Ever since the beginning of the free agency period last Saturday, one wing’s name has arisen time and time again by Wolves’ fans and writers alike: C.J. Miles.
Miles, the former Indiana Pacer who would be the square peg to the Wolves’ square holes, is a dynamic three-point shooter and valuable defender who can switch comfortably between twos, threes, and small-ball fours. Over the last five seasons, Miles has connected on 674 of his 1,781 three-point attempts, good for 37.8%. Although he isn’t a lockdown defender, his solid wingspan, lateral quickness, and size (listed at 6’6”, 225 lbs) make him a more than capable defender and would be a big upgrade over what Shabazz Muhammad provided last season.
Basically, Miles would be a terrific signing for the Wolves. The Associated Press’ Jon Krawczynski has even reported that the Wolves are Miles’ number one choice and that he is very interested in having a primary bench role with the team.
However, there’s a problem: As of writing, the Wolves cannot afford him. Due to the Jeff Teague and (in particular) Taj Gibson signings, all the Wolves have available to spend at this point is about $2.2 million in cap space and their $4.3 million room exception. That…isn’t very much. Miles will almost assuredly demand between $9-$12 million in the open market and the only way the Wolves could get near that amount is by dumping either Cole Aldrich or Gorgui Dieng. Tom Thibodeau has shown an affinity for Dieng over the course of the last year, so it’s highly, highly unlikely that he will be on the move anytime soon.
(Quick aside: Taj Gibson’s deal isn’t really the reason the Wolves can’t afford Miles. It’s that his contract was the second deal signed and ate up most of the Wolves remaining cap space, if that makes sense. Had Paul Millsap been the second signing, the Wolves would be in the same boat.)
That makes moving Cole Aldrich, who would free up about $7.6 million in cap space, the obvious solution to this problem. As luck would have it, the Wolves and Indiana Pacers have been in discussions about a sign and trade, which would send Aldrich and the lottery protected Oklahoma City pick the Wolves received from the Utah Jazz in the Ricky Rubio trade for Miles. However, all indications point to the Wolves being reluctant to part with the pick.
Essentially, it boils down to two main reasons: 1. First round draft picks, even in the 20-30 range, are extremely valuable and 2. Miles is a bench player.
Let’s talk about the value of a first-round pick first. Rookie contracts are extremely cheap (anywhere from a little over $1 million to a skosh under $6 million, depending on where the player is selected; my advice: just read this). No matter what pick a team has, the contract that is associated with said pick will be cheaper and, in many cases, provide a player who is both younger and has more upside than a veteran player.
Finding good players on cheap deals is much easier to do in the draft than free agency and the draft also provides the added benefit of giving the selecting team seven or more years of control of the selected player (four years on their rookie contract plus whatever their first extension is, whether provided by the team or matched in restricted free agency; they also obtain other advantages, such as Bird Rights). Essentially, a first-round draft pick puts a ton of control in the selecting team’s hands that isn’t obtainable through free agency.
There’s also a touch of a “mystery box or boat” situation when it comes to draft picks. Free Agent X is a good player (he’s the boat), but Draft Pick X could be anything, even a boat (or, hopefully, a better boat)! In the case of C.J. Miles, his boat analog is something like a mid-level fishing boat. It’s got a ton of value and is fairly versatile (with the proper equipment it can be used to, say, troll fish or even for water skiing), but it isn’t a great boat by any means. It/he is a good, serviceable boat. However, the OKC pick could be anything. The 2018 draft class projects to be relatively deep, so do the Wolves really want to run the risk of missing out on drafting a yacht, even if their pick ends up in the 20-30 range, for C.J. Miles?
If he were a surefire starter, I think giving up the pick for Miles would be a no brainer. If a team can grab a legitimate starter for a first-round pick, they often make that trade (see: Jazz, Rubio). However, Miles will come off the bench; the only time he will get minutes in the starting lineup is if/when Jimmy Butler or Andrew Wiggins gets the night off for a recovery day or gets hurt. Giving up a first-round pick for a bench player is a steep price to pay.
When it comes down to it, if I were Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden I would be willing to part with the OKC pick if it meant grabbing Miles, but I totally understand their hesitancy to do so. I think Miles fits perfectly for what the Wolves currently need and there is a real argument that the team doesn’t need to get any younger (though, admittedly, now that the Wolves have a G-League team and two-way contracts are a thing, that argument is much weaker). What the Wolves need are veterans who can shoot and defend multiple positions, which is exactly what Miles does and does pretty darn well.
However, it seems as if the Wolves and Pacers are in a deadlock; the Wolves don’t want to give up the pick and the Pacers won’t do the trade unless they get it. It’s possible that Miles decides to sign elsewhere, perhaps a location that wouldn’t necessitate a sign and trade. But with Miles preferring the Wolves, maybe this stalemate will continue until someone cracks; maybe the Pacers accept two second round picks or maybe the Wolves eventually do send out the OKC pick. All we can do is wait and see what happens.