Should Minnesota Explore A Malik Beasley Trade?

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Swinger (USA TODAY Sports)

The Malik Beasley experience has been a wild ride. I’ve loved watching him play with unending amounts of energy, passion, and, of course, confidence. As they say, Malik has never seen a shot he didn’t like.

Last year, Beasley was terrific for the Timberwolves. His 4-year, $60 million contract was starting to look like a steal as he averaged nearly 20 points per game and shot 40% from three on high volume. He looked like a high-value prospect. Unfortunately, those days are behind us.

When he signed that deal, there was a buzz in the air that he would eventually be moved in a package to try and upgrade the roster. With one of Minnesota’s young prospects and the expiring deals of either Taurean Prince or Patrick Beverley, Beasley always felt like the type foundation for a trade package that could land the Wolves an impact player.

However, Beasley’s contract seems less like an asset and more like an albatross at this moment. I don’t want to overreact to this slump he’s found himself in because slumps happen. But we’re coming up on the halfway point in the season, and Beasley hasn’t been able to find consistency.

He certainly hasn’t lost any confidence. Beasley is shooting 34% from behind the arc at a slightly higher volume than his 2020-21 campaign. He’s hitting 15.6 3-pointers per 100 possessions so far this season — he shot 12.5 per 100 last year. This higher volume of threes makes sense considering the chucking mentality that Chris Finch’s Timberwolves have adopted.

The Wolves are first in the league in 3-pointers attempted while ranking 23rd in percentage. Funnily enough, Beasley, Edwards, and Russell rank sixth, seventh, and eighth, respectively, in 3-point attempts per game. Beasley is third in total threes attempted. Volume over everything.

Beasley has a team option at the end of his contract that gives Minnesota a lot of flexibility because it makes him a more interesting asset in trade talks. After this season, his contract can function in the same way as an expiring contract. If the Wolves or their potential trade partner are dissatisfied, they can remove Beasley from their ledger by 2023. But if he outperforms his contract, that team-option year becomes incredibly useful for any franchise. Free agency can be fickle. For many teams, it can be hard to find a player who plays at a $16 million level, and Beasley can make $16.5 million in his option year.

The Timberwolves are in a bit financial pickle. Currently, they are just below the luxury tax line, which means there is no urgency to move on from Beasley. Were the Wolves to opt to move Beasley’s guaranteed money next year for a contract that expires after this season, they could open up a lot of flexibility in the offseason. The Wolves don’t have that many avenues to practical cap space.

There has been early speculation that they are interested in extending Beverley. He currently makes $13 million, but he is playing some of the best basketball of his career, so we may see the 33-year-old guard get a pay raise. Additionally, if the Wolves want to go into restricted free agency with Josh Okogie, his $12 million cap hold further complicates things. Removing Beasley’s $15 million from the books next season could at least save the Wolves from more complicated cap machinations in the future to stay under the luxury tax.

Even in a perfect world where the Wolves managed to create $15 million in room under the cap, the likelihood that they could sign a player as good or better than Beasley is slim. So what’s the point? Why not ride it out with him and see if he can recapture that 2019-20 magic?

Personally, I want to open the runway for Jaylen Nowell. He’s been playing the best basketball of his career, and I think he’s got the potential to grow even more. Beasley has the potential to be a dangerous shooter from deep. But other skills are missing that diminish his value on the second unit. The Wolves lack playmaking, and Beas hasn’t shown to be much of a facilitator or the ability to attack off the dribble efficiently.

On the other hand, Nowell has flashed early signs of being a primary ball-handler. He’s also shown the ability to heat up from range, much like Malik. Unless Beas can get back to form, shooting over 40% from deep, Nowell’s diversity of skills seems ultimately more valuable for the Wolves, and it comes at about an eighth of the price.

The price of offloading Beasley’s salary is another conversation entirely. The first option that comes to mind is the Oklahoma City Thunder. They need to take on salary before the end of the season because they are about $12 million below the team salary minimum. Sam Presti is a well-known draft-pick hoarder. By acquiring Miye Oni from the Utah Jazz, he has already started taking on draft assets from luxury teams to offload excess salary on OKC. At this point, I’m not sure it’s worth it to use draft equity to offload Beasley.

Perhaps the Wolves could engage with another team that won’t have cap room next season and wants him as an “early free-agent acquisition.” That is, essentially moving expiring deals and assets on their roster to set themselves up for next season. We’ve seen the Cleveland Cavaliers pull this move a couple of times, once in acquiring Andre Drummond from the Detroit Pistons and then again when they snuck into the James Harden deal to acquire Jarrett Allen. The Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks, and Boston Celtics are all teams that could look to shake things up but lack the financial flexibility to do so.

Beasley’s up-and-down play has really complicated things for the Wolves. He was never the perfect fit next to DLo and Ant, and his inconsistency has pushed him even further from relevancy. Beasley has to find his stroke and rhythm from last season if he hopes to maintain a primary role on this team or find another home.

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