Shabazz Muhammad

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Timberwolves ace Jimmy Butler trade… then made some other moves

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

From the moment former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau took over the Timberwolves, Minnesota was involved in Jimmy Butler trade rumors. But, as of last year, Chicago reportedly wouldn’t budge without receiving Andrew Wiggins, and I didn’t think that was enough for the Bulls. Since, Butler has only improved and Wiggins moved closer to a max salary that will diminish his value. A deal seemed unlikely.

Then, suddenly the Timberwolves traded for Butler – without surrendering Wiggins. A team bound to improve around Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins is now set to clobber a 13-year playoff drought.

Butler is a star in his prime who’s locked up for two more seasons at an affordable salary. The price to land him – Zach LaVine (injured and up for a contract extension), Kris Dunn (ineffective as a relatively old rookie) and moving down from the No. 7 to No. 16 pick – was absurdly low. By dropping only nine spots rather than give up the No. 7 pick entirely, Thibodeau just stunted on his old bosses.

That fantastic trade started a busy offseason in Minnesota, but the rest of it wasn’t nearly as inspiring. (To be fair, how could it be?)

Going from Ricky Rubio (two years, $29.25 million remaining) to Jeff Teague (three years, $57 million with a player option) at point guard wasn’t ideal in a vacuum. But Teague’s shooting was important considering Butler and Wiggins form a sketchy wing pairing on 3-pointers and Thibodeau insists on playing two traditional bigs. Plus, the Timberwolves got a first-rounder a first-rounder from the Jazz for Rubio.

Another former Bull, Taj Gibson, will bolster Thibodeau’s two-big rotation. But Minnesota already had Gorgui Dieng and Cole Aldrich (who’s overpaid and has disappointed, but can still eat up minutes) to limit the defensive burden on Towns, and No. 16 pick Justin Patton is in the pipeline. Does a 32-year-old Gibson have enough left in the tank to justify a two-year $28 million contract?

Likewise, will a 37-year-old Crawford provide value at the full room exception (two years, $8,872,400 with a player option)? The Timberwolves didn’t need another ball-handler. Butler, Wiggins and Teague can be staggered enough to handle that. Towns should be tasked with a greater offensive role, too. At least Crawford is a solid spot-up shooter, but his defense is a big minus.

Shabazz Muhammad won’t fill Minnesota’s 3-and-D void, either. But on a minimum contract, he was too talented to pass up. Dante Cunningham could help, though he’s better at power forward than on the wing, where the Timberwolves need more depth.

Thibodeau hasn’t exactly instilled faith in his ability to take this franchise into the future. But he hit a home run with the Butler trade, and that buys him leeway.

Offseason grade: A+

Even after re-signing Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves still want Dante Cunningham

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Dante Cunningham was among the many free agents this summer who saw the ridiculous contracts handed out in the summer of 2016 and thought he was in line to get paid. He declined his $3.1 million player option… and now he’s going to sign a minimum contract for $2.1 million. The only question is where.

He could re-sign with the Pelicans (who would give him run at the three with Solomon Hill out injured). Minnesota has been interested — and that has not changed despite the fact the Timberwolves re-signed Shabazz Muhammad, reports Darren Wolfson.

Minnesota could offer two years, but that may not happen. With the money the same, Cunningham has to decide where he thinks he will be used best, where he can get more run, and where he wants to live. He also could be patient and hope another team jumps in the mix, although that would be for the minimum as well.

Reports: Minnesota explores Kyrie Irving trade, but is Andrew Wiggins part of it?

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are “starting to engage in trade talks” for Kyrie Irving, whether LeBron James wants him back or not.

The problem is finding a deal. Cleveland wants a massive haul in return — a young stud talent, a player who can start and help them now, and picks. They’re not likely to get all of that, but as talks start the Cavaliers are wisely going in asking for everything but the Iron Throne and see if anyone relents.

Irving listed the Minnesota Timberwolves as a preferred destination, and the Wolves are serious about exploring that, something well-connected AP reporter Jon Krawczynski said on 1500AM ESPN Twin Cities Wednesday.

Minnesota could make this work with a trade of Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and maybe a pick, but the Cavaliers likely don’t want that deal as is, so it requires a third team to take on Dieng or another salary. It would be complex. If it came to be, it would send Wiggins back to the team that drafted him, then traded him for Kevin Love in the wake of LeBron James choosing to return to Cleveland.

The big question is, do the Timberwolves want to put Wiggins in the deal? Should they? That is more than a Tom Thibodeau question, that is a talk with the owner Glen Taylor decision.

Wiggins averaged 23.6 points per game last season, shot 35.6 percent from three, and has become an offensive force who can get buckets and puts defenders in posters. He likely will get a max contract extension and deserves it. However, he hasn’t been as efficient a scorer as hoped yet, his passing skills and rebounding need work, and he is not the defender he was projected to be out of college (ESPN’s defensive plus/minus is a flawed stat, but it still had Wiggins only ahead of Doug McDermott and Shabazz Muhammad as small forwards, and that’s bad company to keep).

Wiggins also is just 22 years old and entering his fourth NBA season. He should improve, as he has each year in the NBA (though mostly focused on the offensive end).

It’s a tough question Thibodeau and the Timberwolves need to ask: Is Wiggin’s ceiling better than Irving’s? Do they want to max out Wiggins with an extension, or leave that to another team? Wiggins hasn’t been a great defender, but he has potential still, and we know Irving is weak on that end. We also don’t know if Irving would fit better with Karl-Anthony Towns than Wiggins. What we do know is Irving is an elite scorer and also a very popular player who will pack the building home and road. We also know Wiggins has missed just one game in three seasons, while Irving has an injury history.

Minnesota would be exchanging risks. With Irving, Towns and Jimmy Butler, the Timberwolves move into “challenge the Warriors now” mode for the next two years, while all those guys are under contract. Is that where Minnesota wants to be, going at the Warriors hard while they are fully loaded? The risk would be one or both of Butler and Irving could walk in two seasons, leaving the team to rebuild (sort of) around KAT. If the Timberwolves keep Wiggins, and he takes steps forward — particularly defensively — they are built for the longer haul, but that has risks as well (for example, will those players develop, and will Butler stay?).

I’m not sure Minnesota puts Wiggins on the block. If they did, it’s another thing entirely to think a deal gets done. Which is to say, all of this is a longshot.

Just know the Timberwolves are serious about exploring it.

Top 15 Free Agents still on the market

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The pickings are slim — the biggest names and best players have been snatched up.

Also, the market is now tight — teams have spent most of their money and now are just rounding out their rosters. There are no more massive contracts to be handed out.

Still, there are some players who can help teams still out there. Here is our list of the Top 15 free agents still available. We’ve broken the list down to unrestricted (the top 10) and restricted (top 5) where the team has the right to match any offer.

TOP 10 UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

1) Pau Gasol. He remains the best player still on the board as an unrestricted free agent — he is still a fundamentally solid big who can score inside, make smart passes, and defend the rim all with a high IQ. There is also no drama here. He will re-sign with the Spurs, he opted out only to help them make moves in free agency. In the coming days, he should re-sign with San Antonio, likely for something around the $16 million he opted out of.

2) Derrick Rose. The music has stopped in the point guard market, and Rose is the one standing without a chair. He’s the best point guard left available, but the market is tight now and he’s going to get a short deal with a team for the minimum or little more. Rose put up solid numbers last season in New York and on paper he looked like an average NBA point guard, but he’s still a defensive liability and is not versatile offensively (nor is he much of a jump shooter). Rumors on where he will land have slowed way down.

3) Shabazz Muhammad. He’s had a couple respectable seasons for the Timberwolves, last season averaging 9.9 points per game and shooting 33.8 percent from three (he was Minnesota’s leading scorer off the bench). He’s not a great defender, but he has improved. He reportedly has drawn some interest from the Knicks, Hawks, Bucks, and Nets but no deal has been forthcoming.

4) Andrew Bogut. There’s an obvious injury risk here — the 32-year-old’s last season ended with a fractured tibia, and he has a history of missing chunks of the season. That said, in a tight free agent market for big men he is the best one on the market when healthy. He is a smart defender, a very good passing big, and he’s an efficient scorer. Cleveland tried to pick him up last season for a reason (then had to waive him after the injury), another contender should consider the move.

5) JaVale McGee. He may be unhappy that the Warriors didn’t offer him more money after last season, but with the market drying up he may need to decide whether he wants to chase another ring or move on. McGee brings some athleticism at the five, some rim protection, and a guy who can finish at the rim.

6) Gerald Henderson. He was solid for the Sixers last season, averaging 9.2 points and 2.6 rebounds a game, shooting 35.3 percent from three. With their backcourt getting crowded, the Sixers waived Henderson, and at this point he’s not going to get close to the $9 million he was going to make last season. There has not been much buzz about where he may land.

7) Matt Barnes. He picked up a ring last season after getting picked up by the Warriors, and at age 37 the feisty forward is still an above replacement level player. Barnes helped the Warriors through the Kevin Durant injury last regular season and still has something in the tank. He’s not going to get more than one year at the veteran minimum level, but at that price there are teams who could use him.

8) Ty Lawson. There’s not a lot of teams looking to add a point guard, but Lawson will get a call from someone. He was above replacement level for the Kings last season and averaged 9.9 points per game, however, he does not space the floor with his shooting. He’d make a respectable backup point.

9) Boris Diaw. The market for the veteran forward is pretty small, and Diaw is now 35, but he could certainly help a team looking for a guy who can provide versatile minutes off the bench, smart passes, and some high IQ play. Plus he comes with his own espresso machine. Diaw averaged just 4.6 points per game and had a PER of 9 last season in Utah, yet they considered him part of the stabilizing veteran influence that helped that team take a step forward.

10) Tony Allen. Grit n’ grind is dead in Memphis, but if another team is looking for a defensive guard who can come in and help them get some stops, Allen is still on the market. His lack of shooting is well known, but there are still teams that could use him. He said he didn’t want a lot of money but wanted to be taken care of by the Grizzlies, now with the market tight he may not get more than the minimum

TOP 5 RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

(Note: The market is very tight for all of these guys, there are no max offers out there, and frankly no more $20 million ones either. These guys mostly have to negotiate with their teams.)

1) Nerlens Noel. He and his agent seemed to think that a big offer sheet — the kind we saw last summer for guys like Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson — would be on the way for Noel, setting up his big payday. Instead, there has been nothing. Part of is that other teams knew Dallas would just match, but part of it was also a tighter market this summer. Noel is a rangy, defensive-minded center who Dallas traded to get at the deadline last season, they see him as part of the future of the franchise. All the money for a massive offer has dried up, and Dallas can play hardball and offer a deal that is in the mid-teens in millions per year. Noel will want north of $20 million per year, but considering his injury history he’s not likely to take the qualifying offer and bet on himself.

2) JaMychal Green. Even more than Noel, this is the guy I thought some team would max out and try to poach, but nothing has come down the line for him. There was this odd note on the Fourth of July…

But since then nothing. Crickets. With Zach Randolph gone there is a bigger role for Green in Memphis, expect him to reach a deal eventually.

3) Mason Plumlee. Last summer his brother Miles Plumlee got a four-year, $52 million deal, and Mason is going to get nowhere near that. The summer of 2016 has proven to be an outlier — everyone got paid, and this year teams sobered up. Denver has the rights for Plumlee, who would be the backup to Nikola Jokic, and with a tight market the Nuggets will get to keep this Plumlee at a very affordable price. The only question now is the number.

4) Nikola Mirotic. Stretch fours are in demand across the league, the fact that Mirotic has had no offer sheets speaks to his inconsistency. He’s a stretch four who shot just 34.2 percent from three last season and doesn’t defend well. He did average 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a game, he has some strong showings in the final six weeks of the season, but those seem the aberrations. The Bulls will play hardball, but with No. 7 pick Lauri Markkanen being unimpressive at Summer League, the Bulls will want Mirotic back and ready to play.

5) Alex Len. You can’t blame him if he saw Meyers Leonard get four-years, $41 million last season, and Bismack Biyambo get $72 million, and Len thought his payday was coming. As with a lot of guys on the restricted free agent market this year (and still on this list) that big offer sheet from another team never came, now their home team can play hardball. He was solid last season averaging 8 points and 6.6 boards per game, but if Noel and Plumlee aren’t getting offer sheets, neither is Len. He’s going to have to reach a deal with the Suns or play for the qualifying offer and test what will be a tight market next summer.

Report: Jamal Crawford to sign two-year, $8.9 million deal with Minnesota

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Minnesota continues to be one of the off-season’s big winners.

Not only did they add Jimmy Butler to their front line of young stars, but they have also strengthened their bench with the addition of Taj Gibson and, soon, Jamal Crawford.

The Clippers shipped Crawford to Atlanta as part of the deal that brought Los Angeles Danilo Gallinari, and once there Crawford and the Hawks arranged a buyout. Once he clears waivers, he will sign with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, at age 37, can still get buckets. The former Sixth Man of the Year averaged 12.3 points per game last season and shot 36 percent from three, plus his crossover is still one of the game’s great weapons.

Minnesota likely will now start Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and Karl-Anthony Towns, then bring Crawford, Gibson, and Tyus Jones off the bench. That team is going to win a lot of games.