Evaluating the Minnesota Timberwolves Offseason


The Minnesota Timberwolves vastly changed their fortunes this offseason. After a disappointing 2016-17 season where the team yet again failed to make the playoffs, Zach LaVine tore his ACL, and newcomer Kris Dunn failed to live up to expectations, the Timberwolves performed the coup of the offseason. The Minnesota Timberwolves got Jimmy Butler without parting with Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins and now have a core three players with exciting futures.

In an offseason with such a triumph, it would be easy to gloss over the other deals that filled out the roster. But now that the Wolves have catapulted themselves into the upper echelon of the league, their moves at the margins matter more than ever. So how did the Wolves make out this summer?

The Butler Deal

The Wolves traded Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick to the Chicago Bulls for Jimmy Butler and the 16th pick. This deal is a complete coup for the Wolves, and I have a higher opinion about Zach LaVine than most. LaVine is coming off a serious injury and was about to become properly paid while Dunn didn’t demonstrate any of his supposed NBA readiness during his one season with the team. Regardless of what you think of Justin Patton, getting the Bulls to agree to swap picks was outright theft. Butler is a top 15 player in the league and immediately transforms the Wolves from lottery team to pseudo-contender. With Butler’s previously established rapport with Coach Thibs as well as a promising team trajectory, the Wolves should stand a decent chance at retaining Jimmy – but the work begins now.

Moving on from Ricky Rubio

The Wolves swapped Ricky Rubio to the Utah Jazz in exchange for a 1st round pick, correctly capitalizing on the Jazz’ desperation to retain then free agent Gordon Hayward. Considering that the Wolves were reportedly thinking of a straight Rubio for Derrick Rose swap with the New York Knicks toward the end of last season, a first round pick (coming from OKC) is a fantastic find. Rubio’s playmaking, defense, and demeanor were exceptional assets but the Wolves could no longer afford the black hole his lack of shooting created on offense.

Signing Jeff Teague

Teague is 29 years old and signed a three year fully guaranteed $57 million deal. Teague is a fine player even at 29 and has demonstrated that he can function as a 3rd or 4th option in a balanced offense. He is an upgrade from Rubio from beyond the arc but not quite a genuine threat. The obvious options on the table were to swing for the fences for Kyle Lowry or to pursue George Hill, who is a superior player who signed for less guaranteed money. The argument against Hill, coming off a fantastic season with the Utah Jazz, is his durability. Hill has played in only 166 out of a possible 246 games over the last three seasons with a variety of nagging injuries. Given that Hill signed a three year $57 million deal with only $1 million guaranteed in the 3rd year, the Wolves could have offered a contract with “x games played” incentives to insure them somewhat against the risk. Hill is the better player and cost less money, so it’s hard to argue that the Wolves did particularly well here even if their conservatism is understandable.

Acquiring Taj Gibson

I love Taj Gibson. He seems like the exact kind of character guy that you want mentoring a team with a young core. For all his many talents Jimmy Butler has not been touted for his leadership of young players particularly when facing adversity. I understand the value that Gibson provides at two years $28 million. At this point in his career Taj is suited to play a rim running small ball five, but on this team, he seems destined to fill a traditional non-shooting power forward role. This signing seems like a poor allocation of resources because the team as it stands needs shooters.  Patrick Patterson signed a well below market value deal at three years $16.3 million and could have provided versatility on defense in addition to his respectable 37% 3 point mark. Thibs is a great coach, but he has not shown modern thinking when it comes to offensive spacing.  This move doesn’t bode particularly well.

Inking Jamal Crawford

Jamal Crawford seems like a terrific person, and he plays a brand of basketball that is very fun to watch. Let us not forget last postseason, though.  The Utah Jazz bench literally jumped out of their seats with glee each time Joe Johnson would get switched onto Crawford at the end of the clock. No doubt he can score in bunches but when the games matter he gives it all back on the other end. With players like JJ Reddick, CJ Miles and even Justin Holiday on the market this was an uninspired signing.

For comparison, Justin Holiday is making a similar 9 million over two years but is a better shooter and defender at this point than Crawford. Also, Holiday is only 27 and could still improve, while Crawford for all his craft could fall apart physically at any moment. Reddick and Miles were more expensive options that provide a surplus of value at their position that the Wolves desperately needed.

Missing out on Lowry and Milsap

It is important also to consider some of the potential targets that Minnesota was linked to earlier in the offseason. The Wolves end up missing out on potentially signing two separate marquee free agents in Kyle Lowry and Paul Milsap. Lowry filled virtually every need on the team, being an elite spot up shooter, playmaker, and a good defender. While the Wolves would have been foolish to offer Kyle Lowry a maximum contract, they should have given significant consideration to outbidding the Raptors 3 years $100 million offer. In addition to his All-Star skill set at what was the position of greatest need for the Wolves, Jimmy Butler was actively recruiting him, both before and after his trade to the Timberwolves. Team USA teammates do seem to breed Team USA teammates, and the power of these connections is considerable.

Alternatively, Paul Milsap could have been a very nice front court partner for Towns. Milsap only received two years of guaranteed money ($60 million total) and might have been convinced to take a smaller per year number in exchange for a third year. Again, I think Taj Gibson is an adequate player, but the difference between him and Milsap is significant.

In what was a franchise changing summer, the Timberwolves front office failed to nail the little moves that could end up hurting the team’s potential. Butler, Towns, and Wiggins are still an exciting core going forward, but the other deals made this summer might end up being what defines this team in the long term.

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