This offseason is critical for the Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s old hat, but the Wolves have found themselves miring in the Western Conference’s no man’s land yet again, though their path was a bit different this time around.
Prior to the 2017-18 season, if you told Wolves fans they would finish eighth and break a 14-year postseason drought, they would be satisfied. However, fans did not stomach the roller-coaster ride that ensued very easily. A rocky start was followed by a fantastic stretch that catapulted the Wolves into third in the West, though Jimmy Butler’s meniscus tear nearly dropped them out of the playoffs altogether.
Prior to this season, it was clear that expectations were for the team to improve upon their 2018 outing. While Butler’s trade demand did a fair bit to rattle those expectations, the Wolves’ improved play immediately after his trade encouraged fans to maintain their playoff hopes.
Well, the Wolves regressed to the mean shortly thereafter, and have looked a very mediocre outfit since. They’re currently 6.5 games back of eighth, with no hope of either reaching the playoffs or obtaining a top draft pick.
How can the Wolves’ brass avoid a similar fate next season?
Karl-Anthony Towns has seemingly been improving by the game, and although he’s under contract through 2024, there needs to be some sense of urgency at Mayo Clinic Square to build something sustainable around him.
It’s too early to seriously predict who the Wolves will select in this June’s draft, though we can assume they’ll be in the No. 11-14 range. Heck, it’s even too early to predict who the head coach will be. Really, a whole lot remains up in the air surrounding Minnesota’s 2019-20 season, but we can analyze the roles that eligible free agents may have in it.
It’s clear that Scott Layden & Co. will have some intriguing decisions to make.
All of the Wolves’ court generals will be eligible to leave this summer, and their contract situations are as varied as their styles of play. Jeff Teague has a $19 million player option, Tyus Jones is a restricted free agent and Derrick Rose is an unrestricted free agent. (Jerryd Bayless is also an unrestricted free agent, but we all knew he was as good as gone the day he arrived from Philadelphia).
Teague will almost certainly pick up his option, and while conventional wisdom may dictate that Rose will go to the highest bidder this summer, it’s not inconceivable that he would snub such a move in favor of a good basketball situation. The team and fanbase have embraced Rose like few free agent signings before him, but it remains to be seen if he likes the direction that the organization is heading, especially considering his loyalty to the departed Tom Thibodeau.
The market for Jones could be sneaky big this summer, too. His remarkable assist-to-turnover ratio has been mentioned ad nauseum, but for good reason. Jones already brings a unique skillset to the floor and has room for growth. His cap hit should be much more manageable than what Rose will command in the free market. Though one must consider the possibility of classic RFA-related gamesmanship: another team may offer Jones an inflated deal, essentially daring Minnesota to match it.
If Jones does end up back next season, some will point to the exhausting “one of us! one of us!” sensibilities of Minnesotan sports fans regarding their hometown athletes, but Jones is worth bringing back if you’re the Wolves, purely for basketball reasons.
The Wolves’ two other unrestricted free agents are power forwards Taj Gibson and Anthony Tolliver. Gibson has brought a feistiness to Minnesota’s frontcourt, playing consistent, no-nonsense defense. He ranks in the top 20 league-wide in offensive rebound percentage, and has enjoyed the two most efficient shooting seasons of his career with the Wolves. If Minnesota can bring Gibson back while allowing themselves some flexibility in free agency, I don’t see an issue with signing him to a one- or two-year deal.
Gibson’s shooting has improved upon his arrival in Minnesota, though Tolliver’s hasn’t. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone that he’s 41 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3 point land — those numbers are pretty consistent with his career marks of 42 percent and 38 percent — but it isn’t what he produced with Detroit last year, 46 percent and 44 percent. These were career-highs, and Tolliver is merely falling back down to earth. That, combined with Dario Saric’s presence, will likely force Tolliver out of town this summer.
If Minnesota can return some of these effective players at prices that make sense in the big picture, they may allow themselves an opportunity at a savvy free agent signing.
But then again, this is Glen Taylor we’re talking about. Sigh.
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