Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns exits his rookie deal and will begin his maximum contract next season. Andrew Wiggins is already on his maximum contract, and when you add in the salaries already guaranteed to six other players under contract next year, including a $19 million player option Jeff Teague will exercise, the Wolves already have committed around $109 million.
The projected salary cap next season is ... $109 million.
It doesn’t leave the Wolves with much room to maneuver before they begin approaching the $132 million luxury tax projection, and that’s before Towns may tack on over $5 million more to his salary if he is named to the All-NBA team.
The new president of basketball operations will have to figure out how the Wolves are going to navigate their finances while filling out the roster and remaining competitive.
A primary way a team in any sport can battle back against the cap is by getting production from young players still on rookie deals. The Wolves sent injury-riddled 2017 first-rounder Justin Patton away to the 76ers along with Jimmy Butler. That was after dealing 2016 first-round pick Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, the No. 7 pick in the 2017 draft, in the trade to get Butler and Patton — a sequence that drained some of the Wolves’ pool of young talent.
But their 2018 draft proved to be more successful with the additions of Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop.
In both, the Wolves seem to have found helpful depth players who can contribute in supporting roles if everyone else on the roster is healthy. They will look for more of the same in the June draft, when they have a lottery pick and the No. 43 overall pick in the second round.
Okogie, the 20th pick in the first round last year, took on a larger role than maybe even he was expecting in his first season, especially after Robert Covington missed most of the year because of a right knee bone bruise. He said his biggest surprise this season was “how ready I was.”
“Being in college you always idolized everybody, saying I want to be just like this one day,” Okogie said. “Then you get there and you just don’t know the shift of how much better you have to be until you actually get on the court. I think I’ve done a good job of kind of adjusting and proving I belong on the court as well.”
Okogie started 52 of the 74 games he played, often drawing the top defensive assignment when he was in the game. His block of James Harden as Harden attempted to get up a shot-clock-beating three-pointer in a win over the Rockets in February might be the best defensive highlight the Wolves had all season.
“I think in the NBA, the biggest thing is just finding your opportunity,” Okogie said. “When you do find it, you want to make sure you’re ready. I think I did a good job of staying ready this season, and I’m just glad that opportunities opened up.”
Okogie looks the part of someone who can have a long career in the NBA given his defensive talent and boundless energy. At the top of Okogie’s priority list is improving his shooting. He was a 38.2% three-point shooter at Georgia Tech but shot just 27.9% from the longer NBA three-point distance as a rookie.
Bates-Diop, last year’s second-round pick (48th overall), didn’t emerge as a regular in the rotation until late in the season when injuries ravaged the roster. But when he got a chance to play, he seized it and impressed the coaching staff with his intelligence on the court and defensive acumen.
Bates-Diop can guard multiple positions and didn’t flinch when he had to guard the opponent’s best scorer.
“Defensively, guarding one through five, I think that’s where I’m going to make my mark,” Bates-Diop said.
He played in 30 games, averaging five points per game, but is used to having his offensive role fluctuate. It did when he was at Ohio State before winning Big Ten Player of the Year in his senior season.
“I had to fill different roles, defensively, spotting up and cutting,” Bates-Diop said. “That’s how I know how to do that stuff now.”
The Wolves also were encouraged by the play of Cameron Reynolds, who they signed to a multiyear non-guaranteed deal after picking him up on a pair of 10-day contracts. Reynolds shot 41.2% on three-pointers during his 19 games.
With the cap situation being so tight, the Wolves will need to find as much production as they can for as little money as they can spend. They seem to have some from their young players and should add more with a lottery pick joining the mix next season. But a new president will still have to find additional ways to fill out the roster.
Chris Hine covers the Timberwolves for the Star Tribune. firstname.lastname@example.org