Tyus Jones

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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-

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

Associated Press
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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.

Jimmy Butler on being called James: ‘I hate that [s—]!!!’

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
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76ers coach Brett Brown tried to compliment Jimmy Butler‘s maturity by calling him “James Butler.” Butler wasn’t having it.

Big deal or no?

Butler brought up the erroneous moniker in an Instagram caption, which made it sound as if he were willing to kid about the mistake. But in comments to former Timberwolves teammate Tyus Jones, Butler sounded much more serious.

Butler:

Butler:

it’s Jimmy not James. 1-1. see you at the crib PHILA..

Jones:

JAMES!!!

@jimmybutler you know I was crying when I seen coach call you that at the presser

Butler:

@1tyus << family. you know how much I hate that [s—]!!!

I can’t say precisely how much Butler cares about Brown calling him James. But Butler made a name for himself from humble beginnings. He should take pride in that, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this legitimately bothers him.

Brown clearly meant no harm. He was trying to praise Butler, and intent should matter.

But knowing a player well enough not to accidently offend him is part of coaching, too.

Timberwolves shut down Robert Covington, Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague for rest of season

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
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The Timberwolves are all but officially eliminated from the playoff race.

But Karl-Anthony Towns is still playing for something – a projected $32 million more over the next five years if he makes an All-NBA team.

He’ll continue that pursuit without teammates Robert Covington, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague.

Timberwolves release:

Covington has missed the last 34 games while recovering from a right knee bone bruise, originally suffered on December 31 at New Orleans. Covington had made improvements in his recovery and had progressed to on-court activities, in preparation to rejoin the team.  However, he recently suffered a setback which will require further treatment before returning to the court and as a result, is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Rose has missed the last four games while experiencing soreness and swelling in his right elbow. An MRI taken Tuesday at Mayo Clinic Square revealed a chip fracture and a loose body in his elbow. The team and Rose are currently exploring further treatment options and he is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Teague has missed the last four games after reaggravating a left foot injury, originally suffered in December. On Tuesday, Teague received an injection designed to treat chronic inflammation. He will wear a boot and is scheduled to be reevaluated in approximately three weeks. He is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

The language – “expected to miss the remainder of the season” – allows the possibility of the players returning. But the Timberwolves wouldn’t set this expectation unless they were pretty certain the players were finished.

Covington deserved All-Star consideration, and maybe Minnesota would still be in the playoff mix if he remained healthy. He was also heading toward an All-Defensive team before getting hurt. I doubt 35 games, even at 34 minutes per game, will be enough to get him selected now. Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green clearly belong ahead of him. Covington has an outside chance for that fourth spot, though.

Rose had a bounce-back year after it appeared he could fall out of the NBA entirely. He looks like a solid backup point guard. He’ll draw plenty of interest in free agency this summer.

Teague has a $19 million player option for next season. He already seemed likely to exercise it, and this only increases the odds. The 30-year-old had a relatively down season.

Teague’s and Rose’s absences will leave the ball in Tyus Jones‘ hands at point guard. Jones has looked good in a small role, and this offers him an opportunity to prove himself before restricted free agency this summer.

Importantly for Towns, Minnesota’s depth at point guard allows him to play with someone credible at the position while he attempts to finish the season strong. There’s a lot of room to produce for the Timberwolves now, though Towns will likely face double-teams even more frequently.

Minnesota owner says interim coach Ryan Saunders ‘has a good chance’ to get job full-time

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The Minnesota Timberwolves did not suddenly turn a corner after coach and GM Tom Thibodeau was let go midseason.

The Timberwolves have gone 10-12 under interim coach Ryan Saunders, although they have looked better in recent weeks. In their last 10 games the Timberwolves have a top-10 offense in the league, and since the All-Star break Karl-Anthony Towns put up big numbers until a car accident sidelined him. All of that is not enough to get Minnesota in the playoffs this year, but there is some reason for optimism going forward.

Owner Glen Taylor likes what he’s seen out of Saunders and thinks the youngest coach in the NBA could keep his job after the season. Here is what Taylor told Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune.

“I think he has a good chance [to get the job full-time],” Taylor said. “It’s like everything, we’re going to wait until we play out these last 20-some games and I think we’ll know and he’ll know at that time if it works out. But he is off to a good start.

“I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”

To me, it’s been challenging to judge just how good a job Saunders is doing. There isn’t enough hard evidence to swing a job review one way or the other yet.

It’s always difficult to judge an interim coach because there are only so many changes one can make midseason. In Minnesota’s case, you need to throw in a rash of injuries that muddy the picture —  Robert Covington, Tyus Jones, Jeff Teague, and Derrick Rose have all missed time for Saunders, and now Towns is in that mix as well. On the upside, players seem to play hard for him, but the team isn’t winning at a different pace than it did for Thibodeau. Towns had a good stretch of games (before the concussion). Andrew Wiggins has been up-and-down for Saunders, but he is up and down for everyone, that’s just Wiggins.

The other big question in all this: Who will be the general manager next season? Scott Layden is in that role now and there have not been rumblings of the Timberwolves contacting other teams to talk about potential candidates. Layden may keep the job, but whoever is in that chair should get to choose their coach.

Saunders may get to keep the job because the owner really likes him “as a person.” It’s just hard to tell if that will be the best thing for Minnesota going forward.