Our Longest Summer series will look at the eight teams whose seasons are now officially over, and will have to wait until mid-October to make decisions on what’s next and how to proceed after falling short of the cut-off for a continued 2019-20 campaign.
The 2019-20 NBA season was quite a ride for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves deployed Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington and Jeff Teague at various points during the campaign, with all three fixtures exiled by the end of the run. From there, Minnesota made a big bet on D’Angelo Russell, an intriguing wager on Malik Beasley, and struggled mightily when it came to on-court success.
By the time the hiatus arrived, the Wolves were in a wildly interesting place organizationally, with a disappointing 19-45 record that even detractors didn’t foresee at the outset. As the extended offseason arrives, Minnesota is a team of great intrigue and there are numerous factors in play.
2020 Free Agents
Malik Beasley (RFA), Juancho Hernangomez (RFA), Evan Turner (UFA), James Johnson (player option)
2020 Projected salary cap space (assuming $115 million salary cap)
None, per Early Bird Rights
Areas of Strength
It helps to have a legitimate franchise player, and the Wolves have one in Karl-Anthony Towns. The uber-talented big man appeared in only 35 games this season but, when he played, Minnesota was notably better than when he was on the bench, including an offensive rating (113.9) that rivals the best teams in the NBA. Towns is one of the most talented offensive big men in NBA history and perhaps the greatest shooting pure center of all-time. That may seem hyperbolic but, well, it really isn’t when considering his accuracy and volume from beyond the arc. Towns is in a tier of his own when it comes to Minnesota’s valuable assets, but the Wolves also have another talented initiator in Russell, as well as a budding contributor in 2019 lottery pick Jarrett Culver.
Areas of Need
For all of the advantages provided by a rebuilding team having its centerpiece already in the mix, there is a lot to fix in Minnesota. Aside from Culver and potentially Beasley, there isn’t a lot entrenched at the 2 through 4 positions and, considering the difficulty of luring talent at those high-profile spots, challenges await. More specifically, the Wolves desperately need contributors that can be game-changing on the defensive end because, to put it bluntly, the combination of Towns and Russell makes life difficult on that end of the floor.
Because Minnesota is likely to operate over the salary cap this offseason, they have a different outlook than teams like Atlanta and Charlotte. The Wolves enter the lottery with the third-best odds and, when remembering that the team shipped its 2021 first-rounder to Golden State, it is wildly important that Minnesota turns their 2020 first-round selection into a strong asset for the future. Aside from that, the Wolves will have their full mid-level exception to utilize in an attempt to find a quality supporting piece, and Minnesota will need to decide what the breaking point is when considering a contract (or an offer sheet to match) for Beasley.
Overall Offseason Focus
Broadly speaking, the Wolves are charged with figuring out how to build a playoff-caliber roster around Towns, Russell, Culver and (perhaps) Beasley as core pieces. Acquiring defense-first players would be an obvious way to make things palatable but, on the other end, Minnesota could conceivably eschew defense almost entirely in an attempt to build the league’s best offense, other factors be damned. The team’s upcoming draft pick needs to be a “hit” but, other than that, the Wolves are in a strange place where they are locked in to a couple of pieces without proof that the formula works.