After defeating the Indiana Pacers on Monday, the Minnesota Timberwolves improved to 11-10 and are now in the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference. The Wolves followed up a five-game losing streak by winning seven out of their last eight games, allowing them to rapidly ascend in the standings.
Looking ahead to the trade deadline in February, the Timberwolves’ activity will largely be determined by their performance over the next handful of weeks.
An early look at the trade deadline for the Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves face a daunting December schedule and a moderately-strong January schedule leading up to the trade deadline. If the Wolves perform well over that stretch, it’s conceivable they could be either buyers at the trade deadline or simply stand pat.
If the Wolves perform poorly over that stretch, however, it’s likely they will be sellers at the trade deadline.
Expiring contracts are always a major factor at the trade deadline for teams who are looking to create cap space for the following season. The Wolves have a number of these contracts on their payroll, so how they perform over the coming weeks will have a big say in how they go about handling these contracts when the trade deadline arrives.
Let’s take a look at a few players who could be in play at the trade deadline, and what both a positive and negative showing from the Wolves over the next two months would mean for each player.
Timberwolves Trade Candidate: Taurean Prince
Taurean Prince was acquired by the Wolves via the Ricky Rubio trade just before the 2021 NBA Draft. Prince has underwhelmed so far this season, averaging career lows in minutes, points, field goal percentage, and 3-point percentage.
While it’s likely Prince’s shooting numbers will pick up going forward, the Wolves front office has to consider the value of Prince’s contract at the trade deadline. He is earning $13 million this year and is on an expiring contract, which means the team that owns his contract at the end of the season will have $13 million in cap space for next season.
If Prince doesn’t increase his production in the coming weeks, regardless of the team’s performance, it’s reasonable to see how the Timberwolves could seek to gain assets in exchange for Prince’s expiring contract.
Timberwolves Trade Candidate: Jake Layman
Jake Layman hasn’t been in the Wolves’ rotation and is on an expiring contract worth just under $4 million.
Layman’s availability isn’t likely to fluctuate with the team’s performance; he’ll be available at the deadline no matter what. The Wolves may hold onto him the rest of the year to seize $4 million of cap flexibility next offseason, but he may have a sliver of value come deadline time, as expiring contracts often help.
If the Wolves can find a suitor, Layman could be a name to watch as the deadline approaches, perhaps more as salary filler or a depth play from a fringe contender.
Timberwolves Trade Candidate: Patrick Beverley
Patrick Beverley has been a fantastic addition to the Wolves and was acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies in a steal of a trade from the that included Juancho Hernangomez and Jarrett Culver.
Beverley’s recent injury hurts the team in the coming weeks, as he’ll be out for at least another 10 days. He has been instrumental in improving the Wolves’ defense, and in a contract year, Beverley has shown his worth to the front office.
Beverley’s availability at the trade deadline will partially be affected by the team’s performance in the coming weeks, with or without him. If the Wolves go on a slide and fall out of the top 10 spots in the Western Conference prior to the deadline, the front office would be put in a difficult position.
The Timberwolves obviously want to keep Beverley, but they must consider his value at the trade deadline as both an expiring $14.3 million contract and his value to a potential contender, who may be willing to overpay for his services for a potential championship run.
Another factor to consider is the Wolves’ ability to keep Beverley long term. Would Beverley re-sign in Minnesota? And if not, is it worth keeping him in Minnesota for the rest of the season instead of trading him at the deadline, risking losing him for nothing in the offseason?
‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are both reasonable answers here, which is why Beverley is a name to keep in mind at the trade deadline, particularly if the Wolves enter a slump over the coming weeks.
While other names could be in play come the trade deadline, the Wolves front office is aware of the often inflated value of expiring contracts at the trade deadline. With that said, it’s likely that much of the Wolves’ trade deadline approach will be determined by their performance in the coming weeks – they may be buyers, sellers, or stand pat.