The NBA Finals are winding down, the draft is just around the corner, and free agency is on the horizon. So now is the time of the NBA calendar when we try to fit every available player onto any team with even a bit of cap space. Usually, it’s weeks of talking heads babbling about what the Los Angeles Lakers will do or where James Harden will sign. But now that the NBA is a year-round league, we have to sometimes talk about the little guys that make the league go round. Today that everyday player is Minnesota’s native son Amir Coffey.
The former Minnesota Mr. Basketball and Gophers standout broke out for the Los Angeles Clippers in his third NBA season this year. Now a restricted free agent, the Minnesota Timberwolves should take a long, hard look at bringing Coffey home. The Wolves are in decent salary cap shape this offseason. They sit almost $30 million under the luxury tax with the non-taxpayer midlevel exception ($10.2 million) at their disposal, a $4 million bi-annual exception, and a $4.75 million trade exception that expires at the end of June to work with.
With quite a bit of wiggle room, a new top executive in Tim Connelly, and new flashy owners running the show, names like Amir Coffey probably won’t put the Wolves on any winners of free agency lists at the end of the summer. Still, working around the edges will allow Minnesota to go from a first-round knockout to a deep playoff run.
After going undrafted in 2019 and signing a series of two-way contracts with the Clippers, Coffey played sparingly across his first two seasons before starting 30 of his 69 appearances this year. He averaged nine points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game while connecting on nearly 38 percent of his threes. In three years in the NBA, Coffey has turned himself from a talented but flawed fringe NBA prospect to a legitimate combo 3-and-D forward who can add depth to a squad with playoff aspirations.
Coming off the best season the franchise has seen in decades, Minnesota’s roster is in a healthy place. But even the best rosters can be improved. The Timberwolves only have one proper 3-and-D wing with any real size, Jaden McDaniels. Coffey is 6’7″, 210-pounds, and is a career 38 percent three-point shooter. He’s a capable defender, can handle the ball in a pinch, and stretch the floor, similar to what Taurean Prince, 28, did for Minnesota this season.
The market for big 3-and-D wings is pretty shallow this offseason, and the Wolves are just looking for someone to mop up behind McDaniels, making Coffey an attractive option for the right price. The Athletic’s John Hollinger projects Coffey’s value at just over $5 million a year, according to his BORD$ projections. If that’s the price it will take to get Coffey back in Minnesota, the Wolves should make an offer right now. $5 million might be just too much to cover with the bi-annual exception or their trade exception created from the Ricky Rubio trade, but they can use part of the non-taxpayer MLE to cover the costs. Coffey for somewhere around $5 million a year is a hell of a deal compared to paying guys like soon-to-be 35-year-old Danny Green $15 million or one of the Martin twins $10 million a year, according to BORD$.
Why wouldn’t Connelly want Coffey? He could see Coffey’s small body of work as a reason not to sign him. Coffey has only played in 131 games across three seasons in the NBA, with most of his minutes coming in mop-up time during his first two years in LA. It’s a big ask for an executive with a new team to stake his reputation in his first offseason on a player who hasn’t had time to truly prove himself in the NBA. $5 million a year is a drop in the bucket in the modern NBA, but no executive is in this business to throw away any amount of money on an unproven commodity.
However, the reward should be worth the risk to bring in a 24-year-old 3-and-D project like Coffey. He won’t make or break Minnesota’s season next year, but investing in players like Coffey will build roster depth and help propel the Wolves farther through the Western Conference playoffs. The Wolves will need to bring in Coffey as one part of a more elaborate free-agent plan. Hopefully, they bring in another big to play next to Towns. But adding a young combo forward who can knock down a timely three is a step in the right direction for a franchise desperate to build on last season’s success.