Minnesota Timberwolves: The General Manager Game

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a monumental offseason ahead -- with multiple high draft picks and presumably a decent amount of salary-cap space.

The Minnesota Timberwolves sit with a top-heavy roster. With Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell both all-star caliber players, the back half of the starting lineup (and roster in general) need significant work.

Under the assumption James Johnson accepts his player option (worth roughly $16 million), the Timberwolves will have about $19 million in salary-cap space before bringing back any restricted free agents. Minnesota also currently holds three draft picks -- currently projected as the third, 16th, and 33rd overall picks, which NBA Draft website Tankathon ranks as first overall in total draft capital.

Regardless, the Timberwolves have lots of options. Gersson Rosas even commented recently on what the surplus of draft selections enables him to do on draft night, saying it gives the team much more flexibility than most.

RULES OF THE GENERAL MANAGER GAME

  1. The premise of this is to simulate what the Timberwolves’ roster could look like following this coming offseason.
  2. The two main points in the offseason that will be included are the NBA Draft and Free agency.
  3. Only one trade is allowed (and it cannot be far-fetched). If it were any more than that, most of this would seem unreasonable, which is not the point of this article.
  4. The salary cap line of $115 million will be instituted since that is the last available projection. The luxury tax line will be set at $139 million. Rookie salaries will be included in the final salary cap numbers.
  5. Only 15 players can be on the final roster, plus two additional two-way players.
  6. This simulation is going to be under the assumption that James Johnson accepts his player option.

Let’s dive into it.

THE DRAFT

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AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - November 30 - LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

To maintain stability (and clarity), we are not going to run a lottery simulation, and rather, the Timberwolves will keep the third overall pick (along with Brooklyn’s 16th overall selection and the 33rd overall pick). The two teams in front of Minnesota in the draft order are Cleveland and Golden State.

Let’s say the Golden State Warriors select James Wiseman with the first overall pick (as he is the player rumored to be atop their draft board) and Cleveland takes Anthony Edwards (a consensus top-3 player in this draft. That gives the Minnesota Timberwolves many different options with the third overall pick, most notably Onyeka Okongwu, Deni Avdija, LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton, and Obi Toppin.

LaMelo Ball is the best overall player left on the board. His combination of size, playmaking, and shooting upside make him a high-floor, high-ceiling player, and that is exactly what you want with a top-3 selection in the draft.

Having Ball on the roster provides another source of playmaking outside of D’Angelo Russell, who can take on more of a scoring responsibility by having another excellent perimeter threat. The defensive fit between the two is questionable, but Ball has shown flashes of being a plus defender. Being roughly 6-foot-8 at the point guard position, he certainly has the tools to become a good defender.

With their next pick, the Wolves should take a look at the board and see who falls through the cracks. After securing a backcourt-mate for Russell, Minnesota no longer has to worry about drafting a guard. They do, however, need either a stretch big or two-way forward/wing.

Of those projected in this range, Aaron Nesmith, Saddiq Bey, Josh Green, and Patrick Williams make the most sense. However, Saddiq Bey’s versatile defense and quality perimeter shot-making make him the best fit available for the Timberwolves.

Bey can guard positions 2-4 and shot 45-percent from the 3-point line this past season for Villanova. He can play immediately as a rotational wing/forward and pairs nicely with either Towns or Russell.

Saddiq Bey, despite being older for a sophomore college player, improved in many ways from his freshman ceiling, which means it is even more likely for him to continue to improve as a basketball player.

With their second-round pick, ideally, the Timberwolves will take the last of their three needs -- a stretch big. After taking a pass-first guard and two-way wing, getting a power forward/center that can play good interior defense as well as shoot above 30-percent from three would be huge, especially with the way that the NBA is going.

The main players in the early second round that fit that particular mold are Xavier Tillman and Jalen Smith.

Smith, though, makes more sense due to his incredible range for a big man. He is also younger than Tillman, and a better interior defender as well.

Having Jalen Smith means having a big that can either take over for Towns temporarily while he’s on the bench or playing alongside him as a floor-spacer and rim protector. Smith shot over 35-percent from three-point range his final year at Maryland, 10-percent higher than his mark the year before. Even if he only takes three 3P attempts per game, that would absolutely allow Towns to score inside at an even better clip.

THE DRAFT CLASS

3. LaMelo Ball, Guard, USA (~$7M annually)

16. Saddiq Bey, Wing/Forward, Villanova (~$2.75M annually)

33. Jalen Smith, Big, Maryland (~$1.3M annually)

Collective rookie contract worth: $11.05 million

Team payroll: ~$107 million

Updated Roster:

PG: Ball

SG: Russell, Culver, Nowell*

SF: Okogie, Bey, Evans

PF: Johnson, Layman, Vanderbilt*

C: Towns, Smith, Reid*, Spellman

(14 players)

*Non-guaranteed contract

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RESTRICTED FREE AGENCY

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MIAMI, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 26: Juan Hernangomez hugs Malik Beasley after they defeated the Miami Heat. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

There are four pending restricted free agents left for the Timberwolves to decide on: Kelan Martin, Juan Hernangomez, Jordan McLaughlin, and Malik Beasley. Martin and McLaughlin were on two-way contracts and Hernangomez and Beasley were both acquired through a four-team, 12-player trade back before the trade deadline.

Kelan Martin averaged six points shooting sub-40-percent from the field this past season. Martin is a good defender, but has a lackluster offensive game and simply did not play much for the Timberwolves this past season. As a 24-year old rookie, you want to see flashes, and there wasn’t enough to keep him on the team for the 2020-21 season.

Juan Hernangomez was one of the two main pieces acquired for Robert Covington back in February. His 3-pointer is coming around which is really promising. All in all, Hernangomez is a lackluster defender but the overall spacing and offensive game he brings warrants a one-year ‘prove-it’ type contract. Hernangomez is brought back on the qualifying offer (~$4.6M).

Jordan McLaughlin really impressed as a rotational guard for the Timberwolves this past season. Despite being an older, somewhat undersized point guard, he held his own on both ends of the floor, averaging eight points, four assists, two rebounds, and only one turnover on splits of 52/41/63 over his final two dozen games for the Wolves. McLaughlin has a positive VORP and an assist rate over double that of his turnover rate. He is re-signed on a two-year, $10 million contract.

Finally, Malik Beasley is the big decision that the Timberwolves have to make. Beasley, who was downright incredible for Minnesota over the course of the final 14 games of the season, averaging 21 points, five rebounds, and two assists on splits of 47/43/75. Despite it being a smaller sample size, Beasley’s performance is consistent with the number of times he received an adequate amount of minutes from the Denver Nuggets in his time there.

Beasley absolutely warrants a second contract, and gets a four year, $60 million contract from Minnesota in this scenario.

RFA Recap:

Kelan Martin goes unsigned.

Juan Hernangomez signs a qualifying offer worth ~$4.6 million.

Jordan McLaughlin signs a two-year, $10 million contract ($5M AV)

Malik Beasley signs a four-year, $60 million contract ($15M AV)

Updated Roster:

PG: Ball, McLaughlin

SG: Russell, Beasley, Culver, Nowell*

SF: Okogie, Bey, Evans

PF: Johnson, Hernangomez, Layman, Vanderbilt*

C: Towns, Smith, Reid*, Spellman

(17 players total)

*Non-guaranteed contract

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FREE AGENCY

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MARCH 06: Shaquille Harrison Justin Holiday at the United Center on March 06, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. The Pacers defeated the Bulls 108-102. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

After James Johnson accepts his player option, the Timberwolves will not have much salary cap room. Following the NBA Draft and bringing back three restricted free agents, Minnesota will be in the negative already.

The salary cap line is around $115 million with the luxury tax at $139 million. The Minnesota Timberwolves sit at $127M with 17 players on the current roster. Since they were temporarily under the salary cap threshold before RFAs were re-signed, the Timberwolves only qualify for the room exception (worth about $5 million per year up to two years). Minnesota also gets a bi-annual exception worth $3.6 million per year for up to two years. They cannot be combined and used on the same player.

Using the room exception, Justin Holiday is going to be the first player signed by the Timberwolves. He completes a solid wing rotation and is another two-way player that can get on the floor in the playoffs. Holiday, while he is not a starter, would help the Timberwolves get better on both ends of the floor. He signs for two-years, $9 million with the second year being only partially guaranteed. The Wolves now sit at $131.5 million, just nine million under the luxury tax threshold.

With the bi-annual exception, Minnesota brings in Marvin Williams on a one-year, $3 million contract. Williams brings spacing and provides versatile defense from the power forward spot. He would pair well with Towns and was a solid contributor for the Hornets and Bucks before the 2019-20 season came to a stop.

Updated Roster:

PG: Ball, McLaughlin

SG: Russell, Beasley, Culver, Nowell*

SF: Okogie, Bey, Holiday, Evans

PF: Johnson, Hernangomez, Layman, Williams Vanderbilt*

C: Towns, Smith, Reid*, Spellman

(19 players total)

*Non-guaranteed contract

Total team payroll: $134.5 million

Luxury tax line: $139 million

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THE TRADE

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CLEVELAND, OHIO - FEBRUARY 29: Myles Turner celebrates after scoring during the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on February 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Pacers defeated the Cavaliers 113-104. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Myles Turner would be an excellent trade target for the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire this coming summer. This simulated offseason has been all about maximizing both Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, and all of the existing moves have seemingly done so thus far.

Turner brings elite rim protection as well as the ability to space the floor on the offensive side of the ball. Turner, just 24 years old, also fits the timeline of both Towns and Russell along with having a somewhat affordable contract, as well.

Minnesota Timberwolves LogoTimberwolves

Receive
Myles Turner

Indiana Pacers LogoPacers

Receive
Jarrett Culver
Omari Spellman
James Johnson
2023 first-round pick

This trade gives the Pacers two young players, a draft pick, and a salary filler. Turner can defend pick-and-rolls, protect the rim, score inside and outside, as well as be a willing passer when facing better opponents.

Losing Culver is disappointing but after a lackluster rookie campaign with shooting projections that don’t look good, Turner could step in and help the Timberwolves contend for a high playoff seed early.

Updated Roster:

PG: Ball, McLaughlin

SG: Russell, Beasley, Nowell*

SF: Okogie, Bey, Holiday, Evans

PF: Turner, Hernangomez, Layman, Williams, Vanderbilt*

C: Towns, Smith, Reid*

(17 players total)

*Non-guaranteed contract

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FINAL RECAP

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 31: Karl-Anthony Towns battles for a rebound with Myles Turner on December 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

After a draft in which three impact players were taken, a restricted free agency which brought back three rotation players, and a massive trade that tremendously helps the overall defense of the team, the Timberwolves have a roster that is ready to contend as soon as the NBA tips off for 2020-21.

Final Roster:

PG: Ball, McLaughlin

SG: Russell, Beasley

SF: Okogie, Bey, Holiday, Evans

PF: Turner, Hernangomez, Layman, Williams

C: Towns, Smith, Reid*

(15 total players, Jaylen Nowell and Jarred Vanderbilt waived)

*Non-guaranteed contract

Team payroll: ~$130 million ($15M above the cap, $9M below the tax)

Full Transaction List:

Drafted G LaMelo Ball with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Drafted W/F Saddiq Bey with the 16th overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Drafted F/C Jalen Smith with the 33rd overall pick in the NBA Draft
Re-signed Jordan McLaughlin to a two-year, $10 million deal.
Re-signed Malik Beasley to a four-year, $60 million deal.
Brought back Juan Hernangomez on a qualifying offer.
Signed Justin Holiday to a two-year, $9 million deal using the room exception.
Signed Marvin Williams to a one-year, $3 million deal using the bi-annual exception.
Traded Jarrett Culver, James Johnson, Omari Spellman, and a 2023 first-round pick to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Myles Turner.

Next: Timberwolves Roundup: 5/6/20