Noah Vonleh

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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-

Report: Timberwolves getting Jake Layman for three years, $11M+

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After Jake Layman struggled through his first two NBA seasons, the Trail Blazers surprisingly guaranteed his salary for last season. Layman responded with a fine season as a reserve/part-time starter.

Now, he’ll parlay that into a solid payday for a former No. 47 pick.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Bobby Marks of ESPN:

The largest three-year contract the Timberwolves can give Layman with the Dario Saric trade exception is worth $11,283,256. Presumably, Wojnarowski/Bartelstein are just rounding generously.

Layman will join a deep group of players who can play forward in Minnesota – Robert Covington, Andrew Wiggins, Jarrett Culver, Keita Bates-Diop and Noah Vonleh. If the 25-year-old Layman sustains his improvement as an outside shooter and cutter/finisher, he’ll find minutes.

James Dolan says no current Knicks will become centerpiece of team, predicts success in free agency

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The Knicks are giving talented young point guard Dennis Smith Jr. a second chance. Rookie Kevin Knox has intriguing raw tools that made him the No. 9 overall pick. Second-rounder Mitchell Robinson has shown a special combination of size and athleticism in his rookie year. Even undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier is already making his mark.

Of course, that group isn’t the priority in New York.

The Knicks have cleared enough cap room to chase Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency this summer. New York is chasing bigger stars.

Just ask Knicks owner James Dolan.

YES Network:

Dolan:

We hear from people all the time – from players, from representatives – who wants to come. We can’t respond because of the NBA rules, etcetera. But that doesn’t stop them from telling us. And they do. And I can tell you from what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.

The thing about the team now is that it’s very young. It’s the youngest team in the NBA. You take a look at the some of the players that we have. And they won’t be the centerpiece of the team. But as complements to the centerpieces of the team, we’re developing them right now. And you get guys like Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo and Noah, Dotson, the whole team. They’re getting better.

I wouldn’t bet on Knox, Robinson, Trier, Noah Vonleh or Damyean Dotson becoming the centerpiece of a good team. But I’m not any of those players.

I wonder how they feel about their team’s owner publicly declaring they won’t become the centerpiece. I also wonder how they feel about their team’s owner looking like he needs notes to remember their names.

Likewise, I wonder how anyone who gave New York advance warning about going there feels about Dolan outing that step. Especially if it’s Durant and/or Irving. Those two have been testy about people connecting them to the Knicks. Dolan’s remark will only increase speculation about Durant and Irving going to New York.

D’Angelo Russell on Most Improved Player: ‘I’m gonna win that s—. Watch. Put it on record. I’m gonna win it’

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Raptors forward Pascal Siakam is favored to win Most Improved Player. Kings guard De'Aaron Fox should be leading the race for Most Improved Player.

But nobody is more confident about winning the award than Nets guard D'Angelo Russell.

Russell, via Anthony Pucci of SNY:

“I’m gonna win that s–t. Watch. Put it on record. I’m gonna win it.”

“I’m telling you, I’m winning it!”

Russell has definitely improved a lot. He has taken large role leading the surprisingly solid Nets. His shooting and playmaking are more reliable than ever. He even became a first-time All-Star this season (though as an injury replacement).

Fox’s win shares (4.0, from 1.3) and box plus-minus (+2.8, from -0.4) are up significantly this season from previous career highs.

But he’s not the only one.

Fox, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Thomas Bryant have made bigger increases in win shares. Fox, Domantas Sabonis, Nikola Vucevic, Beasley, Zach Collins and Noah Vonleh have made bigger increases in box plus-minus.

Russell will likely get MIP votes. His campaigning will help, as will his All-Star appearance.

He should get more credit for rising from average-ish into near-stardom than another player who makes a similar jump from poor to average. Taking the same number of steps gets more difficult the higher a player climbs.

But Russell isn’t on track to make my theoretical three-player MIP ballot, let alone win the award. I doubt enough actual voters will see him as worthy, either.

Unable to find trade, Knicks waive Enes Kanter

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Enes Kanter wanted to be somewhere he got a chance to play. That was no longer the Knicks — second-year center Luke Kornet out of Vanderbilt started for a while, and Noah Vonleh has got some run. All Kanter would say is “I don’t understand.”.

The Knicks wanted to trade him, but there was no market for a guy making $18.6 million who, because of his serious defensive shortcomings, is almost unplayable in the postseason. The trade deadline passed without action on Kanter.

So the Knick have waived him.

 “From the moment he arrived in New York, Enes passionately embraced our franchise and our city,” said Scott Perry, General Manager of the Knicks, in a statement.  “He is a courageous individual and we thank him for his many contributions both on the court and in the community.  We wish him the absolute best moving forward, personally and professionally.” 

Kanter will become an unrestricted free agent on the buyout market, and a lot of playoff teams are studying that market looking to add depth and fill in gaps in their roster.

Kanter can score. He averaged 14.5 points and 10 rebounds a game, he does most of his damage around the basket (61.5 percent of his shots came in the restricted area) but he has to be guarded at the arc. He’s also strong on the glass and can get offensive rebounds. Kanter gets a team points, he just gives up about as many.

That said, the native of Turkey — who has made headlines because of a political feud with that country’s president — will have a new home soon enough, there will be teams interested.