NBA Free Agency: How the Minnesota Timberwolves can improve in three steps

Nicolas Batum
Signing Batum would be a nice start to free agency for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

NBA free agency is upon us and a lot of good players on the market this summer. Grant it, it’s not the free agency of 2010 when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and co. was free agents, but nonetheless it’s still a good crop. Today I am going to be focusing my efforts and opinions on my hometown team, the Minnesota Timberwolves and what steps they can take from being a pretender to becoming a contender. Ever since Kevin Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2007, the Timberwolves have been dreadful. Bad draft picks, failure to lure in free agents and poor coaching choices have followed the Timberwolves for the past five seasons. However, with the additions of Ricky Rubio, hopeful star Derrick Williams and long-time coach Rick Adelman, the Wolves improved this past season. Matter of fact, they were on the verge of possibly making the playoffs before a season-killing injury to Rubio (torn ACL) happened. They still managed to win 26 games in a topsy-turvy shortened season.

But if the Wolves are serious about winning, this off-season will be more critical than ones in years past. Kevin Love emerged as one of the league’s premier players, averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds per game and Rubio is a maestro point guard, possessing passing skills the league hasn’t seen since Magic Johnson, or possibly ever seen before. It’s clear that Love and Rubio are two pillars, set in place, as the Wolves prepare to do more work on their Sistine Chapel.

Center Nikola Pekovic had a very nice year after sitting out the first few weeks with an injury. He was a double-double machine, who flexed his muscle inside (just ask DeMarcus Cousins) and never backed-down from a challenge. They drafted Derrick Williams with the no. 2 overall pick in 2011 and despite a disappointing season and the trade rumors swirling around him, I think the Wolves would be wrong for trading him after only season, unless they can acquire the following players.

Step 1 – It has been reported that the Wolves are prepared to offer Portland Trail Blazers swingman Nicolas Batum a contract worth $45-50 million over four years. I like this move a lot because it makes sense for once. Batum fits many different criteria: young, athletic, long, good-great shooter, and solid defender. He has done nothing but improve in his first four seasons and can play the shooting guard and/or small forward position. I don’t necessarily agree with paying him around $10-11 million dollars a year, but he is a restricted free agent and you have to force Portland’s hand to see if they will match the offer. Here’s how you should view it as a Wolves fan: If Portland does decide to match the offer and he doesn’t live-up to the contract, then you can view it as Portland over-paid for him. If Portland does decide to match the offer and he does live-up to the contract, the Wolves didn’t miss out on anything because they made a serious effort to try to sign him.

(Let’s say they sign Batum)

Step 2: The Wolves are also interested in signing Brandon Roy, who “retired” before last season due to degenerate knees. Roy was a two-time All-Star who was originally drafted by the Wolves in 2006, but then was traded for Randy Foye on draft night. Roy is a play-making shooting/point guard who can get to the basket and make plays for his teammates. I think the Wolves could use him as a solid player off the bench. When Rubio heads to the bench, Roy can come in and provide offense for the Wolves. He is a decent defender but has nice size. I don’t know how his lateral quickness is because of all the surgeries he has gone through on his knees, but the Wolves will put him through a physical, provided they are lucky enough to get him. I don’t know what kind of money we are talking here but if I was David Kahn, I would spend no more than $4 million a year on Roy. I think if you sign him to a two-year deal between $4-5 million total, then that’s a good contract. Also, if he is 75-80% of what he originally was, I think you better put some incentives in to his contract, eventually upping the total to around $6-7 million. I think Roy would be a nice fit.

(Let’s say they sign Roy)

Step 3: Do you want two good role players or one star? Role players are critical on any team. Do you think the Miami Heat wins the NBA title if Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, and Mike Miller don’t step-up? My answer is no. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what Minnesota’s roster could look like: Love, Rubio, Batum, Pekovic, Roy, Williams, Wesley Johnson, J.J. Barea, Luke Ridnour, Chase Budinger, Wayne Ellington, and Malcolm Lee. On paper, that’s not a bad roster at all. But without Batum and Roy, this team won only 26 games last season and in a regular season that equates to 32 wins. From the reports I have read, the Wolves have been linked to players such as Jordan Hill, Greg Stiemsma and Jamal Crawford. Also, the Wolves are “serious” about acquiring Pau Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers. In order to acquire Gasol, the Wolves would more than likely have to trade away (Derrick) Williams and probably another young player, possibly Pekovic or Johnson. In return, they would be getting a good all-around player in Gasol. But there are more negatives than positives with Gasol. His contract is outrageous ($39 mil over two years), age (turns 32 in four days) and questioned toughness. The biggest question of all: Is he really worth it? I don’t know if he is worth the risk. Williams has the potential to be a really good player, but he doesn’t have the experience that Gasol possesses. In return, Gasol doesn’t have the toughness that Pekovic brings to the table. I think Gasol would be the right fit but only for the right price and what Los Angeles is asking for in return, isn’t the right price for the Wolves. I think Minnesota would be better off signing two or three solid basketball players instead of trading for Gasol.

I think the Timberwolves are a few good moves away from making the playoffs. What do you think?

I will be keeping up NBA free agency daily, so be on the lookout for more content!

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