Minnesota Timberwolves: It is time to move on from Gorgui Dieng

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 01: Gorgui Dieng #5 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 01: Gorgui Dieng #5 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

Using the stretch provision on Gorgui Dieng frees up nearly $10 million for the Minnesota Timberwolves to get under the salary cap and sign free agents.

Gorgui Dieng has been a bust since he signed a 4 year, $64 million deal. Dieng’s play has regressed over the past two years and his contract has had major implications on the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ cap space.

The Minnesota Timberwolves need to be bold going into next season if they want to compete in the tough Western Conference. They have two maximum contracts with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns (KAT). Their starting lineup is rounded out by Robert Covington (37.2 percent from 3-point range), Dario Saric (38.3 percent) and Josh Okogie (27.9 percent).

With only nine players signed under contract for the 2019-2020 season at a total of $110.82 million, the Timberwolves are approximately $1.82 million over the NBA salary cap of $109 million. They need to free up cap space to be competitive and fill in the holes on their roster. The easiest way to do this is by moving on from Gorgui Dieng.

The NBA’s stretch provision allows teams to waive players and stretch their salary over twice the remaining years of the contract, plus an additional year. Teams are only allowed to stretch the contract of one player per NBA season. In Dieng’s case, he is still owed approximately $34 million over the next two seasons (or about $17 million per season for the next two years).

Should Minnesota elect to use the stretch provision on Dieng, they could extend his salary at $7 million over five years, giving them roughly $10 million to use this year to not only get under the salary cap but also free up space to re-sign players (i.e. Derrick Rose) or bring in other free agents to bolster their bench.

After a breakout campaign in 2016-17 where Dieng started all 82 games and averaged 10.0 points per game with 7.9 rebounds while shooting 50.2% from the field, he began the first year of a 4 year, $64 million contract. The deal has been an albatross as Dieng has only started two games of the past two years while barely averaging 6.1 points per game with 4.3 rebounds in just 15.25 minutes.

Not only has Dieng fallen out of the rotation, but when he has played, he’s been largely ineffective. Dieng is only 29 years old and looking at his numbers, it is easy to argue that his drop in minutes (from 32.4 minutes to 13.6) has resulted in his drop in production (from 10.0 points to 6.4 points).

However, two season ago, Dieng had a negative plus/minus and during the past season it was just 0.5. This year, per 100 possessions the T-Wolves had a -4.1 total plus/minus with Dieng on the court. He also wasn’t as dominant in the paint, with only had 28 dunks (compared to 69 dunks during his breakout year).

Dieng is not a stretch center that fits the modern NBA as he shoots less than one three-pointer a game. If coach Saunders plays Dieng with KAT, they ultimately clog up the paint and are largely ineffective.

On the defensive end, Dieng averaged only 4.1 rebounds per game and 0.5 blocks. The majority of Dieng’s minutes seem to be going to Saric as the team looks to develop him for the future to play around KAT and Wiggins.

The negative effect of waiving Dieng is that it would last five years, which costs $7 million per year towards the salary cap. That could prevent the Timberwolves from signing free agents in the long-term. On the other hand, if they keep him on the roster, Minnesota would get out of the contract at the conclusion of next season.

The possibility of trading Dieng would only happen as a salary dump if Minnesota sweetens the deal to include one of their younger pieces like Tyus Jones, Keita Bates-Diop, or Josh Okogie. A buyout of the remaining $34 million would get the Wolves under the salary cap but that is a lot of money to pay up front to have a player simply go away.

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The main goal for the Minnesota Timberwolves right now is bolstering the roster around the core of KAT, Wiggins, Saric, and Covington to get back to the playoffs. Waiving Dieng now opens up cap space for them to make that possible.