree to do so while simultaneously leveraging his position at the top candidate to get certain promises that will accelerate his long-term strategy?

Again, this is pure speculation. But this idea of possibly persuading Glen to enter the luxury tax next year is far and away the most important topic surrounding the franchise right now. As you know by now, with just 8 players under contract (as well as the ghost of Cole Aldrich), the Wolves already have $116 million dollars locked up for the 2019-2020 season. With the luxury tax “apron” set at $138 million, the Wolves could open up a few million more opportunities, allowing them to possibly bring back multiple holdovers from last season (let’s just say Tyus Jones AND Anthony Tolliver) while still having the ability to use the full MLE to inject some new, fresh talent into the roster. While entering the luxury tax doesn’t completely remove all of the financial constraints facing this team, it does provide the new (and improved!) front office more ammunition to align their new roster with their new vision.

In short, this new front office is too intelligent and too aggressive to simply “run it back” next season with only the same cast of characters as before. While most of us were under the impression that the team was severely handcuffed in terms of financial wiggle room, just the idea that Glen might be willing to actually spend MORE and not LESS this season to remedy the issues left behind from the past regime is something to strongly monitor as we approach the first of July.