There are just over two weeks left in the season, and it’s time to turn our attention to what the Timberwolves’ front office could have on their plate in regards to off-season trade opportunities.
As we wind down toward the end of the Timberwolves’ tumultuous 2016-2017 season and the thought of a once-promising hopeful playoff team is all but forgotten, Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden have a few decisions to make over the summer.
Minnesota also expects to pursue medical retirement for oft-injured center Nikola Pekovic. If they decide not to bring anyone back and the league grants them the medical retirement on Pekovic, the Wolves can open up around $25 million in cap room.
Clearing this much cap space would leave them with many different avenues to add more talent to the roster that could propel the Timberwolves from cellar-dwelling Western Conference team into the thick of the playoff race next season.
Here are a couple of options for the Wolves’ front office to consider as we head towards the off-season.
Execute a draft night trade for Paul George or Jimmy Butler
During last year’s draft, one of the more popular rumors was that Thibodeau was looking to swing a trade for his former player Jimmy Butler. Although it ended up falling through, the thought of putting the three-time All-Star next to Andrew Wiggins on the perimeter are still fresh on the minds of the Timberwolves front office.
Reports have been circulating of Butler being “as good as gone” (see below) after this season and perhaps reuniting with the coach who gave Butler a chance in Chicago would be at the top of his potential destinations.
Paul George is another name that has circulated in trade rumors since the trade deadline; all signs point to George wanting out of Indiana at the end of his contract next season, and Larry Bird will have to decide if he intends to trade George, or roll the dice and risk losing him for nothing next off-season.
Of course, the George option would be a bit riskier for the Wolves, as there is no guarantee that George would stay after a year in Minnesota. However, a potentially deep playoff run and the extra money that they could offer George if he were to make an All-NBA team next season could entice him to stick around and not bolt for, say, Los Angeles the moment he becomes a free agent.
Trade Ricky Rubio to create maximum salary cap space
It seems as though there are two schools of thought during Ricky Rubio’s resurgent play during the month of March, in which he averaged 17.8 points and 10.4 assists while shooting 44 percent from three-point range and 47 percent from the field.
One side believes that Rubio has possibly turned a corner and with no other seemingly capable point guard on the roster, he can perhaps be the floor general next season. On the flip side, others think that Rubio’s stock has never been higher and that trading him now could bring back the best return.
Trading Rubio before the start of free agency could give the Wolves up to $35 million in cap room — more than enough to sign a player to a max contract. Although the free-agency class could potentially feature superstars including the likes of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Blake Griffin, the Wolves should focus their attention on more realistic choices.
Serge Ibaka and Paul Millsap are both defensively-capable power forwards that can stretch the floor on the other end, and while their ages do not necessarily line-up with the core pieces of the roster, they could bring some much-needed veteran leadership and experience to the locker room.
Considering that the Timberwolves’ roster is young and should improve just from gaining more experience, the Wolves could ultimately decide to re-sign their free agents, keep Rubio, and use their lottery pick to fill a position of need.
However, with contract extensions looming for Wiggins, Zach Lavine, and Karl-Anthony Towns, this summer could be the last for Minnesota to use their cap room to make a splash next season.