Four Spots, Many Thoughts: Ideas for the remaining vacancies on Minnesota’s roster

It’s August 11th, and the Minnesota Timberwolves have filled just 11 fully guaranteed deals on the books, leaving them as many as four open roster spots (for all intents and purposes). This is a welcome departure from the past few seasons, when the end of the bench has been clogged with lackluster guys on rookie scale deals (Adreian Payne, Anthony Bennett) or an albatross contract (Nikola Pekovic) that made roster construction particularly tricky. This summer, the Wolves have the opposite problem; they need more players, and have the roster space to acquire them, but the free agent well is drying up fast.

Here’s what the Wolves have got on the books as of right now:



A few things to note, based upon this rough outline of the roster and where everyone fits on it…

  1. The Wolves already have a pretty firm top-nine in place. Teague, Wiggins, Butler, Taj and KAT, plus Tyus, Jamal, Bjelica and Gorgui sprinkled in off the bench as matchups dictate… that’s a pretty decent rotation. At the very least, those are nine guys who definitely deserve minutes (well, maybe eight, depending how you feel about Tyus, but more on him later). While it’s good that the Wolves don’t have any gaping holes at the top of their depth chart, it does limit what Thibs can use to persuade remaining free agents to join up. It isn’t as if Tom Thibodeau can offer the vet minimum to someone, then promise copious amounts of playing time as a sweetener. Anyone who signs from here on out will be a fringe rotation player, at best, and at worst, will get the Jordan Hill treatment (75 DNPs in 82 games).
  2. Does Tyus Jones deserve the backup point guard spot? Perhaps. Would it be a good idea to bring in a veteran guard to at the very least push him? Almost certainly. A point guard has got to be on Thibs’ shopping list.

  3. Jamal Crawford is a 2 who could play as the primary ballhandler for short stretches, but should probably not play the 3 at all. Nemanja Bjelica is a ballhandling 4 who could, theoretically, play the 3 for short stretches. That leaves Jimmy and Wiggy as the only bona fide small forwards with guaranteed deals for next season; getting at least one more is a pretty obvious need, especially because either Crawford or Bjelica being thrust into extended small forward minutes would be a recipe for defensive disaster.

  4. Justin Patton’s injury may sideline him for the entire 2017-18 campaign, for all we know. He figured to be a project anyway, likely to spend more time in Des Moines than Minneapolis, so it isn’t as if his absence alters the Wolves’ plans in a meaningful way. But it does make you wonder if the team needs one more big – a deep reserve who likely won’t see much NBA action, given the presence of five capable veteran frontcourt players (KAT, Taj, Dieng, Bjelica, Aldrich).

In short, the Wolves’ shopping list for the rest of the offseason should include one point guard, two wings, and one big man.

But who should they go after? And who are some realistic options?

Without further ado, here are four realistic targets for the Minnesota Timberwolves as the summer winds to a close – and the desire for some veteran players to sign minimum deals starts to creep in.

Target 1: Mike Dunleavy

I wouldn’t be a good friend to Patrick Fenelon if I didn’t go on the record saying the Minnesota Timberwolves should sign Mike Dunleavy. So here goes: Tom Thibodeau, Scott Layden, Glen Taylor, please call Mike Dunleavy’s agent and make this happen. There have been numerous reports linking the two sides to one another already, so let’s hope, for Patrick’s sake, that there’s fire underneath the smoke.

This wouldn’t just be an olive branch to Dunleavy’s biggest Twin Cities-based fan, either; it makes basketball sense as well. Dunleavy spent two seasons (2013-14 through 2014-15) with Thibodeau in Chicago, so he has some familiarity with the Wolves’ coach and (presumably) their system. He is a bona fide three-point shooter, and the Wolves need all of that they can get. Dunleavy knocked down 39.6% of his 2.5 attempts per game last season, and since 2010, he’s a 40% three-point shooter overall.

The problem, of course, is his age and declining athleticism. Last season with Cleveland and Atlanta, he looked more or less cooked. Ideally, the Wolves wouldn’t rely on him for extended minutes, mitigating his negative impact on the defensive side of the ball and maximizing him as a quick-hit reserve who enters the game to move the ball and spot up for threes.

While I’m reasonably confident Thibodeau would enjoy having Dunleavy in the fold at the vet minimum, he is, first and foremost, a defensive-minded coach. Which is why he ought to also hunt for a player who at least profiles as a plus defender. Someone like…


Target 2: K.J. McDaniels

I understand that McDaniels’ noise probably drowns out his signal, and that the idea of him is almost certainly better than his objective body of work, but heaven help me, I’m intrigued.

McDaniels first garnered attention as one of the very few bright spots on the 2014-15 Sixer team that wound up going 18-64. After being selected 32nd overall in the 2014 draft, K.J. played in 52 games for Philly, including 15 starts, averaging 9.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 blocks per game. He profiled as a potential 3 and D guy, though his jumper was not there yet (29.3% from beyond the arc). But then, at the deadline that year, the Sixers bailed on him, shipping him off to the Rockets for Isaiah Canaan and a future 2nd round pick.

But then a funny thing happened: McDaniels became glued to the bench, and never really became unstuck. Kevin McHale didn’t play him much, J.B. Bickerstaff didn’t play him much, and this season under Mike D’Antoni, he tallied more DNP’s than appearances before being shuttled off at the deadline, again, this time to the woeful Brooklyn Nets.

McDaniels played fine for 20 post-trade contests in Brooklyn, but his $3.5 million team option was declined earlier this summer, making him an unrestricted free agent. It’s a bit of a red flag that a team as talent-starved as the Nets had him in-house, then decided to let him walk. Clearly, the expectations from early on have now faded. However…

He’s 6’6 with a 6’11 wingspan, is still an athletic wing (which the Wolves desperately need), and there’s a chance he’s eager to prove himself after being passed along by three different teams in three seasons. If you squint at the Wolves’ depth chart, there are some wing minutes available. Will they be enough to entice someone such as McDaniels? Who knows. But it’d be an intriguing fit.

Target 3: C.J. Watson

Hey, another former Bull! The remaining point guard market is surprisingly thin, with Watson, Norris Cole, Aaron Brooks, and Deron Williams being the best options without contracts for next season. C.J. is a ten year veteran who’s spent time with the Warriors, Bulls, Nets, Pacers and (most recently) the Magic. His two seasons in Orlando were marred by injuries and ineffectiveness – he averaged just 4.5 points and 2.1 assists on 37% shooting from the floor and 30% three-point shooting in 95 games.

Like Dunleavy, Watson spent two seasons with Tom Thibodeau, in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Prior to his down stint with the Magic, Watson was known as a solid defender who could shoot the three (38% from beyond the arc over his first 8 seasons). He would be a serviceable backup who could also give way to Tyus Jones, should the Wolves’ third-year guard grab a hold of the second point guard spot and refuse to let go.

Target 4: Diamond Stone

Ok, this is probably the most far-fetched suggestion I’ve made, but humor me for a moment. The 20-year-old Stone was a five star recruit out of Milwaukee before attending the University of Maryland for one season. He declared for the draft, slipped to the second round, and landed with perhaps the worst organization for developing young talent in the NBA (the L.A. Clippers). He played a grand total of 24 minutes for Doc Rivers, who shipped him to Atlanta as part of the Danilo Gallinari megadeal. On July 31st, the Hawks waived him, making Stone a free agent.

I considered pushing for either Tyler Zeller or Jeff Withey in this spot, but the Wolves already have an enormous white man who can’t seem to crack the rotation (Cole Aldrich). And since Justin Patton is quite possibly done for the season, it isn’t as if Diamond Stone would be stealing minutes from him with the Wolves’ G-League affiliate in Des Moines; why not take a flier on someone who was once the hottest basketball recruit in the country?

Of course, I’m probably wrong about all four of these – Thibs/Layden could very well continue down their current path of signing guys to partially guaranteed deals, then seeing who wins camp battles before adding them to the roster for the 2017-18 campaign. There’s some value in that flexibility. But at the same time, it’s odd having so many empty spaces on a depth chart. As the season draws closer, expect at least one or two veterans to take the minimum to come to the Timberwolves.

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  1. Let’s face it. Thibs has boxed himself in by playing so few players each year. Who wants to sit on the bench for the minimum if they believe they have talent? You would much rather sign a contract with a team that goes deep on the bench and gives you a chance to show some talent for next year’s contracts.
    You are looking at the spots that Thibs used for Payne, Hill and for long stretches Rush until injury forced him to put Cole in that spot. Think how Thibs helped them get new contracts this year. You are going to get old has beens and never was players unless you do like Pop does and bring in overlooked players and find a Simmons or Dedmon. Maybe someone like former Dukey Quinn Cook or Ray McCallum. Someone who is hungry to do whatever Thibs says and has decent 3 pt range. Guys like Dunleavy just don’t have anything left in the tank and although they are probably pros and wouldn’t cause a rift, you need players that Thibs can mold and hopefully get for nothing to become something better.

    • No one is signing minimum deals right now. Also, things like “Thibs doesn’t play enough players” is statistically quantifiable and easy to look up. It’s false; he had a 9-10 player rotation every single season with the Bulls, where even players #9 and 10 were playing at least 12 minutes per game. Last season, he played 9-10 guys each night (Rubio, LaVine/Rush, Wiggins, Towns, Dieng, Dunn, Muhammad, Bjelica/Casspi, Jones/Aldrich). How many guys is he supposed to play? The argument that he plays his starters more minutes than other teams do is provably true, but let’s not overreach that argument into the false notion that he’s not playing enough bench players. They have an improved bench just from the standpoint of adding Dieng to it, and they might get Muhammad back for less than he made last season, which is almost unheard for a guy coming off a rookie contract.