The Timberwolves introduced three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner Jamal Crawford on Wednesday as their 11th player on a team that still wants to add at least three more players and sign young star Andrew Wiggins to a whopping contract extension by October’s season opener.
Wiggins is eligible to sign one of two five-year maximum “designated” extensions the Wolves are allowed by the league’s new labor agreement for players on their rookie contracts.
The Wolves have until October to complete a negotiation that shouldn’t take all that much negotiating if Wiggins accepts a contract that’s expected to approach $150 million.
“We’re working on it right now,” Wolves coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau said Wednesday.
Teammate Karl-Anthony Towns is eligible for that second designated slot before the 2018-19 season, the second of two extensions that would comprise at least half of the Wolves’ annual salary-cap figure.
At the other end of the salary scale: Thibodeau intends to sign two more wing players — shooters or defenders, or preferably both — and a backup point guard to league veteran minimum salaries. That is, if he doesn’t make a trade to clear space the Wolves already have spent by signing free agents Crawford, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson as well as acquiring three-time All Star Jimmy Butler in a draft-night trade.
Right now, the Wolves have only starters Wiggins and Butler as well as 37-year-old Crawford signed to play on the wing.
More than 30 free agents of both the unrestricted and restricted variety remain unsigned nearly three weeks after the NBA’s signing period began July 1.
A year ago, there was a July spending frenzy due to a new $24 billion television contract that ballooned the NBA’s salary cap after the players’ union declined the league’s proposal to “smooth” the influx of money over a period of years. Players such as Timofey Mozgov, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng signed huge contracts during a month when most teams spent their available money rather quickly.
That hangover and a smaller than anticipated salary-cap number this year has left dozens of players still looking for money and teams. The list includes Gerald Green, Derrick Rose, C.J. Watson, Mike Dunleavy, Tony Allen, Deron Williams, Ty Lawson, Anthony Morrow, Monta Ellis, Michael Beasley, Aaron Brooks, Rodney Stuckey, Jason Terry, Gerald Henderson and former Wolves Randy Foye, Derrick Williams and Shabazz Muhammad, to name just some.
Muhammad turned down a rich contract offer from the Wolves last fall and now is looking for something more than the league minimum offers most teams have left to spend.
“It’s moved a lot slower this year,” Thibodeau said. “There are some very good players available, and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to have a few who will fit us well.”
Last year, the Wolves pursued Deng and free agent Pau Gasol, but they signed neither after the L.A. Lakers threw $72 million at Deng and after Gasol chose San Antonio. So instead they signed Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill and Brandon Rush to modest deals and only Aldrich remains part of the team going forth.
“There were a couple guys who we really liked that we went after and we didn’t get,” Thibodeau said. “But we also knew that this year, the money would be a lot different and there would be less competition for players. Everyone had money last year, so we felt we didn’t want to box ourselves in. If we didn’t get the guys we wanted last year, be patient and develop our players.”
This time around, the Wolves have traded and signed their way to a remade roster that still has four spots open. Thibodeau said he wants to sign three more players and keep the 15th and final spot available to allow the team options to add a player later.
Many free agents now are weighing whether they can angle an offer bigger than the $2.3 million veteran minimum or if they’ll accept such an offer for one year on a winning team, hoping they can do better on the free-agent market next summer.
Now more than a few people — and players, too — consider the Wolves are a team finally ready to win.
“There are a number of guys we’re talking to and they’re waiting,” Thibodeau said. “So you’re trying to weigh all that out. It’ll be interesting to see everything unfolds.”