A popular social media conceit these days goes something like this:
Your (band name, horse name, etc) is your (favorite food, middle name, etc) and the (street you grew up on, least favorite president, etc).
And the one making the rounds very recently goes something like this: Your 2020 campaign slogan is the last text you sent.
(Mine is … “Rand 2020: I’m probably out, unfortunately.” That would be a terrible slogan but accurate when I withdrew from the race).
Nobody associated with the Timberwolves is running for president (that we know of), but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Wolves are gearing up for the summer and fall of 2020 while treating the 2019-20 season as a primary of sorts to see where they stand.
Like any shrewd politician, the Wolves — an specifically new President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas — swiftly pivoted from one strategy (all-in on D’Angelo Russell) to this approach: Load up on low-cost short-term “bets” and maximize flexibility for next offseason.
The seeds of that flexibility were sown on draft night, when Rosas traded Dario Saric and the No. 11 pick to move up to No. 6 (getting Jarrett Culver at that spot). Saric would have been a low-cost ($3.4 million) player this season who made the Wolves better, but by next offseason in free agency his salary will probably triple (at least).
The strategy continued after the Wolves missed out on Russell, when they strung together a bunch of low-cost pickups mostly on one-year contracts. And it perhaps reached its peak Tuesday with the decision not to match a three-year, $28 million offer sheet on Apple Valley’s own Tyus Jones, who will instead head to Memphis.
Jones’ value is debatable, but he’s an established NBA player who would have played significant minutes had he stayed here. Instead, the bulk of the backup point guard minutes behind Jeff Teague (more on him in a minute) figure to go to either Shabazz Napier or Tyrone Wallace, a pair of those aforementioned low-cost offseason pickups.
Maybe the Wolves win 3-4 more games with Saric and Jones on the roster this season, but that’s probably the difference between finishing 10th or 11th in the West. If you’re trying to hit home runs, and you already have plenty of bloating on your salary cap, you can’t clog it up even more with players like Jones and Saric.
Instead, here’s the reality: Teague makes $19 million this season, but after that he’s off the books. The Wolves still have $102 million in salary cap money committed to the 2020-21 roster, but the cap next season will go up to $116 million and the luxury tax threshold will be $141 million. If the Wolves waived and stretched Gorgui Dieng next summer, they would chop another $11 million off their cap. Then you’re talking about a team that could add at least one high-level player and maybe two — with plenty of room to make another run at Russell if he really is dealt by Golden State as has been suggested.
In the mean time, Wolves fans have asked me, what’s there to be excited about next season? It’s a fair question, and maybe excited is the wrong word. Intrigued might be a better one. The Wolves will have a year to experiment and craft their new style, which figures to be heavy on analytics, low on long twos and versatile with positions.
They’ll get a chance to see if underachieving max guy Andrew Wiggins fares any better in a revamped system. They’ll see what they have in Culver, and as long as Robert Covington is healthy they’ll see how much better they can be on defense.
It could be a fool’s errand that ends up as another dead-end rebuild, but the approach right now is a good one. If I had to attach a slogan to it, I’d try this:
Timberwolves 2020: You can see the future from here.