Timberwolves “Aggressive Offseason” Options
One of the main storylines for the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season was the long-awaited arrival of Ricky Rubio. Averaging 10.6 points and 8.2 assists before his injury, Rubio did not disappoint the fans who anxiously waited for his coming to Minnesota. Rubio almost immediately dazzled fans, opponents and even his own teammates with his ridiculous passing skills, making his teammates better when he was on the court.
While Rubio provided highlights and excitement not seen inside the Target Center for years, what was thought to be true ended up being proven after Rubio’s unfortunate removal from the lineup. Of course, that was the fact Rubio and teammate Kevin Love need much more consistent teammates on the perimeter—teammates who can consistently hit open shots as well as possess the ability to create their own shot—in order for the Timberwolves to build on the upswing in the team’s success from this season.
Currently, the wing players who are under contract for the Timberwolves next year other than Rubio are J.J. Barea, Wes Johnson, Luke Ridnour, Wayne Ellington and Malcolm Lee. Minnesota holds a team option on Martell Webster’s contract and they have to decide if his services are worth $5,712,000 for the 2012-13 season. If they choose to retain the services of Michael Beasley, they will have to pay him $8,172,362 for next season.
So, that’s where the team stands with the NBA Draft quickly approaching.
While Webster was able to produce slightly more as he continued to work his way back towards being completely healthy, it is very difficult to imagine the Timberwolves paying him that sum of money unless they know he will be a part of a trade either on draft night or shortly thereafter. All indications from the team point toward the Timberwolves not offering the qualifying offer to Michael Beasley to keep him in a Minnesota uniform, despite his public comments stating that he prefers to stay. Quite simply, it would be a surprise to see either one of these two in Minnesota next season as members of the home team.
David Kahn stated recently that five or six players are likely to return next year, as the team is obviously going to look to improve their roster, but a complete overhaul outside of Rubio, Love and Nikola Pekovic would be unwise and, of course, impossible. Ridnour is likely to return because of his steady play when playing the role he should play on the Timberwolves, which is the backup point guard to Rubio as well as spot minutes at the two position. Although there was concern at certain points within the season that Barea didn’t mesh well with Love on or off the court, it is likely Barea will return to Minnesota as well, as the speculation of the rift was always overblown. Like Ridnour, when Barea is able to play the role he was brought to the Timberwolves to play, as he was able to early in the year before Rubio’s injury, Barea is a sparkplug off the bench.
Minnesota’s plan last year was to have Derrick Williams grow into the small forward role, although there is still a great debate as to whether he can play the position with regularity. Because Minnesota still has high hopes for last year’s number two pick, unless an already-established small forward is obtainable via free agency or a trade, you can expect to see Williams play a majority of his minutes there next season. Yet, only one lockout-shortened season into his career, the team’s best option to obtain a consistent outside threat may very well come in packaging Williams in a deal and therein lies the problem.
There are a plethora of players who are either free agents or who very well may be available via trade, but only a few truly make sense to add to Minnesota’s roster. Two names that have come up recently are those of Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics and Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks, but it is highly unlikely either player considers Minnesota despite the presence of Rubio and Love on the roster and well-respected head coach Rick Adelman on the sidelines. These two players are looking to compete for championships and while the future may be bright in Minnesota, the opportunity is not as close for the Timberwolves as it may be for other options Allen and Terry will have this offseason.
For years, many have believed O.J. Mayo of the Memphis Grizzlies would be a great fit in Minnesota and those same people hoped this offseason would be the team’s opportunity to make a play for him. However, with recent news that the Grizzlies are shopping Rudy Gay, Memphis seems more likely to keep Mayo. As for Gay himself, who may fit the needs Minnesota lacks on the perimeter, it is incredibly unlikely Minnesota has enough to offer a realistic trade to Memphis for his services and bringing in a player owed the amount of money he is would only hamper other moves going forward. Neither Grizzlies player seems to be much of an option for Minnesota.
Eric Gordon of the New Orleans Hornets and Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trailblazers would also be wonderful fits, respectively, with the Timberwolves. However, both player’s current teams are poised to bring them back into their fold and signing either would do the same to the Timberwolves’ cap space as would be the case with Gay. Again, neither is likely to be in Minnesota as a member of the Timberwolves.
So, what options are realistic for Minnesota at this point, barring some unforeseen, ridiculously complicated trade? The list narrows down to three players. Kevin Martin and Courtney Lee of the Houston Rockets or Rudy Fernandez of the Denver Nuggets.
Martin’s contract for the 2012-13 season nears $13 million dollars and may hamstring the Timberwolves as much as Gay or Gordon, but he is familiar with Adelman and Minnesota’s coach is very high on Martin’s game. While it may turn out to be the wrong move because of Martin’s defensive liabilities and his price tag, it would be for one year, as his contract expires after the upcoming year. If Adelman wants Martin on the roster, especially with the recent reports of an apparent mutiny in Houston between the players and their coach, the Timberwolves still have the option of bringing him to Minnesota.
Lee’s contract is much more reasonable, as he is owed a qualifying offer of $3,221,933 for the 2012-13 season. In his fourth season in the NBA, Lee averaged 11.4 points per game on 43 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from behind the three-point line. He is also a solid defender who knows Adelman’s system and expectations. Lee is a player accustomed to playing a role and doing so admirably, but with the upcoming year being his fifth in the league, he is poised to take the next step in his development and doing so alongside Rubio and Love would be a nice fit.
Fernandez has a qualifying offer that is much more reasonable, which is $3,187,807 for the 2012-13 season. His back surgery is a concern – the Timberwolves have bad experiences with similar issues with Martell Webster – the past two seasons, but Fernandez is a countryman of Rubio and they know each other well. Fernandez has the ability to play either the shooting guard or small forward position and could add flexibility to Minnesota’s attack, so the Wolves must decide if the pros outweigh the cons when deciding whether or not to make an offer.
The Timberwolves have a lot of options to upgrade their roster this offseason, but they must first make the difficult decisions regarding the players already on the roster. With the NBA draft coming soon, the “aggressive offseason” Rick Adelman wants starts soon.