Now that the Minnesota Timberwolves are officially eliminated from playoff contention, the national folks are beginning to look at the upcoming offseason.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have officially missed the playoffs for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can look ahead, as only Timberwolves fans are accustomed to doing.
Bobby Marks, currently an ESPN analyst and a former long-time NBA front office executive, did a thorough breakdown of the Wolves’ cap situation and offseason outlook this week. It’s an outstanding snapshot at the overall picture.
Marks breaks down the head coaching situation, correctly identifying that interim coach Ryan Saunders has had Robert Covington, who is the No. 1 small forward in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, for exactly zero games. Predictably, the offense has improved under Saunders and the defense has slid just a bit.
The obvious thing to mention here is that it’s amazing how much of a difference it makes to run your entire offense through a talent like Karl-Anthony Towns. Simply doing that, the Wolves’ offensive efficiency improved from No. 15 to No. 12 in the league — without Covington, with Derrick Rose missing chunks of time, and with Jeff Teague missing 13 games.
Marks also makes the point that the Wolves would be best-served making a front office decision — Scott Layden likely won’t be retained — before deciding on the future of Saunders. The worst thing they could do is give Saunders the job only to change their minds in the middle of next season.
Wiggins, Rose, and Teague
The individual situations of Andrew Wiggins, Derrick Rose, and Jeff Teague are different, but all remain somewhat complex.
Obviously, Wiggins is overpaid on his max contract and has not played starting-caliber basketball over the past two seasons. But benching him isn’t a realistic option, and while there were local rumors around the trade deadline that Wiggins could have been moved but the Wolves weren’t willing, Marks expresses skepticism that the underachieving wing has much in the way of a trade market.
Rose is a free agent and will be paid more than the veteran’s minimum this summer, but the Wolves will have to decide if signing Tom Thibodeau’s old friend is a priority as they enter the offseason with plenty of question marks overall.
Teague has a player option for a whopping $19 million, and it seems unlikely that he would walk away from that chunk of money. It’s possible that the Wolves could try and trade him, but it also might be a mistake to accept pennies on the dollar for Teague without any other point guards on the roster and plans to contend for the playoffs next year.
When healthy, Teague is still a starting-caliber point guard on a playoff team, and he hadn’t had much in the way of injuries throughout his career until this season.
Dario Saric will be extension-eligible this summer, but hasn’t inspired much confidence with his play since being acquired in November.
Of course, there are plenty of excuses to make for Saric’s play: an unexpected team change, three head coaches in a span of about eight weeks, shifting roles from starter in Philly to bench in Minnesota under Thibodeau to the starting lineup under Saunders.
Saric will still be just 25 years old next season and has plenty of upside remaining. In theory, he is a perfect complement next to Towns for years to come with an ability to play both inside and outside, the basketball IQ to continuously be in the right place at the right time as a cutter, and the skills to both handle the ball and pass from the perimeter and in the post.
It would seem to make sense to hold off for a year and reevaluate Saric’s candidacy for an extension next summer after he has a full year with the team and (hopefully) some consistency at the head coaching spot.
Overall, it’s a fantastic look at the months ahead for the Wolves. The team doesn’t have much flexibility in the trade market, although they have all of their first-round picks moving forward and a clear franchise cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns.
On the All-NBA race…
It’s no secret that Towns is among several players who are trying to play their way onto one of the three All-NBA teams in the name of a huge salary increase.
Brian Windhorst at ESPN shed some additional light on the topic this week, listing out each of the stars that are vying for a spot on the squad. It seems likely that Towns will beat-out the injured Anthony Davis as well as Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic.
Towns’ versatility and all-around game should give him the nod on the team, but he’ll obviously need to continue dominating the final weeks of the season in order to solidify his spot.