Looking at the Timberwolves During the Free agent Frenzy

As we near 48 hours of staring at Twitter for the latest updates in free agency, the Timberwolves are one of the few teams yet to steal the spotlight. Sure, Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones will eventually sign their rookie-scaled contracts and Nemanja Bjelica may agree to a multi-year contract. Those would generate some fireworks, but Minnesota already held the rights to those players, and they already have 10 guaranteed contracts. Kevin Garnett will also resign re-sign, and Robbie Hummel looks to be coming back as well. There are still minor splashes that can be made, but the Timberwolves already have their core in place.

That doesn’t mean we can’t take a thing or two away from what’s already happened across the league and apply it to the Timberwolves, though. Some of it may be repetitive as we’ve learned just how much money is being thrown around because of the rising cap after the 2015-16 season. Those two changes to the NBA landscape were mentioned often in what I wrote below, but let’s take a look at how they affect the Timberwolves anyway:

The Long-Term Contracts

Minnesota’s two largest annual salaries currently take up over a third of the salary cap, but by 2018 that would be down to nearly 20 percent. Ricky Rubio holds the Timberwolves’ largest contract guarantee, and his four-year, $55 million contract starts now. As with most major contracts, the reaction to his on Twitter was polarizing, but it looks better after last night regardless. At this point, the biggest worry is Rubio’s health, but that’s more because of the length of his contract than his injury history so long as Flip doesn’t run him into the ground. I’m weirdly not too worried about that.

The much larger worry comes from Nikola Pekovic. $35.8 million for three years is a lot to absorb from a player who may never crack 1,000 minutes in any of those seasons due to chronic ankle issues and an Achilles debridement, but Pekovic’s contract looks a bit better now that the quality in players above or around eight figures got a little worse after last night. The year total on Pekovic’s contract remains bad, though, and an asset would still have to be attached or a smaller, troubling contract would have to be taken back in a trade.

Rebuilding without sacrificing some of the future is important. We’ll see if Minnesota can do that while handling Pekovic’s contract. At this point, a reasonably healthy, effective 2015-16 campaign would take some of the load off the frontline while making him more tradeable. $23.7 million for two years looks better than $35.8 million for three. With room to maneuver going forward and how far Minnesota is from the playoffs, I’m not sure moving Pekovic is necessary anyway. Just eat the contract if nothing on the trade market is attractive.

The Rookie Contracts

If no rookie contracts are traded, the Timberwolves will be paying less than $30 million to Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyus Jones, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Adreian Payne, Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng, as well as the choice to keep them all for the 2016-17 season for a slightly higher price. That was already important before free agency, but it’s even more crucial now that we’re past July 1, though they have a lot of players to develop.

Minnesota will have to eventually address the second contracts of the youthful bunch, but a good chunk of money will be off the books by then. Looking ahead to the summer of 2016 isn’t that helpful given what could happen by then, but Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger will either hit free agency or have been traded, and among team options Bennett’s $7.3 million for 2016-17 is still up in the air. That’s about $20 million possibly off the books going into 2016-17 when Muhammad, Dieng, and Bennett will be the first rookies to come off their first contract.

Who knows how much of that money is really going to be thrown at Muhammad and Dieng if they’re still around. (I’m assuming Bennett’s gone.) Muhammad’s such a fascinating player as a possible small ball power forward, but he’s yet to play a full season. Dieng’s played a more meaningful role up to this point, but will be 28 years old in 2017-18, the first season of his second contract (same for Payne when that time arrives).

That’s down the road, though. Right now, Minnesota is down two protected first-round picks to dangle, but they get to enjoy having most of their core on the cheap with team options. Not bad for a rebuilding team.

The In-Between Contracts

How about the roller coaster that is Kevin Martin’s contract? In the summer of 2013, Martin was 30 years old with injury history, and his value on the court was noticeably impacted by the change in the rip-through move, but four years and $28 million was still perfectly understandable. The Timberwolves had to build a playoff contender around Kevin Love and, with Martin, looked to be one of the most efficient offenses.

Well, the gamble didn’t pay off. The Wolves missed out on the postseason and Love was traded. Another rebuild was on the horizon, though not quite at the level of just 16 wins, and Martin was due $7 million per year up to 2017. So. Much. WELP. Fortunately, Martin’s contract looks a lot better now. Even if he’s not able to be traded or if Flip Saunders just doesn’t want to make a move, the $7 million player option for 2016-17 shouldn’t be exercised with how much players are making on the open market.

Normally I’d prefer aging players to play for playoff contenders, but Minnesota could use a guy who can soak up scoring possessions. That’s a brutal process to watch when it comes to Martin, but Wiggins could learn a thing or two from his foul-drawing, among other scoring-and-definitely-not-defensive things.

The idea of Chase Budinger is better than actual Chase Budinger. How much would he have made if his first four years were from 2013 to 2016 rather than 2010 to 2013? Budinger’s a free agent after this season’s $5 million owed, but this team is weirdly deep and I’m not sure how many minutes are there for him.

There’s also Garnett and whatever he resigns re-signs for. By the way, Anthony Davis’ five-year, $145 million contract has nothing on what KG signed for during the 1997-98 season:

One day the Timberwolves may find themselves in a similar position with Wiggins, Towns, and/or maybe they’ll spread money around multiple players on the market. Cap space allows for a ton of possibilities as we’ve seen over the last 48 hours, though sometimes that does not end well. The draft and free agency each carry risk, and right now Minnesota has done well in the former. They’re currently on the sidelines when it comes to the latter, but with how decent their contracts look outside of Pekovic they’ll eventually have the chance to make some major moves of their own.

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