No one knows for sure what the 2010 salary cap will be yet, but as of right now, here are the numbers that are slated to come off the Wolves books in the summer of 2010 when all those great free agents are set to sign with any team.
Mark Blount: $ 7,967,375
Brian Cardinal: $6,750,000
Jason Hart: $825,497
Sasha Pavlovic: $1.5 million
Oleksiy Pecherov: $1,547,640
Damien Wilkins: $3,630,000
Total off books: $22,220,512
Analyzing Corey Brewer
Now, that looks like a lot, but Corey Brewer is already allotted about $800,000 as a part of his player option being picked up, so will see him get a raise from his current $2,916,120 salary to one of about $3.7 million .
Considering the 23-year-old's numbers have basically doubled from 6.2 ppg last year to 12.1 currently, not to mention a bunch of early season statistical games which were a far cry from his usual three to four point "games" last year, the Wolves look smart in picking this up.
At the time, though, it wasn't so certain, as Brewer was coming off of knee surgery and was anything but healthy during his first three years in the league. In fact, he looked like a bust. Now, his assists (2.1), steals (1.6), and rebounds (4.0) are all career highs, along with his minutes .
From what I've read on the Internet and fan message boards, the fans really think his shot and decision-making have improved.
He doesn't look bad when you match him up against his 2006-07 Florida Gator peers:
Brewer: 12.1 PPG 4.0 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.6 SPG
Al Horford: 14.0PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, .66 SPG, 59% FG
Both Noah and Horford are centers, so of course their rebounding numbers will have the edge, but basically what I am concerned with is Brewer's ability to match them in PPG, and he's done well. Brewer also has the worst FG percentage of them all at 41.9 percent, but he also has shown the big game potential that he was lacking his first three years, with four 20-plus games this season.
On top of that, his numbers have increased steadily each month from 9.0 ppg in October to 12.1 ppg in November and to 12.5 ppg so far in December. That's what you want to see from a rookie.
It's becoming quite a downer, instead of a previous formality as in years past, when Brewer fails to score in double digits. This is the final piece, along with his shooting, where he must improve, as he's still had 10 such games of the first 31 played.
Of that $22,220,512 figure, subtracting Brewer's $800,000 raise (not to mention possible extension so he doesn't go into 2010-11 a lame duck), leaves $21,420,512 left on other player raises, extensions, and future contracts.
Of these, Kevin Love is due the next raise and likely extension.
Analyzing Kevin Love
No one can deny that my favorite Timberwolves player, Kevin Love, is the heart and soul of this team. When he was out, the Wolves were a dismal 2-16. I even wrote the following article, wondering if they could even win 10 games, thus avoiding NBA futility. Could the Minnesota Timberwolves Really Go 8-74?
So he goes, so go the Timberwolves. It's that simple.
What has he done since his return? He managed to average a double-double, as well as career highs of 14.6 ppg and 12.9 rpg.
The rebounds don't excite me, as he's a rebounding monster; at least not as much as his ability to score on a consistent basis. In all but one of his 13 games he has had double-digit scoring, and in all but two has he had double-digit rebounds.
He's also adding another dimension, scoring, with his career high in minutes and field goal percentage being no surprise. The 21-year-old pup is clearly getting better, so much so the team would be wise to lock him up sooner than later to a five to six year extension that would only see him be 26 or 27 at the time of his pending free agency.
One has to wonder how the loss of his buddy, mentor, and fellow big man Kevin McHale, in addition to him being a West Coast Kid vs. a Midwest coast player, will impact his desire to stay.
My guess is that he wants to be part of something special, and he should be able to see that things are coming along.
Finally, it's probable he that wants to grow with the team and experience its highs and lows so that when they do win, they can say they did it all together.
Sure, the Wolves are only 5-8 since Love's return, but they are also 4-3 in their past seven, including their first two-game winning streak, which is another thing I was wondering about five weeks ago, given the roster and desire of the team.
So Love will get a raise of just $200,000 next year, leaving approximately $21,220,000 to spend on free agents.
Analyzing Nathan Jawai
But it's not that simple. The only free agent the Wolves have is Nathan Jawai (who is also restricted), and given the team's lack of depth, plus the potential he's shown, I think he deserves another year, and in NBA talk, that means a raise. The 23-year-old is so raw, he, like the rest of his teammates, is basically going through a yearlong tryout camp.
Still, the seven foot Aussie big man has shown flashes of excellence, with 3.9 ppg and 3.1 rrg in just 12 minutes a game, which isn't bad considering that: A. 99 percent of the league, myself included, never heard of him prior to this year, and B. if his minutes were simply doubled to just 24 per game (roughly half an NBA game), they'd be a very respectable 8-6, which most teams would take, considering he'd be a second-year player and a cheap backup, at that.
So let's assume that he gets a raise of $760,000, which would put him at around $1.5 million for next year.
That leaves the Wolves with about $20.5 million to work with.
Who else gets raises?
If Brewer isn't extended, and I don't expect him to be, as he'll have to show his worth and be injury free (and I really think the Wolves have targeted his position as a weakness depth-wise and in need of obvious improvement), he may get pushed out.
Let's give Love that extension: five years at $10.5 million a year, comparable to Al Jefferson, who will also be getting a raise from his current $12 million a year contract .
Love's salary goes up approximately $7 million from the $3.7 million he was slated to earn, leaving the Wolves with $13.5 million to spend. Jefferson gets $1 million raise , leaving $12.5 million, and Ellington gets a raise to $2 million from his current rookie deal.
That leaves $11.5 million to spend on free agency.
Of that, about $4 million will have to go to rookies and other draft picks, leaving $7.5 million. I also believe that a player on the team will have to be moved in order for the Wolves to do what they really want, which is to get into the 2010 free agency game.
That player will likely be Ryan Gomes, if only because of his $4 million contract and the fact that his position, small forward, could be upgraded via free agency with a player that can do more, albeit at a higher cost.
Who could that player be? Some say Rudy Gay, who's averaging a career best 20.6 ppg. But since he's restricted, the Wolves would have to make him an offer he couldn't refuse. Say a sign and trade? Personally, I don't think he's that fit. A good player on a bad team, albeit an emerging one.
Joe Johnson? Uh, why would he leave the Hawks?
Manu Ginobli, although a shooting guard, would be nice, but he's already 32 and doesn't mesh with the young kids on this team. Also, he comes from a winning tradition and wouldn't leave that, nor his warm climate and background (Argentina), to come to Minnesota to form an international backcourt with Ricky Rubio.
So what should the Wolves do?
Why not try Midwest born, Milwaukee's own, Carl Landry of the Houston Rockets. He has both the age (26) and background (Purdue) to appeal to Midwest fans, and may welcome a return home. Landry's a restricted free agent.
At $3 million this year, he not only makes less than Gomes ($3.8M), but also does more , at 16.7 ppg and 5.9 rpg, compared to Gomes' 11.7 ppg and 5.3 rpg. Gomes, while a nice player, is just that. Landry, on the other hand, has 14 of his 30 games at 20 or more ppg.
Gomes has five , and the injury bug seems to have bit him this year, as well.
Why all the 20 ppg talk? I think the Wolves are one really good player, (a LeBron or Wade, which ain't happening) or two smaller but effective players, away from really doing something.
People want Gay, a 20-point scorer himself, but he's looking for "Chris Paul money " ($22.5 million), ridiculous for anyone not named Kobe or LeBron.
So why not offer $8 million or so for four to five years and offer sheet to Landry, and try and flip Gomes in the process, since they do the same thing?
That would leave $3.5 million of the $7.5 million the Wolves project to have to spend next season.
This won't be the end of the Wolves, though, as David Kahn will probably flip a few more unsuspecting contracts and make five trades or so like he did last year. Most of his magic will probably be reserved for draft night, when the Wolves will again have upwards of three first round picks, and the chances of playing and paying them all appear slim.
The Wolves have never signed a major free agent outright, and they aren't going to do it now. The only one of reference was Joe Smith, and that was, of course, done illegally.
Sadly, the NBA is a warm weather, six-city league (once LeBron goes): San Antonio, Miami, and Los Angeles are the front runners with Detroit, Chicago, and Boston completing the list only because of their winning tradition. New York/Jersey is a seventh wildcard due to its media and endorsement opportunities.
But we can't all be Celtics, Pistons, Bulls, Lakers, Cavs, Spurs, or Heat. So the Wolves should use their talents to cater to one of their own with Midwest roots, and Landry would be a good place to start.
Statistics and information from ESPN.com, NoLA.com, and Pro Sports Daily.com directly contributed to this article.