At midnight, July 1st, the circus known as NBA free agency begins. The Timberwolves are looking to be very active this offseason and clearly have a few priorities to take care of over the next few days. Here is one perspective on what the Timberwolves free agency plans should or could be.
First, some quick housecleaning. There were two moves announced over the past couple of days that play a pivotal role in what Flip Saunders and company do in free agency. This past Friday, the team announced that they have picked up the option on Dante Cunningham’s contract for this coming season. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, as Dante played a key role for the team this past season and is a welcomed face and presence on and off the court for the team.
A second big announcement came on Saturday, with the official word that Andrei Kirilenko has opted out of his contract, which had 1 year and $10.2 million remaining with the team. This makes him an unrestricted free agent and in my opinion, very unlikely to return to the Wolves next season. While a key cog on the floor last season, and a perfect fit in Adelman’s system, I do not see the Wolves giving AK47 a long term contract. It is rumored that he is looking for a 3-4 year deal.
So what should the Timberwolves do? Here is my priority list and some thoughts for each:
#1 – Resign Nikola Pekovic
Nikola Pekovic is a restricted free agent, meaning the Wolves have the right to match any deal/offer he agrees to with another team. In a league that has seen the position become obsolete in some regards, Pekovic has grown into a top center in the league. At the very least, he is a top 5 center at the offensive end of the floor.
The Wolves need to get Pekovic under agreement before he and his agent go shopping and find a franchise willing to give him a ‘max contract’ (read: Paul Allen). If Pekovic receives a max contract offer, I have a hard time imagining a situation where it makes sense to match it unfortunately. That money is going to have to be split up into multiple pieces to round out the roster.
However, let’s pretend that this doesn’t happen and Flip can sign Pekovic for an annual contract around $10-$11 million per. That seems more than fair/reasonable for what Pekovic brings to the table, right?
#2a – Sign a Shooting Guard
It is no secret that the Timberwolves need a SG. While the team drafted Shabazz Muhammad this past Thursday, Flip has stated that he believes he will come off the bench to start his career. The team struggled mightily at the SG position this past season, largely because there wasn’t a true SG on the roster and having to put Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea there.
There have been a number of names already linked to the team, but it looks like Flip has a strong preference towards OJ Mayo, who also opted out of his contract with the Mavericks and is an unrestricted free agent. I have long made a case for bringing in Mayo and the fact that he would be a good fit for the team with Love, Rubio, and Pekovic. While this is an unpopular idea to many Wolves fans, I happen to believe that OJ would fit in nicely. It will be interesting to see what his price range is – maybe in the $6.5-$7.5 million per year range?
There are other options here as well. My second preference for the Wolves would be Gerald Henderson from the Bobcats. However, this is a longshot and the team probably won’t even “waste their time” pursuing him as he is a restricted free agent. The team has to find a SG and can’t afford to lose out on a number of others while the Bobcats consider matching any offer the Wolves were to provide. Surprisingly, no one has linked the Wolves to Henderson online, so there doesn’t seem to be an interest there anyway (or maybe the interest is limited due to his RFA).
Other names that have been thrown out there include JJ Redick, Kevin Martin, and Marco Belinelli. While I like Redick a lot and have suggested the Wolves trade for him in the past, the rumored contract that he is looking for is a bit too much (5 years). I have never really been a fan of Kevin Martin and it would have to be a steal of a contract for me to really get behind signing him; 3-4 years at $5-$6 million per, which is unlikely at best. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of Marco Belinelli either and would prefer many others as “Plan C” behind Mayo and Henderson.
If the Wolves strike out with these SG’s, there are several free agents that should be available at a much lower cost that might help the team balance the roster a bit. This includes; a potential return for Wayne Ellington (RFA), Daniel Gibson (UFA), Tony Allen (UFA), Xavier Henry (UFA), and/or Ronnie Brewer (UFA).
#2b – Resign Chase Budinger
I have resigning the RFA as #2b simply because I would like it to be the third step in the process this month. I think it is more important to resign Chase than finding a SG, but would like to find one of upper tier guys mentioned above first, and then have that help dictate Chase’s salary. He is due for a raise and the team has the ability to match any offer he receives/signs, so the Wolves really hold an “advantage” here.
Chase fits in perfectly in Adelman’s system and looked strong in the early stages of this past offseason before suffering the knee injury. While he missed a lot of time, I would expect him to look even better now that he is more familiar with his teammates and Adelman’s system. It would be a big blow for this roster if Chase finds a new home.
#3 – Balance the Roster
Beyond the steps listed above, the Timberwolves’ roster needs to be more balanced. I think we are all well aware of this. I do not expect to see Kirilenko back with the club next year, nor do I necessarily want to see Flip give him a 3-4 year contract north of $8 million per. Dante Cunningham and Derrick Williams will have to make up for this loss.
The team also needs to find a trade partner for Luke Ridnour or JJ Barea. Luke is now an expiring contract, while Barea has another year beyond this coming season. One of these two has to go. Perhaps they are used as part of a sign and trade with another team. They also might be sold for twenty cents on the dollar for 2nd round picks or similar.
If the team somehow loses Chase Budinger, there are a number of free agent SF’s / wings on the market this summer worth consideration: Dahntay Jones, Kyle Korver, Corey Brewer (!!), Sam Young, Matt Barnes, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mickael Pietrus, and Wesley Johnson. OK, take out the last name on this consideration list. I wanted to make sure you were still paying attention.
Here is my ideal scenario/lineup, all things considered, with starters listed first. There is a lot of overlap with players on this roster and I am purposely listing each player only once. For example, Shved can easily play both guard positions, Shabazz will likely play both wing spots, etc.
PG: Rubio, Ridnour, Shved
SG: Mayo, Shabazz
SF: Budinger, Cunningham
PF: Love, Williams
C: Pekovic, Dieng, Stiemsma
A few comments on the roster above:
- I have the team keeping Stiemsma over Chris Johnson. However, this is probably unlikely given their respective salaries.
- This team is now going to hold onto Derrick Williams in case Love opts out, aren’t they? I have flip-flopped on this and now think that they should hold onto him.
- This lineup could be a championship contender if, and this is a big if, Rubio and Love make another leap in becoming superstars and Shabazz can become a 20-25 mpg solid contributor (if not more).
What do you think? What is your ideal lineup for the Timberwolves and/or who would you like to see them target this offseason?