With only three games remaining in their 2016-17 season, the Timberwolves are once again missing the playoffs, a 13-season streak that has been as frustrating for owner Glen Taylor as it has been for fans of the team.
Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, was asked if he has any idea what coach Tom Thibodeau thinks the team needs to improve and break that streak next season.
“I think he would say the same thing that I observe and stuff like that, he needs some players that will come off the bench and keep us going and not give up the lead,” he said. “I think he would say if he can get some guys with experience that would be helpful, so he can mix them in with our young guys during those substitution times. I think that will be a priority.
“We could also always use another big guy. If we back up a year and we were hoping that Pek [Nikola Pekovic] would be part of that and be a big, strong guy that would come in and take minutes off, so Karl [-Anthony Towns] didn’t get beat up so much and play so many minutes. But that didn’t happen, and with [Nemanja Bjelica] Belly getting hurt that even made it a little worse lately.”
Taylor said that Pekovic, who at one point was one of the more unique and bruising big men in the league, might have played his last game due to long-term injuries.
“I don’t think so,” he said when asked if Pekovic would play again. “I mean, that’s for him and his doctors but just listening to what the doctors have told me and what he has said, I’m not expecting it in our plans going ahead. We won’t rely on him.”
Salary cap questions
The Wolves will have Pekovic’s contract numbers off the books for next season, and because he did not play this season, his contract is covered by insurance, so that means their current salary cap should be in the $66 million range, which will leave them roughly $35 million to spend on their own players and free agents, if the recent reports of the NBA salary cap increasing to $101 million for 2017-18 are correct.
“We’re all right going into next year,” Taylor said. “We won’t have any problems there in any manner. All of the young guys will be on their old contracts, Gorgui [Dieng] is signed and Ricky [Rubio] is signed, and we have a couple of guys on the bench — [Kris] Dunn is signed, [Tyus] Jones is signed, [Cole] Aldrich is signed, so we won’t have any problem there.”
The Wolves’ only big question in returning players is whether Shabazz Muhammad comes back. The 2013 first-round pick will be a restricted free agent, so the Wolves can match any offer he gets. But there’s a good chance the 24-year-old Muhammad, who is averaging 9.7 points and 19.5 minutes per game, gets offered a decent-sized contract from a team that could use his scoring off the bench.
Outside of Muhammad, the only other Wolves free agents are Brandon Rush, Adreian Payne and Omri Casspi, who was added to the roster late last month.
So the Wolves’ primary focus will be on free-agent acquisitions and making decisions on whether to extend third-year players Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.
Those two are under contract through the 2018-19 season, but in those seasons they would be restricted free agents, and it might be smarter to try and get extensions done now.
“We might have to address Wiggins and Zach during this summer to extend their contracts but we could wait two years and Towns would be one year after that,” Taylor said. “It’s something we can start negotiating with them this year but we don’t have to.”
Business beckons in China
One of the most interesting aspects of Taylor’s ownership recently has been the Wolves’ connection with China. The biggest decision, of course, was when Taylor brought on Lizhang (John) Jiang as the first Chinese minority owner in NBA history.
Later this year, the Wolves go to China to play two preseason games with the Golden State Warriors, one in Shenzhen and one in Shanghai.
“We’re going to go over to China in October during the preseason, which will be good for us because our building [Target Center] won’t be ready then anyhow, we’ll still be completing it,” Taylor said. “While we’re in China, we’re going to play Golden State twice and it will be a great thing. Our guys are going to try to make the most out of that particular trip and meet some companies over there and see if we can be sponsors for our team because of our Chinese ownership.”
This season, the Wolves had seven games streamed on CCTV, China’s predominant national television network, and Taylor knows that the Chinese economy is a gigantic opportunity for the Wolves franchise and its players.
“It’s a very big market. I’ve sat on the board of NBA China since we started it quite a few years ago, and it has just grown tremendously and we have a following and sometimes it’s like 300 million people are watching a game and stuff like that,” he said. “The opportunity to get money out of TV revenue and sponsorships is increasing every year.”
• The Gophers rank No. 14 overall and No. 8 in the Class of 2018 football recruiting rankings, according to 247sports.com. The Gophers, who have eight commitments, trail Penn State, Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
• Chris Wright, the president of the Timberwolves, reports that interest in the team is high. The past five home games have averaged about 14,000 in attendance, and Wright said the team has sold more than 700 new season tickets while also having a strong rate of renewals for current season-ticket holders.
• Twins President Dave St. Peter said that the team is looking to utilize Target Field in new ways this season, and one of those is the first football game to be played there. “I’m excited about football,” he said. “We’re going to play our first football game here on September 23, St. Thomas will host St. John’s and I expect we’ll set the all-time Division III football attendance record, and frankly I’ll be surprised if we don’t sell north of 25,000 seats for that football game. Really one of the great rivalries, one of the great sports events in the state of Minnesota every single year.” St. Peter added the team already has a commitment from North Dakota State to play a home game there in 2019.
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said he plans to keep a high number of walk-ons. “One thing I think we did a nice job of at times at Western Michigan was the walk-ons. I think that’s really important for us,” he said. “We have done a tremendous job, our coaching staff has done a tremendous job of getting great walk-ons from the state of Minnesota and outside the state of Minnesota to come play for us.”
•Speaking of walk-ons, Eden Prairie football coach Mike Grant said that four of his former players will walk on with the Gophers: defensive tackle Quinn Coughlin, linebacker Dan Anderson, defensive back Tommy Fuller and tight end Clayton Witherspoon. Grant also said Kyle Connelly, a receiver, will walk on with Iowa.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org