Tom Thibodeau knows that he may end up re-signing Derrick Rose and Nemanja Bjelica. He also knows that there are other players that would be a fit with the Minnesota Timberwolves — Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Joe Harris, etc. — who could be available. Maybe there’s an Andrew Wiggins trade in the works.
But for now, it’s a waiting game. Maybe LeBron James joins up with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard and creates a superteam in Los Angeles. Maybe he stays in Cleveland. Or heads to Houston to join Chris Paul and James Harden. Perhaps he “Completes the Process” with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Until then the rest of the league sits at the starting line, ready to execute their individual plans.
“There’s relationships with everybody — connections and stuff like that,” said Thibodeau, the team’s coach and president, when asked about his insider knowledge of what will happen with LeBron and the rest of the available players this offseason.
“And also, a big part of that is done with the players. When you have a guy like Jimmy [Butler] who’s been around, and he’s an All-Star, and KAT now is an All-Star and they develop relationships.
“I think if it’s appealing to the player, usually you’ll get a sign somewhere along the way. But that’s what makes this exciting.”
Thibodeau thinks there are four things that matter when pitching the Wolves to free agents.
- The city you’re in.
- Team culture.
- The likelihood the team will win.
“It’s the city and the winning, but the money,” he said, “let’s not kid ourselves, the money is critical.”
In year’s past, Minnesota’s cold temperatures and the team’s reputation of losing hurt the Wolves ability to acquire quality free agents. But they made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2004, and Thibodeau is certain he can pitch his program to the players he wants to add to his roster.
“With those four things,” he said, “we feel we’re in good position there and we’ll have some good opportunities.”
Different players have different asks of teams, when it comes to recruitment.
“With some guys, they want to come in and they want to look around and see what the city is like. They want you to go through film with them, things like that,” said Thibodeau. “Depending upon the player and sometimes you’re dealing with a player who may have played with you before or is familiar with the system, he may not want it at all. … Each guy is different.”
“The process is broad,” added general manager Scott Layden. “Behind the scenes, it starts with several weeks ago when he had our scouts in and started to identify who would be a good fit. So much of this is who is a fit for coach’s system too.”
Given the team’s lack of cap space and the amount of teams contending in the Western Conference, there’s a chance that the Wolves miss out on players like Bradley, Caldwell-Pope and Harris, and their roster looks similar to last year — with the addition of their draft picks, Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop and some minimum salary players.
“It is a possibility, so we have the option to do that,” said Thibodeau. “They also have options. Obviously we like both guys so I think that’s important.”
They may enter the season with Butler on the final year of his contract, unless he chooses to re-sign in the offseason.
“Every day we work at it,” said Thibodeau. “We know how important he is and we feel he’s one of the best players in the league, so I think how you manage that on a daily basis is important.
“From his standpoint, all the things I mentioned about the city, I know he loves living here, the winning is important to him, I know.”
LeBron isn’t headed here, dealing Wiggins seems unlikely at this point and odds are the Wolves will wait a year to enter the luxury tax due to the repeater penalty.
“You want to be smart,” said Thibodeau. “You have to be creative in terms of how you manage your cap space. I think we’re in good shape. You’re planning for the future also.”
Dealing Wiggins could be a possibility to free up space, but Thibodeau appeared hesitant to do so.
“When you look at who Andrew is and what he’s accomplished at a very young age, we think he’s critical,” said Thibodeau, “so we’ll always talk to people but we like Andrew a lot here.”
Save for dealing Wiggins, or Gorgui Dieng’s four-year, $64 million deal, the Wolves will be up against the cap with only their mid-level exception to use. Asked if they could get creative to create more space, Thibodeau demurred.
“Umm.. Scott?” he said, looking at his general manager.
“We’ll get back to you on that,” said Layden with a smile.