This weekend was tough. Karl-Anthony Towns is hurt. Josh Okogie is hurt. And the Minnesota Timberwolves were blown out by the Los Angeles Lakers in a 127-91 loss on Sunday night. Talk about kicking a horse (wolf?) when it’s down. Now that the starting center and starting power forward (yes, Okogie is the starting power forward) are hurt, the NBA-big-man-sized hole in this roster is more evident than ever. To help solve the Wolves roster problems, I’m taking a look at a few big men who are available as free agents or via trade. No, Dylan Carlson, I will not be talking about Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Tried and True Veteran – Taj Gibson, Free Agent
Taj is the Knick that the Wolves should have traded for in the first place; it’s time to right the wrong. At 34 years old, Gibson may not have that much left in the tank, but he doesn’t need much. All the Wolves need is someone who can, at the very least, provide some leadership to help motivate this team when they are dealing with hardship.
Maybe the idea of trading for another aging center that is “supposed to provide veteran leadership” isn’t palatable but Gibson’s track record in the NBA is much more illustrious than Ed Davis‘s. Additionally, he is hugely responsible for ending the Timberwolves 14-year playoff drought in 2018. You can’t tell me that you don’t want this guy back on the Wolves.
A Young Flier – Jonah Bolden, Free Agent
Jonah Bolden is a 6’10” with a 7’3″ wingspan center from Australia. We’re working with a small sample size as Bolden has only played 686 career minutes. But in his limited minutes, he has shown that he is an athletic, versatile big man who can shoot, attack off the dribble (a little bit) and get up to protect the rim (in theory). As you can see, I’m not totally sold on the idea of Bolden.
It’s no surprise that Bolden has struggled to stick in the NBA. His most successful stint was with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2018-19 when he served as Joel Embiid’s back up for 44 games. Here is the list of big men that the Sixers trotted out that season:
Clearly, the 76ers had no idea how to build a roster around Embiid and Ben Simmons. They still don’t. But, Bolden was given the opportunity while Philadelphia was trying to “figure it out.”
In 2019-20 Bolden was cut after four games. He had no chance of playing as he was buried behind Embiid, Al Horford, Tobias Harris and Mike Scott. Philadelphia had more bigs than they knew what to do with and needed the roster spot for someone who could handle the ball.
In February of 2020 Bolden signed a 10-day contract with the Phoenix Suns. He played three games before he was let go. The Suns were another difficult situation to find playing time: Between Deandre Ayton, Aron Baynes, Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky, there just weren’t enough minutes for Bolden.
But on the Wolves? There are plenty of minutes. After Towns, there isn’t a single player who is inarguably more worthy of minutes than Bolden. Maybe given the opportunity, he can provide valuable backup minutes as he did in Philadelphia.
Trade Target – Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans Pelicans
Jaxson Hayes was the eighth pick in last season’s draft, so it might seem crazy to think that he is available. But, the Pelicans traded for Steven Adams this offseason and then signed him to a 2-year, $35 million extension. In their first three games, Hayes has played 27 minutes. It is starting to seem like the Pels have soured on Hayes.
If the team that drafted Hayes has lost interest in playing him, does that mean he’s not worth playing?
Honestly, it might. I’m not totally sold on Hayes, but there is something there. In just under 17 minutes a game last season, Hayes averaged 7.4 points, 4 rebounds and 0.9 blocks. These are decent numbers for a backup center. In fact, they look incredibly similar to Naz Reid’s stats: 16.5 minutes, 9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game.
On paper, it seems like Reid might be slightly better, but what Hayes provides is an immediate upgrade in defensive ability and athleticism. Hayes can run end to end with fluidity. He also has the potential to be an elite rim runner with his ability to jump out of the gym. A bench unit of Rubio, Culver, Edwards and Hayes could run the ball down opposing second unit’s throats. Plus, the idea of Rubio tossing up lobs to Hayes is brain-melting.
So what would it take to pry Hayes away from New Orleans? Hopefully not that much. Adams, Nicolo Melli and Zion Williamson are currently ahead of him on the depth chart at center. The Pelicans also have Willy Hernangomez, so they aren’t hurting for big men. Behind Brandon Ingram, New Orleans doesn’t really have any small forwards on the roster. Would the Pels be interested in Jake Layman? I know he hasn’t looked very good this year, but Layman paired with either Jarred Vanderbilt or Reid would help fill a roster hole and give the Pelicans another young big man to develop. The Wolves would likely have to throw in additional draft compensation, but a future second-round pick might get it done.
Maybe the Wolves don’t target any of these guys, but the fact remains: They need a big man. These are my best bets, here’s hoping they find someone — ANYONE — to fill that hole.