The C.J. Miles-OKC Pick Conundrum

credit: Brad Mills – USA TODAY Sports

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.

Why?

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.

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9 Responsesso far.

  1. Joe LeBlanc says:

    If we trade Cole to another team, what will that team require as incentive to take Cole’s contract?

  2. pyrrol says:

    This is the basic problem with our acquisitions since Butler, what we paid for him, and trading Rubio: Not enough money to fill out our roster with an upgraded bench. It’s been such a crazy free agency that it’s hard to gage what a better tack would have been… One could argue that Rubio was dumped with Teague in mind since we jumped on him so fast, and one could also argue that Rubio was traded because he didn’t fit Thibs’ idea of a point guard as far as scoring and spacing. But Teague is older, more expensive, less good at passing and D and arguably only a modest upgrade in shooting and scoring compared to other PGs on the market. Then we filled what I consider an important need still pretty early, that of starting true PF. The problem is, based on some other contracts and what I think we are getting, Gibson seems like an over pay. I guess you go out and get what you want if it is good for the team as long as the price is within reason, and both Gibson and Teague were within reason prices for those kind of players. And yet here we sit, very low on remaining money and in need of bench pieces…

    As far as CJ goes, I don’t think we have enough money. Of course, Indiana will demand the pick for him. No one wants Aldrich for 7 million or whatever. Cole was disappointing last year, and Thibs also played him very little (part of his trouble?). This greatly lowered his value and as of now it looks like we are over playing for him. Teams will expect us to sweeten the deal if they take him on, and that’s a big if.

    Draft picks are strange. They represent potential even down low in the 1st round. But honestly, what are the odds that the 25th pick next year will ever be as good as CJ Miles, let alone quickly enough to help us with this iteration of the team (win now)? Also, solid bench players are very high value in general, but in the position we are in (settled on starters but gutted bench) a bench guy is what we need and likely worth the pick. Of course, you say that and the pick some other team gets ends up being the next K Leonard or something…

  3. Tom says:

    I think most wolves fans look at the draft and say ” We don’t do well when it is a lottery pick, why are we so worried about a pick that could be in the twenties”. Rasho, Ellington, Dude Ebi anyone? If you pass on CJ, you are dumpster diving for not just a couple end of bench players, but guys that you need to fill a role. CJ isn’t old, like Vince Carter, and Dunleavey isn’t one dimensional,like Afflalo or Morrow, and would be the type of player you would expect from a pick in the twenties. You could get the next Jimmy Butler, but even in a great draft that isn’t something you could bet on. I’m hoping that Thibs is open to trading the pick and maybe finessing a second round pick back as well. With the trade that the Celtics/Pistons just pulled off, it looks like we could get a future second rounder and Miles for a #1 and Cole.
    The Wolves will still need to do some diving to round out their roster. A bench of G, Tyus, Miles and Belly and maybe Patten is a nice bench. Keeping Rush and getting one of the above players seems like a logical way to add shooters until KAT and Wiggins are signed.

  4. finchy74 says:

    “Of course, you say that and the pick some other team gets ends up being the next K Leonard or something…” That would certainly be consistent with the Wolves’ history.

    That extra money they would have saved by keeping Rubio is looking awfully big right now. I have a macabre (and somewhat mean-spirited) fascination in watching Thibs try to somehow fill out this bench despite the cap hole that he’s dug for himself.

    Amazing how good Aldrich’s contract looked at this time last year. You bring up a good point in his lack of playing time hurting his trade value. This is an apparent disconnect between Thibs the coach and Thibs the personnel manager.

    Odd that Aldrich was good enough to average 13.3 minutes a night for a playoff team, but not good enough to warrant more than 8 a night on the Wolves.

  5. John says:

    If they somehow spend the last 1+million to get to the cap doesn’t the mid-level exception become worth about $8 million? That would help a lot

  6. gjk says:

    This bench conversation gets a bit tricky. First, they’re essentially replacing many of Bjelly’s minutes at PF with ones for Gibson, assuming Dieng doesn’t have his minutes drastically cut. That basically makes a healthy (fingers crossed) Bjelly a potential replacement for Muhammad. In limited minutes last season, he looked like a viable backup 3. In that situation, they would have upgraded the starting PF and SG situations with no negative effects to the bench from last season.

    They obviously still need to improve that bench, though that isn’t as important as improving their defense. It’s tough for me to get a sense of how much a “name” player actually matters compared to guys they’ll have available for the room exception and the vet minimum. Thibs has historically been able to get a lot of productivity out of vet minimum guys. I don’t imagine that their inability to add Miles would significantly affect their chances of making the playoffs next season, and it’s not like anyone they sign this summer is more likely to be a big part of a title run than someone they could sign for the mid-level exception next summer. They should be able to get an Ian Clark or Gerald Green for the room exception and 2-3 more vets for the minimum; if they don’t, then their current moves look worse. I’d still rather have the pick; assets matter to teams that aren’t title contenders, developing young players will always matter, and I don’t think they’re so much going for it now as much as realizing they were never going to have big $ to spend again, as well as maximizing the value they could get for LaVine and Dunn while creating a more formidable top 3 than the one with LaVine instead of Butler was.

    One other thing to keep in mind with Aldrich: because most of his contract isn’t guaranteed for 2018-19, his value as an asset goes from negative to positive next summer, whether it’s to take on another team’s guaranteed $ for another asset or to actually add a bench piece despite being over the cap.

  7. Dave says:

    If we hadn’t dumped Rubio for Teague, which is a lateral move at best (although arguably Teague fits our team better) that extra $3+ million would be the difference allowing us to sign Miles.

  8. jmndodge says:

    Without injury – we are strong at the Post – even with Patton hurt – Bjelica coming off injury and an Aldrich trade. Presently – (before we fill out the roster) Butler/Wiggins/Teague/Jones will all have to play 36 minutes – Jones and Teague both likely playing some wing in addition to the point. Bjelica at SF would take some of that pressure off – but that still leaves us in deep trouble if any injury (even Post depth becomes thin if Bjelica plays more SF) and Foul trouble with 8 or 9 healthy players really makes rotations difficult. Clearly we need a veteran wing – (combo guard would be ideal) and should go for as good as possible because that player should see 20 minutes a game playing time. He needs to be able to defend – avoid turnovers, and provide some scoring. Most of the Aldrich dollars need to go to that player – then wait for someone without a contract to work cheap and fill out the bench. Don’t need the full 15 – but with Patton out, 11 healthy players is almost a must.

  9. pyrrol says:

    It’s funny how up in the air this roster is. It isn’t just that we are so thin at wing, and still trying to throw together a bench… But it’s not even certain why we got Gibson. The reason seems obvious–we needed a PF and drafted a maybe PF (C in college) that likely will only be in Iowa this year. But what is Thibs’ intention? Does he plan to use Gibson as a backup big, coming in for Gorgui? Does he plan to start Gibson and move Gorgui to bench center? Is Gibson injury insurance for Bjelica, with the PF depth chart being, Gorgui, Bjelica Gibson when everyone is healthy? Will Thibs play small ball lineups with Gibson and Bjelica together as the bigs? I honestly have no idea. My preference would be to have Gibson start at PF and have Gorgui move to backup C, playing PF situationally as needed. Frankly, Towns and Gorgui aren’t a very good pair. They don’t compliment each other well, and I really don’t think Gorgui is a PF, particularly on D. Also, Thibs put a chunk of money towards Gibson, and he loves ‘his guys’ so perhaps this suggests he’s going to use Gibson a lot or as a starter. I don’t love the addition, but it makes more sense than playing Towns and Gorgui together big minutes. And once Bjelica comes back, will he be used as a PF or SF? I always though of him as a PF, but lots about his game is close to SF. Can he keep step with other bench SFs? Most of these scenarios involve getting rid of Cole, I think. But maybe we can’t find a good way to. Not sure. We’ve got some warm bodies to add to field an at all balanced NBA team, and have been sitting on our hands for most of a week now. At some point we’re going to have to pick up some fill…

    I said this before recently, but going from this ‘step up’ iteration of the Wolves this year to a title contender in 2-3 seems danged near impossible. That’s a magic leap I don’t see a real plan for. In theory, the step up is going to be mega exciting for this starved franchise. Then what?

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