MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: Buckle Up Wolves Fans, Thibs is Just Getting Started.

Alright…

Is it safe?  I am just emerging from the rock I have been cowering under for the last week or so…

Why have I been living like Patrick Star?

Well, if you remember, something pretty out-of-character for our Minnesota Sports teams happened on Thursday night.  A blockbuster deal brought an NBA Star to Minnesota.  That’s right.  The Timberwolves didnt trade one away.  They actually brought one back.

If you follow @RealMNSportsFan on Twitter you will know that I wasn’t a fan of any trade that included any of our 3 rising stars (KAT, Wiggins, LaVine).  I believed our best team would include those 3 guys and a couple big free agent signings with the $30M in cap space.

So the day after the trade happened, I jumped into a prominent NBA Writer’s (Zach Harper @TalkHoops from FanRag Sports) Twitter Replies to throw a little — seriously… just a little bit of cold water — on the Minnesota + Jimmy Butler love affair…

Harper mentioned, in his original tweet, how he was surprised the Bulls gave up their 16th pick in the draft, lending to the popular idea that the Bulls got “FLEECED” in the deal. Here it is:

I replied with this, on the idea of a lopsided trade:

I followed with this:

So Zach retweeted my reply with this:

And then… well let’s just say… my “little bit of cold water” wasn’t very popular:

You can see some of the other good ones here: 

There was definitely some shock value after the deal. LaVine was my favorite player. However, contrary to popular belief, I do like the move for the Wolves, because I believe in Thibs, and I don’t think he is done.  I am still trying to wrap my head around how he is going to do it though…

Whatever Thibs does, it needs to happen THIS SUMMER. The front office knows that, obviously, and that is why the Wolves are mentioned in just about every trade/free agency rumor out there.

If you are not the Wolves Front Office and you have a life outside of Minnesota Sports, unlike me, let me briefly explain why this summer is so important.

There is a clause in the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement called the “Larry Bird Rule”.  The rule allows teams to sign THEIR OWN players, for the max $ allowed by the CBA, even if it puts the team over the salary cap.  This will allow the Wolves to resign all their current blossoming players to future big contracts, as they come due.  Those players, including Butler, are more likely to sign with the Wolves, than leave in free agency, because they can sign for more guaranteed money (More % of the cap if they reach certain milestones, bigger increase YOY, and 1 extra year with guaranteed money – 5 yrs vs 4 yrs). The Larry Bird Rule is there to incentivize players to stay with teams that draft them.  The difference can be as much as $70M for a veteran contract but could be as much as $40-50M difference for someone like KAT, who would be coming off his rookie deal. HoopsHype does a pretty good job of explaining here.

For more details on the “Larry Bird Rule” check out #’s 25, 33, 55 in Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ

The Timberwolves’ current Big 3 will start to eat up cap space this year.  Wiggins is due for his max extension going into this season, since his Restricted Free Agency would be next summer. He will sign for about $25M/year if the Wolves offer the max, which is what’s expected.  KAT will be in the same situation next year. Depending on performance, he could still earn up to $30M/year.  Butler could even be extended next year for more than $35M, if the Wolves wanted to lock everyone down.  Again, even if at the max cap, all these players can resign because the Wolves own their “Bird Rights” (Larry Bird Rule Rights).

However, once over the cap, they will not be able to reach into future free agency pools to bring in legitimate free agents from outside the organization.  They will be limited, mostly, to minimum contract guys.

So that leaves THIS OFFSEASON as the offseason that has to set the Timberwolves’ table for the next 2 years (likely longer with everyone likely to resign if offered).

So here is what Thibs is up against this offseason:

Right now Thibs has about $20-23 Million to work with, for cap space according to Spotrac.com, if things fall as expected.  In today’s NBA, $20M isn’t very much.  Here are some projected offers, for some of the pending free agents, to shed some light:

Now, the Wolves need 2-3 players.  If they needed just one, they would be sitting better .

So what are they going to do? Well, they do have some options.  They could stay pat and fill the bench with some affordable guys.  Bleacher Report has some in the links above but here are some more.  There are definitely some intriguing names on that list at positions the Wolves are looking for.

With the flurry of reports that have been coming out, it looks like Thibs has more planned.  It looks like those plans start with trading Ricky Rubio.  I’m not sure it even has to do with Ricky, and whether Thibs likes his game anymore.  I think Thibs sees him as the easiest asset to move, that will bring in the most quality, for the least amount of money (good player on rookie contract).

Rubio’s contract is about $14.5 Million/Year.  If the Wolves can move him for a rookie contract they could save about $8-12M to put toward Free Agency.  That would bring them to about $30-35 Million.  Enough to do some damage.  The same option exists with Dieng, for the same amount of money.  But, he is younger and may be better suited for a bench role on a good team.  This isn’t the case for Rubio, who succeeds best when he plays a lot and can dictate the pace of the game from the PG position.

At this point, moving Rubio seems like the most likely scenario.  The Wolves will have to shed cap space if they are going to be courting some of the high-priced free agents they have been linked to.

If things work out to the best, for Thibs, this is how I see the Wolves lineup for the start of the season.

  1. Rubio New PG
  2. Wiggins
  3. Butler 
  4. Towns
  5. New PF/C
  6. New Shooting Wing
  7. Dieng
  8. Tyus
  9. Bjelica
  10. Aldrich
  11. Patton

Who he fills those empty spots with, will dictate where the Wolves stand in the West moving forward.  Playoffs are great but does anyone remember how frustrating it was to continually get kicked out in the first couple rounds? With the right moves they will have a team that will compete for Western Conference Championships in coming years.

This New Big 3 will be good enough to play with anyone in the near future.  But with a team like Golden State in your same conference, that isn’t going to be enough.  I am excited to see how Thibs will finish out this roster.  It will take a lot of creativity but “In Thibs We Trust!”

Eric Strack
Minnesota Sports Fan
@RealMNSportsFan

Sources: Zach Harper (@TalkHoops) – Twitter – Click his stuff.  He is good.

Spotrac, CBAFAQ.com – Larry Coon, Bleacher Report, Pheonix Suns Insider Sourcing Brian Windhorst (ESPN)

Photo: Bleacher Report