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Timberwolves in turmoil

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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.

The Timberwolves won 47 games and ended a 13-year playoff drought last season, and their core group returns. Few teams can match the 1-2 star power of Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson are strong complementary pieces, and Andrew Wiggins has the tools to excel.

But it feels like Minnesota was decimated by a meteorite this offseason.

Butler’s unsatisfied trade request casts a shadow over the upcoming season. It has shined a spotlight on the discord permeating through this organization in so many directions – Butler and Wiggins, Butler and Towns, Towns and Tom Thibodeau, Tom Thibodeau and Glen Taylor.

Maybe Butler and Thibodeau can thrive in this chaotic, energetic, intense environment. It seems the weight of it could crush everyone else, though.

This all reflects terribly on Thibodeau, who let the Butler situation linger over the summer. Chemistry matters, and an unhappy Butler trying to torment Towns and Wiggins into playing with more fire could just burn everyone involved. It was bad enough last year when the young players thought Butler could be there a while. If they expect him to leave next summer in free agency, will they just tune him out until then? If that happens, will Butler become even harder on them? This could get ugly in a hurry.

That said, it’s not as if Minnesota had great chemistry last season, either. This is still such a talented team. Heck, even if the Timberwolves trade Butler by the trade deadline, he might first help them stack enough wins to make the playoffs. Hope isn’t lost.

Most importantly, Minnesota locked up Towns to a long-term extension. No matter what happens with Butler, the 22-year-old star is staying a while.

The Timberwolves also did tinkering to help over the summer. Signing Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, two ex-Bulls, will generate plenty of laughs, but those two for the minimum is fine. So was drafting Josh Okogie No. 20 and Keita Bates-Diop No. 48.

Minnesota’s biggest signing was Anthony Tolliver for one year, $5.75 million – which, to stay under the luxury-tax line, required letting Nemanja Bjelica go. I considered Tolliver an upgrade as the Timberwolves’ stretch four, though part of that calculation considered Tolliver’s positive effect in the locker room.

In that area, it might be too little, too late.

Offseason grade: D   

No discount, but Knicks finally buyout, waive Joakim Noah today anyway

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We knew how this was going to end. It was going to be as big a surprise as the ending of “First Man.” (Hint: The Americans make it to the moon, it wasn’t faked.)

Saturday it finally happened: The New York Knicks have waived and stretched the contract of Joakim Noah, the team announced Saturday. It’s the end of the disastrous four-year, $72.6 million contract that Phil Jackson signed Noah to, which ended up being an anchor on the Knicks rebuilding efforts. In the pantheon of horrible Summer of 2016 contracts — Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, so many others — Noah stood out as the worst, the biggest train wreck of them all.

The Knicks were hoping for a discount from Noah to get out of his contract (as Deng did, for example). However, with no NBA prospects out there (as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski among many others), Noah had no incentive to offer a break to the Knicks. So he didn’t.

Because of the timing of this waive and stretch (as the Knicks planned), Noah will get his full $18.5 million for this season, it is his final season of $19.3 million that will be stretched out over the next three years. Bobby Marks of ESPN broke it down:

New York will incur an $18.5M cap hit in 2018-19 that will be reduced by $522,252 if the center signs a 1 year $2.4M (minimum exception) guaranteed contract with a new team. For the next 3 seasons (2019-20 to 2021-22), New York will be charged $6.4M on the $19.3M amount owed to Noah. If the Knicks do not give Kristaps Porzingis a max rookie extension by Oct.15, New York projects to have $31M in room next summer. The room will increase to $38M if Lance Thomas is waived.

That’s enough cap room to chase a max salary player such as Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving (not that they are coming to NYC, relax people, they are merely free agent max players next summer used as an example). There was some thought the Knicks would hold off and use him as salary ballast in a trade (or maybe another team would want him, so he would take a buyout discount), but the contract was unmovable, so they just decided to bite the bullet now.

Noah is now an unrestricted free agent.

However, there is little to no traction for him with other NBA teams. Noah has battled injuries and played in just 53 games over two seasons with the Knicks, and when he has gotten on the court he has looked like a shell of the former Defensive Player of the Year. Father time has won the race. Maybe midseason a team takes a flier on Noah, but I wouldn’t bet on it (teams taking a flier on a big usually prefer a younger player they might develop into a long-term player for them).

League sends out updated salary cap projections, jump coming in future years

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The past two seasons, the free agency market has been tight. Following the drunken-level spending spree of 2016 — the year that gave us the Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and so many more anchor contracts — teams were cautious and out of money.

That’s about to change, because the salary cap is about to jump next summer, and some of those terrible contracts are starting to come off the books. This week the NBA updated its salary cap projections to teams, and Shams Charania of The Vertical got ahold of the memo.

For comparison, the cap is at $101.9 million, with the luxury tax is at $123.7 million.

With nearly half the players in the NBA as free agents next summer — did you notice all the one-year contracts this summer? — and the jump in cap space, about 20 of the NBA’s 30 teams could have cap space for a max player. Next summer is going to be wild.

Lakers ace offseason by signing LeBron James

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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.

The Lakers signed LeBron James.

Offseason grade: A+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, you want more?

The Lakers followed the summer’s biggest coup – not just signing LeBron, but locking him in for three years – with a dispiriting (or, depending on your perspective, comical) set of transactions.

Los Angeles didn’t lure Paul George or trade for Kawhi Leonard. Instead, the Lakers valued playmakers as if the best course isn’t giving LeBron the ball, talked about defense as if anyone who was once a good defender or has the physical tools will defend well and treated shooting as if floor spacing barely matters.

The good news: The Lakers are penciled into this plan for only one year.

The bad news: It’s a year of 33-year-old LeBron’s eventually ending prime.

The Lakers have essentially assembled three contingents:

They’ll have a chance to prove me wrong, but I have little faith in those veterans complementing LeBron well. And most of them didn’t come cheap – Caldwell-Pope ($12 million), Rondo ($9 million), Stephenson (room exception), Beasley ($3.5 million). If anything, Caldwell-Pope – whose shared agent with LeBron, Rich Paul, might have forced the Lakers’ hand with re-signing him to a generous salary – is probably the best fit.

That puts a lot of pressure on Lakers president Magic Johnson to assess the young players. Which will become capable of contributing to winning at the highest level before LeBron’s prime ends? Which should be traded for veterans? These are not easy questions, but it’s a much more enjoyable challenge than the one Los Angeles would have faced if LeBron didn’t come.

The Lakers went 35-47 last season, their best record in a half decade. LeBron changes everything.

But there might be a ceiling on the Lakers’ progress next season. Don’t ignore the departures of Julius Randle (to Pelicans) and Brook Lopez (to Bucks). Even Larry Nance Jr. helped the Lakers build credibility before getting shipped to the Cavaliers in a midseason trade that helped open cap space for LeBron.

This isn’t the end of the road, though. After convincing Luol Deng to relinquish $7,455,933 in a buyout, the Lakers are in line for about max cap space next summer. They also still have all those valuable young players to develop or trade. The cupboard is full of ingredients around LeBron.

Now, the Lakers must just find a winning recipe.

I don’t think this year’s plan is it, but whatever missteps the Lakers made this summer, landing LeBron overshadows everything else.

Offseason grade: A+

Report: Luol Deng reaches one-year deal with Timberwolves

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We’ve been saying another addition to the “Chicago Wolves” was coming, it just happened a little faster than expected.

Luol Deng and the Minnesota Timberwolves have agreed to a one-year, $2.4 million veteran minimum contract, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Minnesota now has Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, and Deng plus the coach Tom Thibodeau from Thib’s old Bulls team.

It forms an interesting dynamic in a locker room with a reputation as one of the most contentious in the league. Butler has not hidden his frustrations with Karl-Anthony Towns, Towns is no fan of Thibodeau, Towns is up for a max extension of his rookie contract but that front has been surprisingly quiet so far, and nobody is happy with Andrew Wiggins and his effort last season.

The question is what does Deng bring to the table? He played a total of 13 minutes for the Lakers last season. Two seasons ago in Los Angeles he played in 56 games and was unimpressive, shooting just 30.9 percent from three, with a true shooting percentage of just 47, and a PER of 10.1. Part of that was Luke Walton played him at the three, and in today’s NBA Deng is a four.

If given room can he still hit his jumper? He can put the ball on the floor against a closeout, he cuts well off the ball and finds spaces, and he’s a decent team defender — all of that when healthy. Is he healthy and rested and can he pitch in significant minutes, or is Deng another former Thibodeau player who burned out early after heavy minutes for years?

The Timberwolves likely will start Gibson at the four and have Anthony Tolliver behind him, leaving Deng a limited role. Thibodeau doesn’t really go deep into his bench.