MINNEAPOLIS — Declining to match Memphis’ three-year offer sheet to Tyus Jones on Tuesday, July 10, was the latest in a series of Timberwolves moves that point to one primary motivation: get lean.
Signing Jones to a deal worth as much as $28 million would have pushed the Timberwolves near the luxury tax. Instead, Minnesota seems set on creating, and keeping, as much cap space as possible.
ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted late Tuesday night that one reason Minnesota didn’t match the offer sheet to the Apple Valley point guard was to pursue enough cap space to sign a max-salary player in 2020.
It’s been a while since the Wolves have had that kind of financial freedom. In Tom Thibodeau’s second offseason, the Wolves were stacked with cap space after dealing Ricky Rubio to Utah; it quickly dried up after he added Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson on significant contracts.
The Wolves still have one year remaining on Teague’s deal, worth roughly $19 million a season. They also still owe Gorgui Dieng about $32 million over the next two years and have massive contracts for Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns on the books.
Cap space is one of the most valuable currencies in today’s NBA. It allows teams to sign players, trade for quality or take on undesirable contracts in return for draft capital. The Brooklyn Nets, for example, used years of cap space and craft maneuvering to create one of the Eastern Conference’s best current rosters.
New Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas hopes to have similar flexibility as soon as next spring when Teague’s salary comes off the books and Dieng’s will likely be more tradeable.
For now, Minnesota continues to sign shrewd, low-risk deals. The Wolves nabbed Noah Vonleh for a season at just $2 million, and got Jake Layman via a sign-and-trade for $11.5 million over three years. They also agreed to a one-year, minimum-salary deal with Jordan Bell, traded for the non-guaranteed minimum contracts of Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham and claimed point guard Tyrone Wallace and his minimum, non-guaranteed contract off waivers.
Regarding Wallace, Rosas told reporters in Las Vegas this week, “Our approach is always the same: If there are players available that might be good system fits. … Teams sometimes have to cut guys because they make trades or have signings, we want to take advantage of that. It’s a free look … to see how he fits in our program.”
Minnesota will have a lot of players trying to prove something this season. “We’re taking bets on guys,” Rosas said, “just as they take bets on us.”
If those bets work out, it’s great for the Wolves. If they don’t, there’s little harm because of the cost and length of the deals.
Still, Rosas and Co. have made it known they prefer to go big-game hunting. Championship-caliber teams, they know, are built around stars.
“Big picture, we’re always going to be focused on the best available players, whether they’re in trades, in free agency or in the draft like we’re doing with Jarrett,” Rosas said last weekend. “Just know that whenever those players become available, and we feel like they’re fits for our system and our program and our vision, we’re aggressively looking to acquire those guys.”
It’s why the Wolves moved up in the draft to acquire Jarrett Culver, and it’s why they took a swing at all-star guard D’Angelo Russell in free agency. Russell chose Golden State. Had he selected Minnesota, it would’ve been interesting to see what type of salary cap gymnastics the Wolves would have pulled to make the money work.
Minnesota’s goal is to have the salary-cap space to do it next time it goes star chasing. Perhaps if the Wolves are frugal now, they can prosper later.
Texas Tech director of player development Matt Lefevre tweeted Wednesday that he’s leaving the program to take a job with the Timberwolves. Lefevre will serve as a Wolves’ video coordinator and player development coach, per a source.