Under Contract (10): Jarrett Culver, Jacob Evans, Jake Layman, Jaylen Nowell (non-guaranteed), Josh Okogie, Naz Reid (non-guaranteed), D’Angelo Russell, Omari Spellman, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jarred Vanderbilt (non-guaranteed)
Free Agents (6): Malik Beasley (restricted), Juancho Hernangomez (restricted), James Johnson (unrestricted – player option), Kelan Martin (restricted – Two-Way), Jordan McLaughlin (restricted – Two-Way), Evan Turner (unrestricted)
Projected Cap Space: None. $34.2 million below Tax
Projected Exceptions: Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level ($9.7 million), Bi-Annual ($3.8 million)
Projected First Round Draft Pick (pre-lottery): #3, #16 (via Brooklyn)
Analysis: The Minnesota Timberwolves were as active as any team at the 2020 trade deadline as they remade their team around Karl-Anthony Towns. Gone is Andrew Wiggins, who never lived up to his max extension. In his place as Towns’ new running mate is D’Angelo Russell.
In many ways, the swap of Wiggins for Russell was their big offseason move, just made early. It was a good one too. While both players make a similar amount, Wiggins’ time in Minnesota had run its course. Russell has holes in his game, but he’s friends with Towns and plays a position that has been a bugaboo for the Wolves for years. With Towns and Russell, the Timberwolves have as dangerous a pick and roll pairing as any in the NBA. Defensively? The Wolves should score a lot of points!
With their building blocks in place, it’s up to Gersson Rosas to find the right pieces around the two young stars. Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver were the team’s two most-recent first-round picks. They overlap positions, but bring different skills to the table. There isn’t much competition, but Okogie is easily the Wolves best defensive wing. He plays bigger than his size because he’s strong and has great athleticism. He’s not much of a shooter, so his offense comes from running the floor and off cuts. That’s not a bad thing, given Towns and Russell’s high usage, but it would help if Okogie developed as a shooter.
Culver was a disappointment as a rookie. It was hoped he could play either wing position, and provide some playmaking as well. Instead, he shot it poorly, provided little playmaking and looked overwhelmed defensively. Culver is still young enough to improve, but he’s going to have a make a leap for the Wolves to feel like he’s a rotation player.
Joining the two youngsters at the off-guard spot after the trade deadline was Malik Beasley. Unlike either of the homegrown products, Beasley looks like a surefire NBA rotation player. In 14 games with the Wolves, Beasley averaged 20.7 points per game on 47% shooting, including a robust 42.6% from downtown. Beasley also chipped in 5.1 rebounds in just over 33 minutes per game.
The hope was that with playing time that was never coming with the Nuggets, Beasley would blossom. That happened, but now the Timberwolves are faced with a dilemma: What do you pay Beasley as a free agent? He’s young enough to be part of a core group built around Towns and Russell. He’s a terrific third scorer and shoots it well enough to play off the ball, but he’s not much of a defender. And Beasley isn’t big enough to play up at the three either. That makes building out the rest of the roster a complicated thing.
If Minnesota can get Beasley for under $15 million a year, they’ll have done well to lock in a solid asset. Even if he’s not a perfect fit alongside Towns and Russell, he’ll be a tradable piece on a deal like that. A team with cap space that could use some scoring, like Charlotte or Detroit, could make Minnesota sweat an offer sheet, but those teams have holes elsewhere to fill.
The Wolves' other big roster decision comes with Beasley’s fellow former Nugget teammate Juancho Hernangomez. Hernangomez was another player who it was hoped would do well with consistent playing time. He also proved that to be prophetic, as he delivered 12.9 points on 42% shooting from three and 7.3 rebounds in just under 30 minutes.
Like Beasley, Hernangomez is a restricted free agent. His market is more of an unknown, as the teams with cap space don’t project to be suitors for Hernangomez. That means Minnesota should be able to retain him on a reasonable contract. The question then becomes: Should they?
Hernangomez is a nice fit alongside Towns and Russell, because he can space the floor with his shooting. He’s a solid enough rebounder to play up front with Towns. But a starting lineup of Towns, Hernangomez, Okogie, Beasley and Russell isn’t stopping anyone.
That’s the problem for Minnesota. They have some nice players, but the fit is messy. And that messy fit makes it hard to justify giving big contracts to either Beasley or Hernangomez. Given you don’t want to lose either for nothing, the Wolves will probably pay both now and then figure it out later.
If Beasley and Hernangomez combine to make around $25 million or so, that leaves the Timberwolves close to the luxury tax line. Depending on how much the cap drops from the current projection, that margin gets even tighter. This isn’t a team that should be paying the tax, given it’s a fight for them just to get into playoff contention in the Western Conference.
Because of that, Minnesota could look to use a pick to move James Johnson’s $16 million contract. Johnson could help as a backup big, but not enough to justify that salary on a rebuilding team. If a team like Atlanta or Charlotte, or even New York with a new front office, decides to eat some bad money for an asset, Johnson should be a prime target. If the Wolves don’t move him, they can play him as a backup and let his contract expire in 2021, when the cap sheet could be cleaner.
As for the rest of the Minnesota roster, Rosas and crew did a good job finding some talented undrafted players. Jordan McLaughlin looks like he can be a backup point guard behind Russell. Kelan Martin had moments as the Wolves other Two-Way player. And Naz Reid looks like he’ll be a quality backup for Towns. All three youngsters should be back with Minnesota next season.
Beyond re-signing Beasley and Hernangomez, and maybe finding a new home for Johnson, it’s probably going to a quiet offseason for the Timberwolves. This next year is about developing Towns and Russell into a devastating offensive pairing and finding who fits around them. Beasley and Hernangomez are a nice start, especially if Minnesota leans into being an offensive team. At the very least, with better health, the Wolves should be more fun to watch than they have been since Jimmy Butler helped them break their playoff drought in 2018.