Timberwolves

The Wolves Shouldn't Get Sticker Shock With Dejounte Murray

Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NBA season is in the books, and now it is officially time to transition to free agency and trade season. Teams are legally allowed to begin negotiating with free agents on June 30th at 5:00 pm CT and can sign them starting July 6th at 11:00 am CT. Discussions have almost certainly begun behind the scenes, as teams have found ways to dodge the NBA’s notoriously abstract tampering rules. However, the official date is an important formality. It marks the day when teams can publicly announce their negotiations and begin to work out the details of complicated sign-and-trade deals without being penalized like the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat were last year. In addition, the Moratorium Period also ends on July 6th. Many of the trades that teams have agreed upon can become official that day.

While the Timberwolves don’t have much cap space to sign free agents, they can still improve their roster through trades. As a result of the upcoming key dates, many of those moves are likely to be announced as soon as the dominos start falling on Thursday. Rumors have been swirling about the Wolves attempting to trade D’Angelo Russell to obtain a more defense- and distribution-oriented point guard to fit alongside Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns. In theory, that sounds like a great idea. There aren’t a ton of starting-level defensive stoppers at the 1 available to be traded for because their teams highly covet them.

However, a unique situation has opened up due to strange circumstances. It has been reported that Dejounte Murray, one of the best young point guards in the league, is available to be traded for the right price. Presently, the “right price” is rumored to be steep at four first-round draft picks and presumably a quality player or at least a matching salary back.

Why is he available?

As the best player on the Spurs, it would seem like going backward for them to trade Murray. However, in this situation, going backward could be the best move for San Antonio. They may choose to tank for a few seasons and move into a complete rebuild. Gregg Popovich is expected to retire soon, and the Spurs were only 34-48 last season. It may be smart to take the Oklahoma City Thunder’s team-building route by trading your best players for a ton of draft picks rather than trying to tread water in the eight- to ten-seed range.

Murray is only 25, but it’s unlikely they can build a championship-level team around him during his prime, given the state of their current roster. The “championship or tank” mentality is en vogue in the NBA. There’s a lot of logic to collecting draft picks and young prospects so you have more opportunities to develop a generationally great player. On the other hand, the Timberwolves are ready to make a playoff run now. With a few smart roster changes, they may be prepared to compete for a title in the next few seasons.

Why should the Wolves trade for him?

Murray is perhaps the perfect prototype of guard to fit next to Towns and Edwards. Murray has been a good defender throughout his career and has steadily shown improvement over time. He has quick hands that allow him to snatch the ball from unsuspecting dribbles, and he cuts passing lanes effectively without taking too many significant risks. Over the last 3 seasons, Murray averaged 1.5 steals or more per game, and last year led the league with 2 steals per game.

Murray is also great at… well pretty much everything else too. Last year he was on triple-double watch in almost every game he played, averaging 21.1 points, 9.2 assists, and 8.3 rebounds per game. Those numbers are kind of absurd, especially when you consider that Murray’s 6’4″ grabbing those 8 rebounds a game. Only Chris Paul, James Harden, and Trae Young averaged more assists than Murray. If he weren’t on a mediocre team, he likely would have been considered for an All-NBA and All-Defensive team. However, Murray was named an All-Star for the first time in his career last year.

Outside shooting is the one downside to Murray’s game. In the two seasons that Murray attempted three or more shots from beyond the arc, he made 31.7% and 32.7% of them. These aren’t great numbers, and three-point shooting may never be a strong suit for Murray. However, he did show some small improvement last year and has always had a good free-throw make percentage. Therefore, there’s reason to be optimistic that his three-point percentage could rise to the mid-30s on a team that can create more space for him.

Luckily, from the Timberwolves perspective, they wouldn’t need him to be an amazing outside shooter if they traded for Murray. They already have two ball-dominant offensive players in Ant and KAT, who can heat up quickly from downtown. Murray’s primary role would be to run the offense and distribute while picking his spots to score, rather than having to carry the load as he did in San Antonio. Additionally, Murray is an efficient inside score. He shot 50.4% last season and above 48% in the two seasons prior. 21 points per game is no small feat in the NBA. Murray is a threat to score any time he’s on the court, even if it’s not as a ranged shooter.

How likely are the Wolves to trade for him?

It’s hard to tell if there is fire underneath the smoke. The Timberwolves were reported to be one of a few teams seriously interested in Murray. It seems more likely than it has in a long time that the Wolves would be willing to take a swing on a player like Murray. The new ownership group of Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez has shown they want to be aggressive in acquiring talent, hiring Tim Connelly and several other front-office minds with good reputations.

That said, the price tag of four first-round draft picks would scare Connelly away. The Spurs could just be trying to inflate the price of the sale right before it happens. It’s rumored that the Atlanta Hawks are currently the highest public bidder, offering Danilo Gallinari and three first-round picks for Murray.

It would undoubtedly be a considerable risk to trade several future picks for a player who had his first great season last year. However, you have to take risks to win championships. The Wolves are still a relatively young team. It seems better to take a chance on trading for a young but unestablished star about to enter his prime than an established but rapidly aging star whose future trade value could plummet with one injury. Murray is already on a team-friendly contract for the next two years, so acquiring him would also give the Wolves more cap flexibility to strengthen the roster around their stars.

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Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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