There is no offseason in the NBA or in the imaginations of its fans. There is only the constant churn of rumors and rumblings — daydreams about how things might get better with THE RIGHT BIG MOVES.
For the Timberwolves, those home runs involve the usual suspects: Find a steal in the lottery with the No. 11 pick and have him turn into a star … or implement the right system and support to transform Karl-Anthony Towns from an All-Star to an MVP candidate … or unlock the potential of Andrew Wiggins and have him become a game-changing force … or convince some other team that such potential exists in Wiggins and pull off a blockbuster, roster-resetting trade … or use some crafty maneuvers to create some cap space and sign a game-altering free agent or two.
If you came here for a discussion of some of those dreams, however, I’m sorry. Instead, I’d like to make a pitch for incremental progress for the Wolves in 2019-20 based on modest tweaks or optimism related to five players under contract not named Towns or Wiggins.
1) Good Jeff Teague: When Teague arrived as a free agent before the 2017-18 season, he was coming off a year in Atlanta where he posted a 19.2 Player Efficiency Rating and a .574 true shooting percentage — numbers that would put him in the upper half, if not better, of point guards most seasons. He also had only missed 17 total games in the previous six years.
In his two seasons in Minnesota, Teague has posted efficiency ratings lower than in any of his previous five years. And he’s missed a combined 52 games — including 40 last season. While he certainly has had his moments, the Wolves have not seen on a consistent enough basis the version of Teague that motivated former coach/basketball boss Tom Thibodeau to give him a three-year, $57 million contract. But if he can deliver more value via better health and more production in an overhauled system in the final year of that deal, the Wolves stand to benefit.
2) Healthy Robert Covington: The Wolves were No. 11 in defensive rating in the NBA from mid-November, when they acquired Covington, to late December, when he played for the last time before a bone bruise shut him down for the year. He missed an average of 11 games a season in the four years before he arrived here. Even 70 games of a healthy Covington next season would make a huge difference for the Wolves.
3) A comfortable and efficient Dario Saric: The news conference in which Saric, Covington and Jerryd Bayless were introduced as members of the Wolves was an odd, somber affair. Saric, in particular, looked like he had just learned all the Game of Thrones spoilers.
Can you blame him? He left a comfortable, tight-knit playoff team in Philadelphia where he had a starting role to come off the bench for the dysfunctional Wolves of last year. He later re-entered the starting lineup under Ryan Saunders, but even as he played well in spurts last year Saric seemed affected by all the chaos and change.
But his style of play seems like it would be perfect for whatever Saunders and Gersson Rosas have in mind. He’s an efficient power forward with a high basketball IQ. There’s a lot of value there.
4) Josh Okogie has the D, now he needs the 3: For all the applause given to Okogie for his hustle and defensive acumen as a rookie, we also need to say that on offense he was often a train wreck. He shot just 38.6 percent from the field, including 27.9 percent from three-point range. He needs to take a couple steps forward in that regard next season.
5 Let Gorgui be Gorgui: Gorgui Dieng averaged a career-best 16.9 points per 36 minutes last season. But he was often glued to the bench until late in the year because of the roster redundancy created two years ago when Thibodeau signed Taj Gibson for two years even though Dieng was already inked to a four-year deal.
Dieng still has two years left on his deal. He’s expensive ($33.5 million combined in those two seasons), but he’s a capable defender with length, a strangely good mid-range shooter and a deceptive three-point threat after making 42.9 percent of his shots from the corners last season.