Minnesota Timberwolves – Off Season Report

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2015/2016 Record: 29-53 (13th in the Western Conference)

Ins:

Cole Aldrich FA – 3yrs / $22mil (Partial Guaranteed 3rd)
Jordan Hill FA – 2yrs / $8.1mil (Partial Guaranteed 2nd)
Brandon Rush FA – 1yr / $3.5mil
John Lucas III FA – 1 yr / $980k (Non-Guaranteed)
Kris Dunn DR – Pick #5
Toure Murry FA – 1 yr / $980k (Non-Guaranteed)

Outs:

Kevin Garnett ?? May Retire
Tayshaun Prince FA – Unsigned
Damjan Rudez FA – Magic
Greg Smith FA – Unsigned

Off Season Analysis:

The Timberwolves 2015/16 season was another lacklustre affair, sprinkled with glimmers of The Future and tragically bookended with saddening deaths. Three days before the new NBA season was set to begin, Flip Saunders passed away after his battle with Hodgkin lymphoma and the Wolves were without their figurehead. Sam Mitchell took the reigns (if you could call it that), Karl-Anthony Towns had a Hot Thing rookie season (blitzing ROY voting), Zach LaVine defended his slam dunk title (even if he was VERY lucky), Kevin Garnett went around again (virtually in body only, except for THIS!) and yet the season was over without much else other than hope for next year.

Then just one week after the regular season concluded, the city of Minneapolis was rocked by the death of it’s favourite son. Prince was dead. The entertainer was found dead at his home in Minnesota and it would be remiss of me not to mention it given his long-time support of his hometown Wolves & Lynx.

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Prince (#3) for Bryant High School. Credit: CBS

In late April, Tom Thibodeau returned to where his coaching career began and became the new leader in Minnesota. He was appointed as Head Coach as well as President of Basketball Operations, in a move that finally gave him the kind of Delirious power he sought for so long during his Strange Relationship in Chicago. Thibs was a real coup for the T-Wolves. Even if owner, Glen Taylor, had to fork out Mountains of cash plus promise a team up with Scott Layden. Suddenly this partnership had work to do in free agency and the draft, spearheading this new front office.

Free agency was a weird & relatively quiet time for this Wolves team. Brandon Rush fills an obvious need for some shooting at a low cost while the additions of Hill & Aldrich are a little more perplexing. With Dieng & KAT likely to start, Hill and Aldrich could play key roles off the bench for this team but I can’t help but feel the money could have gone elsewhere. Kevin Garnett’s likely impending return and the eyesore that is Pekovic’s contract, perhaps tend to make these additions look worse on the surface. Yet with so many big bodies, there is still a glaring hole at the 4. The only other additions are that of Murry & Lucas III on non-guaranteed deals. They have been brought in for training camp but have little chance of making the roster, which sits at The Max 15 guaranteed contracts if Garnett returns.

The draft was similarly no fuss from the Wolves. Armed only with the #5 pick, there were persistent rumours of a possible trade with Chicago for Butler. However their objective was clear, at least from where I was sitting. Pray like hell Kris Dunn falls to you and pick him faster than a Little Red Corvette. Dunn was my favourite player in the draft, bar none, and I believe he has a real chance to be the type of player a fanbase grows to Adore. Dunn wanted immediate opportunities to showcase his game on both ends of the floor, as his draft Controversy clearly showed. And he should get that here. At 6’4″,  I’m certainly not the first to draw John Wall/Dwyane Wade comparisons but breaking down his game solidifies how I feel about his potential to be a great blend of the two. Whether it’s like Wade scoring in the mid range, paint or post, as well as getting easy buckets playing the passing lanes or cutting to the rim. Or the athleticism similar to Wall; hitting the open court, using isolation and P’n’R situations to his advantage or harassing with on ball D. Anyway, enough with the words, here’s the video:

So if Kris Dunn is ready to become the starting PG sooner rather than later, what do the Wolves do with Ricky Rubio?

Unfortunately for both Rubio and the Wolves, I think it’s time to Kiss goodbye. Rubio’s value is certainly not what it once could have been but perhaps there is still an opportunity to move him on for a decent return. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say and Minnesota may find a suitor amongst a small collection of teams. I took a look at just 3 possibilities.

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In a Sign O’ The Times, the Greg Monroe experiment doesn’t seem to have worked for Milwaukee but he could be better suited next to KAT. Jason Kidd loves to take on projects with players that remind him of himself and could provide one possible destination. Rudy Gay seems to want out of the Purple Rain in Sacramento and the Kings loved what they saw on court between Rondo/Cousins last year. Perhaps Rubio could fill a more longer term hole at PG in Sacramento while the Wolves get a rental on a dependable veteran that could play big minutes and in versatile lineups. Finally, the Rockets may decide Harden needs help on the ball and look to bring in Rubio in exchange for Brewer and Beverley. A couple of players I feel Thibodeau would love, especially Pat and his I Would Die 4 U attitude.

Without a Rubio trade that shakes up the depth chart, the team is going into the season with just a few question marks. On top of a longer term need at PF, I have always considered LaVine a great 6th man prospect and feel Thibs could look to bring a more traditional SG into the starting lineup if the opportunity arises. While the stats might not help my case on first look, I think there is a chance a lot of that could be down to mindset rather than anything else. untitledYes, LaVine shot considerably better in all facets when a part of the starting unit but focusing on his other stats is where I feel a move to the bench could benefit all parties. LaVine averaged almost identical rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in ten fewer minutes off the bench and it’s here I feel he could help his team. He has the potential to be a stat sheet stuffer with more freedom to Gett Off what he likes in the second unit and the Wolves could certainly do with more help in the secondary.

Outside of these potential moves, any other change for Minnesota is likely reserved for the trade deadline or next year. The salary situation is scary for the Wolves and if handled correctly, they could make some real waves sooner rather than later. When your core (and potentially best 4 players) only earn a combined $18 million and you have them under contract for the next 2-4 years, Money Don’t Matter 2 Night. Look for Minnesota to be at the frontline of all trade rumours going forward as well as a serious contender for all the big name free agents in 2017, which happen to include; Milsap, Griffin, Paul, Curry, Durant, Hayward, Ibaka and Lowry to name a few.

But what can Thibs, the coach, do for this team right now?

Minnesota finished 2016 with an impressive offensive rating (106.5) ranking them 12th but a disappointing rating on the defensive end of the floor (110.1), only good enough for 28th of all NBA teams. Known as a defensive minded coach, Coach Thibodeau’s Bulls teams were often the Cream of the crop in defensive rankings finishing 1st, 2nd, 6th, 2nd and 11th in his 5 seasons. Last season, Dallas finished 6th overall in the West with an O ranking of 11th and D ranking of 17th. So on face value and with an already accomplished O rating, if Thibs can get this Wolves team playing just league average defence it will go a long way to a place back in the playoffs. And let’s be honest, it’s not like this team isn’t capable. With Wiggins, KAT, Dieng, Rubio and/or rookie Kris Dunn; U Got The Look.

There is no doubt the addition of Thibodeau gives this team a great babysitter to develop and mould this young team of terrors. His hiring has also brought a much needed stability to the franchise, which is evident purely in the no-nonsense approach they have taken to this off season. The Wolves avoided making any unnecessary “Let’s Go Crazy” splashes and instead chose future flexibility going forward. I have barely even mentioned Andrew Wiggins who could become Jimmy Butler 2.0 for his new coach or Karl-Anthony Towns, who had a rookie year that took me all the way back to 1999 where big men did it all. And that is damn scary for the rest of the league.

Grade: B

2016/17 Prediction: 39-43

League Pass Meter: 9/10

I had to stop myself short of giving the perfect 10 here, reserved only for The Most Beautiful Girl In The World  Warriors. This Wolves team is seriously exciting to watch and armed with their new coach, they are going to be League Pass musts early in the season. They could make a huge jump in the W column this season and promise to be the Nothing Compares To U darlings of the upcoming season.

Depth Chart:

PG: Rubio Dunn Jones  Lucas III*
SG: LaVine Rush Murry*
SF: Wiggins Muhammad
PF: Dieng Bjelica Payne Garnett (?)
C: Towns Hill Aldrich  Pekovic

*Salary likely guarantees 10th Jan 2017

Salary Cap Situation:

2016/17 salaries: $80,791,446 (under the salary floor)
2017/18 salaries: $42,507,064

Max room: $59.5mil
Min room: $26.2mil

Future Assets:

Incoming:
2017 2nd (Pelicans, Protected 31-55)
2019 2nd (Heat)

Outgoing:
2017 2nd (Celtics)
2018 1st (Hawks, Protected 1-14)
2019 2nd (Blazers or Cavs)

2016/17 Questions:

Who will the starting PG of this team be at the All Star break?

Can KAT go from ROY to outright Star in Year 2?

Will Thibs be able to trust his kids / not burn them out?

Can the Wolves lure a star while they have the space?

Will Kevin Garnett return for one final swan song with these kids?

Thanks to the Youtube channels of Draft Express, FreeDawkins & Too Mainey.

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