Timberwolves

How Can the Wolves Improve This Offseason If They Lose Their Pick?

Photo Credit: Jennifer Stewart (USA TODAY Sports)

Now that this painful season has mercifully ended, the Minnesota Timberwolves must build upon their late-season surge. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options to improve this club, which finished 23-49 after a 7-29 start. But it’s worth exploring the ways that Gersson Rosas can tweak the roster heading into next season.

Draft

I’ve written ad nauseam about the draft lottery odds, and now they’re locked in with a 72.4% chance at losing their pick to Golden State. I would explain in much more detail why this is a great thing, but you can read about it here. The gist is that there is now only a 9.6% chance of giving up the 4th pick, a 0% chance at giving the 5th, and an 8.6% chance at giving the 6th pick. There is a 50% greater chance of keeping a top 3 pick than giving up a top 6 pick.

But even if they do lose the pick, the bright side is that the Timberwolves will still improve next year via the draft because of a big brain move by the Wolves front office:

Nothing has been a better Wolves media spin than considering Bolmaro as their 2021 first-round draft pick. The competence level is over 9000.

Free Agency

After the draft comes the opening of free agency. Some teams use free agency to build their rosters. Since the Timberwolves are well above the regular cap, they can only sign players with exceptions, like the mid-level exception. I doubt that will be the case this offseason, though, because of how close the Wolves are to the luxury tax.

They currently have 10 players guaranteed next season for around $128 million. Naz Reid and Jaylen Nowell have reasonable team options that should be picked up, bringing the total to 12 players for $131 million. The problem is that there are three roster spots to fill, they are around $5 million under the luxury tax, and this is with them losing Ed Davis, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Jordan McLaughlin. The latter two were important factors in Minnesota’s competitiveness off the bench in the last few games of the season.

Leandro Bolmaro will also have to sign his rookie scale contract ($1.8 million). So with Mini Mac and V8’s cap holds along with Bolmaro’s contract, the Timberwolves are at 15 players and $100k above the tax line. Unless there’s a trade, we should expect J-Mac or V8 to have their cap holds released and become free agents. That being said, I would also expect to continue negotiating with each player, trying to add them either as a two-way or on a discount.

With this Timberwolves roster as currently constructed, inevitably smashing the luxury tax line in 2022-23, I would imagine that Rosas wants to hold off one more year on paying the luxury tax to see what this team’s potential when healthy is. Keep in mind that going into the luxury tax in two consecutive years institutes the repeater tax, so it behooves Rosas to avoid the tax as long as possible.

EMERGENCY DRAFT NOTE!!!

If the Timberwolves get a top-3 pick in the draft, I would expect a major trade before or after the draft (which may or may not involve the pick) to move cap around and make room under the luxury tax and open up a roster spot for Cade Cunningham, Jalen Suggs, or Evan Mobley. This is the dream.

Trades

The most common way for fans to improve their team on NBA Twitter is through the trade machine. At times, fans think viable trades equal any trade that is deemed successful by the all-powerful trade machine. Other times these machines, no matter whether it’s ESPN’s “Hollinger’s Analysis” or TradeNBA’s “LEBRON,” vastly mismeasure the impact of players’ winning (see: Ricky Rubio’s wins added on Trade NBA).

The reality with the Timberwolves is that they have precisely zero players who would be more valuable for another team. I’ll go through the list quickly.

Untradeable: Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell (too much invested, too little sample, and too good so far), Jaden McDaniels.

Unlikely: Malik Beasley (not enough value after suspension and injury halted his under the radar MIP candidate season), Naz Reid (high-quality backup centers don’t have much trade value)

Unknowable: Ricky Rubio

Untradeable, in a bad way: Josh Okogie, Juancho Hernangómez, Jaylen Nowell, Jarrett Culver, Jake Layman

Of course, if any of the players in the last two categories garner any trade value, I would implore the Wolves front office to make a move. I could see Rubio, Culver, and Hernangómez having more value than I would expect on the open market, but it seems like an unuseful pipe dream. Factor in that Rosas probably doesn’t want to give up more trade assets in the wake of the DLol trade, and you’ll see, as I do, that the Wolves are stuck between a rock and a hard place as if they’re James Franco in 127 Hours.

The Timberwolves are much less malleable this offseason than fans might hope, but that doesn’t mean that Rosas can’t make meaningful additions. After all, the Trade Machine was created by Wolves executive vice president Sachin Gupta, and we know first hand that this front office can make something out of nothing. This year is on 2k Hall of Fame mode, though. It will be their biggest test yet.

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