NBA Free Agency: Minnesota Timberwolves Preview
What Happened Last Season:
With Tom Thibodeau hired to take over as head coach and team president, the Timberwolves started the 2016-17 season with playoff aspirations and some degree of expectations for the first time in a long time. But a litany of blown second half leads helped bring a 9-21 start through Christmas Day, and the team never fully recovered.
An above .500 run in the middle of the season (19-17), including notable wins over eventual playoff teams, showed Minnesota’s potential. But, they won just three of their final 16 games, as another non-playoff season wound down and lottery ping pong balls were at stake.
Prior to suffering a torn left ACL in February, Zach LaVine was having the best season of his career. Over 47 games, he averaged career-highs in points (18.9) and rebounds (3.4) per game, while playing a lot (37.2 minutes per game) and making 38.7 percent of his three-pointers. The 13th overall pick in 2014 is unlikely to be ready for the start of next season, but if healthy he has proven he can be a worthy third fiddle to Karl-Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
The future is bright in Minnesota, but it’s clearly time for a lengthy playoff drought to end.
Upcoming Free Agents:
Restricted: Shabazz Muhammad-$4,187,598 qualifying offer, $7,615,748 cap hold
Non-Guaranteed Contracts: Jordan Hill-$4.180 million
Guaranteed Cap Space: $20,437,943 Potential Cap Space: $32,037,943
Muhammad can probably get more annually on the open market than the qualifying offer Minnesota can extend, and surely a multi-year deal to boot. He offers nice offensive punch off the bench, which the Timberwolves sorely need, but he may be gone if other teams come with big offer sheets. If Thibodeau likes Muhammad enough there’s financial room to bring him back, but I don’t think it’s very likely.
Minnesota’s other top offseason priority deals with a trade possibility, and the domino effect. Ricky Rubio has been the subject of trade rumors, and the New York Knicks seem likely to have renewed interest this offseason. If the Timberwolves have eyes on another veteran point guard, via trade or more likely free agency, Rubio will have to be moved to make room.
It would also be nice for Minnesota to have a resolution on center Nikola Pekovic this offseason. He has played just 43 games over the last three seasons, including zero in 2016-17, due to ongoing foot and ankle issues. Retirement is all but certain, and with it an $11.6 million salary hit would be removed from the Timberwolves’ books.
Where there’s smoke, there eventually has to be fire. The Timberwolves were reportedly close to sending Rubio to the Knicks for Rose at February’s trade deadline, but a deal did not get done.
Rose enjoyed the best (healthy) years of his career playing for Thibodeau in Chicago, including Rookie of the Year (2009) and league MVP (2011) campaigns. Rose, even at far less physically than he was as a young player, seems to be exactly what Thibodeau wants in a point guard on the offensive end.
Gibson is another former Bull who played for Thibodeau in Chicago. Thibodeau’s final two seasons as Bulls’ head coach were two of the best seasons of Gibson’s career, despite the fact he started just 25 of the 144 games he played.
Gibson would be a perfect veteran leader for a young team, and a capable big man off the bench. He has averaged 9.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for his career, with a career field goal percentage just a nose under 50 percent. Add in positive contribution defensively, backed up by advanced stats, and Gibson is the perfect bench piece for the Timberwolves.
As a veteran wing player who can defend well and make three-pointers (35.7 percent in 2016-17), Tucker is reportedly (and unsurprisingly) on the Timberwolves’ radar as an unrestricted free agent.
Tucker experienced the NBA playoffs this past season for the first time, after being traded by the Phoenix Suns to the Toronto Raptors. He may want to sign with a contender this summer, money considerations aside, and the Timberwolves obviously aren’t quite there yet.
Jrue Holiday, George Hill and Jeff Teague
Under the premise that Rubio will be traded, the Timberwolves may add Holiday, Hill and Teague to their list of free agent point guard targets. Holiday is sure to have multiple suitors with money to spend, as will Hill and Teague to some degree, so I don’t see Minnesota getting into a bidding war for any of the three. Rose will be Thibodeau’s No. 1 point guard target this offseason if a suitable trade for Rubio is found, no doubt about it.