The Minnesota Timberwolves are in a shaky situation. They want to maximize this offseason by fixing all of the errors of this past season's team with an aim toward building a squad that can compete for the playoffs next year.
The problem with the Timberwolves is that they do not have very many assets with which to do tinker.
The team holds the No. 9 pick in the NBA draft. This is one of its biggest assets. The Wolves could also make trades during the offseason, but unless they find a way to rip off a team and, perhaps, land a disgruntled star, it's safe to say that any trades would be a even split or, at best, a minor upgrade.
The Timberwolves main focus needs to be on free agency. They have more $37.6 million in guaranteed contracts for next season. That would mean that they could sign players for approximately $20 million. This would also mean, dropping the following players:
- Andrei Kirilenko
- Nikola Pekovic
- Chase Budinger
- Greg Stiemsma
- Dante Cunningham
- Mickael Gelabale
- The ninth overall pick
- The 26th overall pick
Now, if they opt to keep all of those players, then the Wolves would be far over the cap limit. However, all of those players are way more valuable than the $20 million they could be spending anywhere else.
Unless the Wolves are entering the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, there's no bigger need than to retain the team's already valuable assets. While I have no problem dropping Greg Stiemsma or Mickael Gelabale, spending money to put the team in the red would be far more valuable than overpaying for free agents who may not pan out anyway.
Retain the assets and use what's left to just upgrade some keys needs.
The ninth pick should not be used on a player like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Even though Flip Saunders might want to use this draft to find a shooter, Pope's not the kind of player you draft with a late lottery pick. You draft the best player available and build them up, and make the other teams wonder why they passes on him.
The two players who look like they have the most promise are Steven Adams and Cody Zeller. Both have All-Star upside and are sure to be available at No. 9.
Wait until the 26th pick to draft someone like Allen Crabbe, who is a pure shooter, and utilize him properly. The Miami Heat use guys like Ray Allen and Mike Miller, who have lost a lot of their other skills, to just stand in the corner and shoot threes. These kinds of shooters are quite effective at spacing the floor and drawing attention from defenders.
The Wolves already have so many offensive weapons in Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams that when the world says, "The Wolves need to improve their three-point shooting," should we then waste our most valuable offseason asset on someone who can only shoot three-pointers?
Save that for pick No. 26. Draft talent at No. 9.
After the draft we arrive at the real offseason—free agency. The priority here must be to retain all of the key players with expiring or potentially expiring deals. That means keeping Andrei Kirilenko, Nikola Pekovic and Chase Budinger.
All three of those contracts will make them free agents in July. The goal must be to use their Bird Rights to sign them. There is no better investment in the team's future than the young players the team already has. The Wolves must spend the extra money and keep everyone we've already acquired, because there aren't better replacements in free agency.
Andrei Kirilenko is still a high contributor. They have to convince him to decline his player option.
Any offer for Pekovic must be matched. Period. Hopefully no team will offer him the max.
Chase Budinger is too good of a player to let walk, especially if we keep Pekovic and Kirilenko. At that point we'll already be in the red, and signing Budinger, a player we already had, is a freebee. His contract will hopefully be less than ridiculous, and signing him should be easy.
Also Dante Cunningham is a team option for $2.1 million. After proving his worth off the bench, it would be silly not to pick up that option.
It would also be silly to retain Stiemsma and Gelable, both of whom have non-guaranteed money. They were ineffective last year, and hopefully their positions will be filled (backup small forward/backup center) in the draft or in house (Kirilenko/Williams/Budinger all play SF).
Then the Wolves have just the mid-level exception to play with. If they've drafted the best guy available and found a three-point shooter, then they can use the exception to fill the biggest need that's left.
If someone like Georgia forward Anthony Bennett fell to them in the draft, then they should use free agency to solidify the backup center position. If two great big men were available in the draft, then they should find another guard via free agency who can shoot threes. Hopefully O.J. Mayo or J.J. Reddick won't be seeing offers much higher than the mid-level exception, and would be willing to sign.
The best attributes that the Wolves have are all already on the team. Even by abandoning all of the key free agents, Minnesota still doesn't have enough money to adequately replace them. Before the team can figure out what to do with the players it has, it needs to make sure that the have them locked in for the long haul.
And that means paying extra for Pekovic, Kirilenko, and Budinger.