Gorgui Dieng

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Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

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NBC Sports’ 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.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-

Jordan Bell reportedly agrees to one-year deal with Timberwolves

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Jordan Bell brought a lot of athleticism off the bench for the Warriors. He also brought enough young player mistakes to frustrate coach Steve Kerr, this was a team thinking title after all. Bell’s minutes were up and down in Golden State.

They should be more consistent in Minnesota, where he is headed according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

This is a one-year, $1.6 million deal for the former Long Beach Poly Jackrabbit and Oregon Duck.

At that price, this is a good pickup by the Timberwolves.

Bell can be undersized at 6’9″ as a big in the paint, but his strength and athleticism let him hang if the team is willing to play small and fast. Bell does not space the floor as a shooter but get him in space and playing downhill and he can make plays.

The bulk of Minnesota’s center minutes go to Karl-Anthony Towns, with Gorgui Dieng behind him. This could allow Ryan Saunders to play KAT and Dieng together a little with Bell soaking up the minutes behind him. Bell just wants steady minutes to show what he can do, and those minutes are available in Minnesota.

Timberwolves, including Karl-Anthony Towns, reportedly meet with D’Angelo Russell

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The Minnesota Timberwolves are looking for the second star to put next to Karl-Anthony Towns. (Don’t bring up Andrew Wiggins and his contract, it just makes Timberwolves fans glow red with rage.)

How about All-Star D'Angelo Russell?

The Timberwolves — with Towns and aggressive new president Gersson Rosas in the room — are going to meet with the Nets’ restricted free agent, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

The Minnesota Timberwolves will meet with Brooklyn Nets restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell when free agency opens on Sunday, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Timberwolves contingent expected to be present at the meeting: president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, head coach Ryan Saunders and franchise player Karl-Anthony Towns, sources said.

Russell is a restricted free agent, however, if Kyrie Irving commits to Brooklyn as is widely expected, the Nets would rescind their qualifying offer to Russell, making him an unrestricted free agent. (Otherwise, Brooklyn can match any offer, although whether they would match a max is a matter of debate.)

Russell’s agent has been looking everywhere for a team willing to give his player the full $27.5 million max, after finding many teams think his value is a little below that ($22 million to $25 million). Minnesota is going to go all in according to friend-of-PBT Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports.

However, to get that much cap space one of two things needs to happen.

The buzz around the league for a while has been Minnesota had a new home for Andrew Wiggins and his remaining four years, $122 million. There certainly would be sweeteners (picks and/or players) in that deal, but if the Timberwolves can get off Wiggins’ salary they would have the cap space to sign Russell to the max.

The other option is to move both Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng to teams that can absorb their salaries and send nothing back. Getting Wiggins out of Minnesota would be the preferred option.

As ESPN’s Zach Lowe has noted, Minnesota was “up to something” and suggested Charlotte as a potential dumping ground for Wiggins after Kemba Walker bolts to Boston.

Russell will have a lot of suitors, but the top two picks in the 2015 NBA Draft could be teaming up in Minnesota.

Rumor: Is Minnesota in play for D’Angelo Russell?

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Coming off an All-Star season where his game took a step forward, D'Angelo Russell is a restricted free agent. The man is about to get paid. If the Brooklyn Nets sign Kyrie Irving as a free agent — which is considered the most likely outcome — then they are going to let Russell walk (or just renounce his rights) rather than pay him the $20+ million annually it’s expected to take to keep him (not max money, but not that far off it).

If all that happens, where might Russell land? Phoenix has been mentioned in league circles a lot and it needs a point guard (plus Russell and Devin Booker are friends). Indiana and Orlando have long been mentioned as teams that could chase him (as was Utah, although after the Mike Conley trade just cross them off the list). A reunion with the Los Angeles Lakers is rumored.

Minnesota also has been mentioned as interested, although that often gets dismissed because they are over the salary cap already. ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on his podcast that there is something there (hat tip Real GM).

“There has been a lot of Minnesota /D’Angelo Russell noise, and it’s not all Karl Towns commenting on Instagram because they’re friends. Minnesota has communicated to the league, not the NBA league, just the league at large that they believe they have a pathway to get D’Angelo Russell.

“I can’t see what it is because they’re capped out and they have all of these contracts nobody wants, but they’ve communicated that.”

The question is simply how Minnesota would come up with $20 million or more in cap space. The team is right at the salary cap line in guaranteed contracts, and when you throw in the option on Tyus Jones and cap holds (for empty roster spots) they are will over it.

Next season the Timberwolves will pay Andrew Wiggins $27.5 million, and he has four total fully guaranteed seasons left on his contract at a little over $123 million. Jeff Teague is owed $19 million on an expiring deal. Gorgui Dieng will make $16.2 million and has another season after the next one locked in. The Timberwolves would love to shed any and all of those contracts, but good luck with that. Wiggins is almost unmovable right now, Dieng would require a serious sweetener (like a couple first round picks) to be thrown in.

Still, it’s something to watch just because this rumor isn’t just new to Lowe, There seems to be something there, just nobody can figure out what.

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Portland wins ‘weird game’ to tie series with Denver

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) In weird game Denver can’t buy a bucket, Portland escapes with a win to tie series 1-1. Nikola Jokic summed it up well:

“It was a weird game for us. They didn’t even play that good, to be honest. They can play better than that. Weird game, weird day.”

Weird in that Denver just could not buy a bucket. Not just weird in the Nuggets shooting 6-of-29 (20.7 percent) from three and going 0-of-10 in the second quarter. Rather, weird as in Denver grabbing 23 offensive rebounds (38.6 percent of their missed shots) but shooting just 6-of-17 on chip-shot putback attempts. Weird in that Nuggets guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris were 2-of-13 from three and combined to shoot 33.3 percent overall on the night. Weird in that the Nuggets shot 14-of-45 (31.1 percent) on uncontested shots (via NBA.com). Weird in that Portland had an offensive rating of just 102.1 for the game, but that was enough to have them comfortably ahead most of the night as Denver scored less than a point per possession.

Weird, physical, whatever you want to call it, the Trail Blazers will take it. Portland was the more aggressive team, earned the 97-90 win and evened the series at 1-1 heading back to Portland for Game 3.

The game certainly was physical. Nobody got that worse than Denver’s Torry Craig, who suffered a “nasal contusion” when diving for a loose rebound and his face hit the back of teammate Monte Morris’ leg. Craig returned to play with a mask (something he had fitted back in the preseason), and he ended up on the ground late in the game, which sparked a confrontation (see item two).

It was a weird game in that Portland’s Enes Kanter may have had a better game than Nikola Jokic. At least he did in terms of what their respective teams need out of them. Jokic had 16 points on 7-of-17 shooting, he had seven assists (he assisted on 38.9 percent of his teammate’s buckets when on the court, still an impressive percentage), but would have had a lot more if guys had just made shots. Jokic was still making passes like this.

Kanter had 15 points on 10-of-15 shooting and played solid, physical defense down low with Jokic. Kanter came into these playoffs with the Billy Donovan “can’t play Kanter” reputation because of his pick-and-roll defense and what happened to him in previous playoffs, but give the man credit, he has stepped up and performed well in the absence of Jusuf Nurkic this postseason.

CJ McCollum had 20 points for Portland, even if it took 20 shots to get there.

This game felt like a one-off for the series. There were adjustments, but both teams struggled just to make shots they usually hit that it’s tough to tell what worked and what didn’t. Denver needs to attack earlier when the threes aren’t falling, but aside that this was more about missed opportunities than anything else.

Portland does not care. It’s a win. The series is tied and the Trail Blazers are heading home.

2) Late game scuffle could lead to suspensions for Nuggets, Trail Blazers. With 43.5 seconds remaining in Game 2, Damian Lillard sank a free throw that put Portland up seven. That’s when a weird game had it’s “fight.”

Denver called a time out after the free throw, but before that was really heard players started to move back down to the end of the court. Nikola Jokic shoves Enes Kanter, who is off-balance and collides with the already-injured Torrey Craig and knocks the masked man down. Then Jamal Murray and Gary Harris confront Kanter for knocking down Craig and there is a typical NBA “fight” at mid-court with a lot of pushing and posing but no actual punches.

Portland’s Evan Turner sprinted from the bench area to get in the scuffle. Denver’s Jarred Vanderbilt (who made contact with Kanter) and Trey Lyles also left the bench area (and to a lesser extent Brandon Goodwin, Juan Hernangomez, Isaiah Thomas, and Thomas Welsh did as well), but the incident was closer to the Nugget bench and play had been stopped.

The NBA rule is clear: Leave a bench during a fight and the player gets a one-game suspension.

However, there had been a timeout called, and when that happens players often leave the bench to greet teammates coming off the court. Plus, there was no game action.

Will the league suspend players, or just fine them saying there was a time out in the action? My guess is the latter, nobody misses time, but the league is unpredictable on these matters.

There is more riding on this for Portland because the only player who came off the bench for either team that is in the playoff rotation is Turner. His loss would be felt if he misses a game, especially if Maurice Harkless remains out with the ankle sprain he suffered back in the first quarter.

3) Minnesota finds its man in Gersson Rosas to head up their basketball operations. The Timberwolves did things backwards: owner Glen Taylor wanted to keep coach Ryan Saunders and general manager Scott Layden, but wanted to hire their new boss. Whoever was going to head basketball operations in Minnesota was not going to get to hire his own team under him, he was inheriting one.

That person is Gersson Rosas, the right-hand man to Daryl Morey in Houston, according to multiple reports out of Minnesota.

This is a milestone. Rosas will be the first Latino to lead a basketball operations department in the NBA (Rosas was born in Bogata, Columbia). Rosas has earned his shot.

Rosas technically has been a GM before. He was hired by Dallas back in 2013 for that role, but walked away from it three months later. Rosas thought he would have decision-making power in Dallas, but the hammer still belonged to Mavs president Donnie Nelson (not to mention owner Mark Cuban).

This time Rosas has the hammer… and a lot of work to do.

On the bright side, the Timberwolves have an elite center and franchise cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns. That level of player is the hardest to get, and Towns seemed to connect with Saunders as coach (now Saunders just needs to get Towns to play consistent defense.

Building an elite team around Towns will be the challenge. Mostly because of a couple anchor contracts — Andrew Wiggins (four years, $122 million remaining), Gorgui Dieng (two years, $33.5 million remaining). Minnesota also has to pay Jeff Teague $19 million next season after he opted in, although at least he contributes a lot on the court. Those guys, however, make it very difficult to maneuver under the cap and bring in more talent.

There are other assets. Robert Covington was mostly hurt after coming over from Philly in a trade but he can be the kind of wing defender the Timberwolves need. Josh Okogie showed promise as a rookie, and they have Dario Saric, who is a solid rotation player and developing. If Teague plays well and everyone stays healthy this could be a playoff team next season. That would be a start.

But Rosas has a lot of work ahead of him to take advantage of Towns’ prime.