Going into next season, the Timberpups are committed to spending just under $55 million. However, Brad Miller has publicly stated that he plans to retire and not play the last year of his contract, which would take a little over $5 million off of the books. There is also speculation that the Timberwolves could amnesty Darko Milicic, who is also due just over $5 million for next season. Miller’s retirement and the use of the amnesty clause on Darko would put the Wolves new cap number at right around $45 million. It is up in the air what is going to happen with Anthony Randolph and Michael Beasley, who both await their unlikely qualifying offers from the Pups brass. Anthony Tolliver is set to become an unrestricted free agent, but it is hard to picture him in any other uniform next season than the Wolves due to having the support of head coach Rick Adelman.
A look at 2012 NBA free agency:
UFA: Unrestricted Free Agent. Player has the ability to go anywhere he wants, and is in no way financially committed to any one team.
RFA: Restricted Free Agent. Player can negotiate and sign a contract with a different team, but present club has the ability to match any contract as long as it works with their salary cap.
There are also a few options that turn up in various RFA scenarios:
Player Option: The player has the option to take a one-year contract by June 30th, otherwise he becomes an unrestricted free agent. It’s all in the player’s hands.
Team Option: Team has the choice to invoke the option by June 30th, and if they do then the player is under contract for one more season. If the team does not do so by June 30th, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. If the player signs the one-year tender, then he will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the deal.
Potential Timberwolves Free Agent Targets:
SG Eric Gordon: RFA. Love, Rubio, Williams, Pekovic, and… Eric Gordon?! The prospect of filling the massive hole at SG with an elite young star in Gordon is enough to tempt any Timberwolves fan. When healthy, Gordon has established himself as one of the premier SGs in the NBA and also as one of the most dynamic scorers at any position. However, he is not without his question marks. This past season Gordon required knee surgery and in the past two seasons he has missed 83 games due to injury. Also, due to his status as a restricted free agent, it will most likely take a max contract offer to Gordon for the Hornets not to match and allow their young star to sign with another team. Signing Gordon is an extremely high-risk high-reward venture.
C JaVale McGee: RFA. After being acquired at the trade deadline by the Denver Nuggets, McGee grew into his role with the young team and established himself in the playoffs due to his interior defense and spectacular athletic ability. Although not the sharpest of wits, McGee is one of the premier shot blockers in the NBA and was a large reason why the Nuggets nearly knocked off the Lakers in the playoffs. Giving up Nene to acquire McGee, Denver is likely to match any realistic contract offer sheet that McGee receives in free agency. Standing at 7’1” with elite athleticism, McGee is one of the top shot-blockers in the NBA and pairing with Ricky Rubio in Minnesota could create for the best alley-oop combo in the NBA (yes, even better than Chris Paul and Blake Griffin). However, with the emergence of Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota may choose to not pursue a high-profile center in free agency. McGee is only 24 years in his fourth NBA season.
SG-SF Nicolas Batum: RFA. The 6’8”, 200 lb Batum would be a perfect fit for the Timberwolves shall they choose to pursue him. Only 23 years old, Batum has replaced Wesley Matthews as the starting shooting guard on the Portland Trail Blazers and has become the second scoring option, second only to All-Star Lamarcus Aldridge. Batum excels on defense, having the ability to shut down the 1,2, or 3 while bringing tremendous energy. On offense, Batum strokes from thee-point range as he shoots 42% from beyond the arc and 46% from the field. After the Portland Trail Blazers failed to lock him up with a long-term extension, Batum and his agent have stated that they are going to look at all 29 other NBA teams before considering resigning with the Trail Blazers in free agency. Batum will be a restricted free agent, but do not count on him ending up in a new uniform. Portland looks to retool their roster for the future and expect Batum to be an integral part of their future plans, and they have sufficient financial means to make Batum a Trail Blazer for many years to come.
PG-SG Lou Williams: UFA. Enjoying a breakout campaign in 2011-12, Lou Williams is expected to opt out of the last year of his contract and seek a multi-year deal. I would be very suprised if Philadelphia does not do everything in their power to lock him up, but his price tag may make it insensible to sign him due to their future plans for Jrue Holiday at PG. Williams finished second in Sixth Man of the Year voting and has the ability to play both PG and SG, although he is primarily a scorer when he is in the game. If the Timberwolves make a run at Williams, he could potentially serve as their starting SG, although he would not bring the perimeter defense to the 2 guard position that they so desperately need.
PG-SG George Hill: RFA. The acquisition of Hill from the San Antonio Spurs was a large contributor to the tremendous success that the Indiana Pacers had this season, as Hill was able to effectively run the point and also play alongside Darron Collison in the backcourt. Hill is a very versatile guard who can score off the dribble or by shooting, and does a good job of getting his teammates involved. Indiana has cap space galore this offseason and it would take a mighty offer (an irresponsible offer, at that) to pry him away from the Pacers. Hill is 26 years of age.
SF Gerald Wallace: UFA. After being acquired at the trade deadline by the now Brooklyn Nets, many expect Wallace to opt out of the final year of his contract, making him a free agent. Brooklyn brass maintains that a multi-year deal for Wallace is a priority, but if the Nets hand out big money to the likes of fellow Nets free agents Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and even Kris Humphries, funds may run dry for Wallace. Wallace has established himself as an excellent rebounder for the SF position and brings tremendous defense and energy night-in and night-out. He would be an enormous upgrade to Wesley Johnson as the Pups’ starting SF, and would bring veteran experience and a great attitude.
SF-PF Lamar Odom: UFA. Following being traded to Dallas, many expected Odom to be a perfect fit with the defending champs. However, he put forth arguably his worst season of his career and it got so bad that he and the team agreed to part ways before the postseason. Despite his enormous struggles this season, Odom still has a lot of gas left in the tank and was an impact player during his entire tenure with the Lakers. A change of scenery and a great coach may be the key to revitalizing Odom’s career, and he would be a low risk high reward signing.
SG JR Smith: UFA. Prior to signing with the New York Knicks after his lockout stint in China, Smith expressed strong interest in signing with the Timberwolves to play alongside Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. However, the T-Wolves were not interested in giving Smith a 5 million dollar mid-level exception for less than one season and chose not to pursue him. The Pups very well could look Smith’s way this summer due to Smith’s ability to light it up from beyond the arc and Minnesota’s desperate need for a shooting guard. Smith is still only 26 years old in his 8th NBA season and stands at 6’6”, 220 lbs with elite athleticism. JR can score off the dribble and is a great spot-up shooter, all the while providing solid perimeter defense. His character has come under question at times throughout his career, but the risk may very well be worth the reward as Smith is a tremendous scorer and would surely make the Pups a better offensive ball club.
C Jason Thompson: RFA. I find Thompson to be a very intriguing option. The Kings are already financially tied up in centers Demarcus Cousins and Chuck Hayes, and regardless of Thompson’s solid play it appears unlikely that the Kings will be willing to spend more money on a player who will likely continue to be a backup in their current system. Thompson is a young and very athletic center who would work great with Rubio. His elite ability to finish above the rim make him a stronger, better defending Anthony Randolph. Thompson is only 25 years old.
C Roy Hibbert: RFA. A more unrealistic option, Hibbert failed to reach an extension with the Pacers before this season’s deadline, making him a restricted free agent at season’s end. Hibbert has quickly become one of the NBA’s best centers, and being only 25 years of age will make his market value to be nothing less than a max contract extension (especially considering the deals given out to Marc Gasol, Deandre Jordan, and even Kwame Brown). Hibbert has publicly stated that he remains optimistic that he will stay with the Pacers and wishes to reach an agreement with his current club this summer. I would be shocked if the Pacers didn’t lock him up with a max extension. Standing at 7’2” and weighing 270 lbs, Hibbert has turned into a wrecking force on the low block for the emerging Pacers franchise.
SG Jamal Crawford: UFA. With the disastrous 2011-12 season in Portland, Crawford will undoubtedly opt out of the last year of his contract and hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent. Now 32 years of age, Crawford still has years left in him and he will seek potentially his last multi-year contract of his career. The Timberwolves nearly traded for Crawford at this past season’s trade deadline, but at the last minute Kahn did not feel it was worth giving up Michael Beasley for him. With that said, Crawford has publicly commended Rick Adelman and his offensive sets, explaining that Adelman’s offense is one of the most fun to be apart of as a player. Crawford also thinks very highly of the Timberwolves’ young core, and would fill an obvious need at the 2 guard position.
SG Danny Green: UFA. After being up and down in the D-League, Green has solidified himself as a serviceable SG in the NBA. The Spurs would love to hold on to him, but Green will have many suitors and San Antonio already has a lot of money tied up elsewhere and may look to use whatever money left to hang on to PF Boris Diaw. Green, who played alongside Wayne Ellington at UNC, would give the Wolves a versatile, legitimate 2-guard who could grow along with the young core Minnesota has collected.
F-C Robin Lopez: RFA. With the stellar play of rookie Markieff Morris and the emergence of Marcin Gortat as one of the NBA’s top centers, Lopez has gone from future center of the Suns to likely signing to a team where he can compete for the starting job. Lopez is a defensive-minded center that can rebound and block shots, and has the ability to positively contribute to a winning ball club. I would love it if the Pups pursued Lopez due to his relatively low price tag and their need for consistent play and depth at the center position, and Lopez would bring the shot-blocking and aggressive post defense that they currently lack.
SG-SF CJ Miles: UFA. Miles had by far his best season of his career last year, most notably dropping 40 on our Pups. Only 24 years old in his 6th season, Miles is a young veteran who still has his best seasons ahead of him. He is a versatile southpaw who can serve as an above average SG or SF. He possesses great athleticism and solid perimeter defense, something that the Pups sorely need. With the drafting of Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks, and being financially committed to Raja Bell for one more season, it’s possible that Utah will allow Miles to leave, just as they similarly watched Ronnie Brewer walk a few summers ago. Miles would be a good fit for the Timberwolves and I would be ecstatic if they landed him. However, Miles has appeared to have found a good home in Utah and may look to stay put.
SG Leandro Barbosa: UFA. An interesting possibility, Barbosa is a plus defender and a true SG. He shoots the ball very well and would bring veteran leadership and consistency. After being acquired from Toronto by Indiana, Barbosa will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He is no longer the shooting guard he once was, but he would fit in very well in Minnesota and would be an upgrade over their current SG situation.
SG OJ Mayo: RFA. Once again, OJ Mayo’s name pops up in Timberwolves rumors. Mayo’s situation in Memphis is very confusing. He has been nearly traded twice in the last year and many have said both the team and Mayo are in mutual agreement to part ways. However, Memphis traded Xavier Henry earlier this season, taking away from their depth at SG. Mayo has played some great ball for Memphis and is still only 24 years old. He is a great perimeter defender and has excellent shooting range. It seems unlikely the Pups would pursue Mayo due to his potentially inflated price tag in free agency and questions about his character. However, his addition would turn Minnesota into a perennial playoff contender and would add to the young core that Minnesota has created.
SG Courtney Lee: RFA. The Rockets, despite having Kevin Martin and Terrence Williams, have been in love with Lee since acquiring him. Lee is a very nice young SG and can do everything required of the position. I can’t see the Rockets failing to match any offer sheet that Lee receives this offseason as he looks to be the future SG for the Rockets. Kevin Martin is likely to be traded at some point during this offseason.
SG Landry Fields: UFA. Fields was one of the best rookies in the NBA last year after being a second round pick out of Stanford. Standing at 6-7, Fields is an excellent rebounding guard and is a very good defender. He will be a hot commodity on the market and will likely command a high salary, making a return to New York seem more and more unlikely due to their lack of financial flexibility. With Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire receiving max contract deals, the Knicks will likely look to rookie Iman “Shump Shump” Shumpert to carry the bulk at SG.
SG Brandon Rush: RFA. Rush has not lived up to his expectations in the NBA, but this past season he shot an absurd 45% from beyond the arc and has become a deadly spot-up shooter. Although there are clear limitations in his game, Rush has established himself as a serviceable shooter and will have a smaller price tag than much of his competition on the open market. The Pups have a large need for shooters, and having Rush as a bench option would surely improve the team’s ability to nail the 3 pointer.
SG Rudy Fernandez: RFA. Is it possible the Timberwolves could land another Spaniard, coincidentally one that happens to be very close friends with Ricky Rubio? Fernandez has been a good backup on some good teams in his short NBA career, and the Pups could greatly use his services. Fernandez is hyper-athletic and can shoot the ball with great efficiency. His familiarity with other Spanish speakers Rubio and JJ Barea would improve the team’s chemistry. Fernandez seems intent on returning to play basketball in Spain after this season, but maybe the thought of playing with Rubio would be enough to convince Fernandez to stick around in the states a little longer.
C Omer Asik: RFA. Asik will be in very high demand come free agency. The Bulls have a ton of money tied up in Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng, and may not attempt to match a deal for a player who would remain backup to Noah. After watching Asik play, I truly believe he could end up being a dominant defensive center if given the opportunity to start and log big minutes. With the instant success of Marcin Gortat in a starter’s role, many teams will be very intrigued by the potential of Asik, and he very well may bring home a fat new contract for next season. The Timberwolves are in desperate need of consistency and depth at center, and the Turkish Wall (Istan-Bull, White Howard) would fill the center void perfectly. He is an absolute monster at 7’0”, 255 lbs and only 25 years old in his second season in the NBA. With a starting role, he will be able to go in Asik and Destroy mode more often (cheesy, I know).
PG-SG Chauncey Billups: UFA. Billups has made it clear he wants to be on a contender at this point in career, but the improved play of the Pups could lead to a Billups-Wolves reunion. Billups ruptured his Achilles tendon after a fantastic start this season, but remains intent that he will be ready for next year. His winning mentality would contribute to the culture change that’s occurring in Minnesota, and wouldn’t we all love to see him in a Wolves uniform one more time.
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