It’s probably not on your handy phone calendar, but NBA Christmas starts Sunday — just four non-shopping days away.
On Dec. 15 every year, players who signed free agent contracts in the past offseason become eligible to be traded. And after all the activity this past summer, that means a huge influx of available players are entering the market Sunday — roughly 150, about one-third of all rostered players in the NBA, per ESPN.
There hasn’t been a trade in the league since the mid-July blockbuster sending Russell Westbrook to the Rockets and Chris Paul to the Thunder, but that figures to change with the lifting of the free agent trade moratorium and as teams start to sort themselves out as we approach the one-third mark of the season.
The Wolves could be in the middle of the action on multiple fronts. They sit on the fringe of the Western Conference playoff race with a 10-13 record, one which took a serious hit during a five-game losing streak they carry into Wednesday night’s home game with Utah.
First off, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted Tuesday on The Jump that “Minnesota is an interesting team to watch. They have to solidify that point guard position.”
Indeed, Wolves point guards Jeff Teague and Shabazz Napier have underwhelmed of late. Neither is in the top 20 among NBA point guards in PER (player efficiency rating), and neither one has a usage rate among the top 30 point guards.
Napier is a backup and has filled his role at least adequately, but Teague has been a square peg in the round hole of the Wolves’ new pace-based, three-point-heavy offense. Karl-Anthony Towns was visibly frustrated with Teague during the Wolves’ latest loss in Phoenix, though we don’t want to read too much into an isolated play.
As Woj noted, the Wolves made a heavy play for D’Angelo Russell in the offseason before he wound up in Golden State in a sign-and-trade. While Woj didn’t draw a straight line between the Wolves’ ongoing point guard pursuit and Russell, it remains a logical fit given Golden State’s struggles and that Russell is one of those players suddenly able to be dealt Sunday.
“I think Minnesota out there, they wanted a point guard this summer, they went after D’Angelo Russell in free agency, he goes to Golden State in the sign-and-trade,” Woj said. “I think they’re in the market for a point guard or something that sets them up to get one in July.”
Teague could be used as a trade piece, given that his $19 million annual salary is expiring after this season.
So, too, could Robert Covington — the Wolves’ most obvious asset given his skill set and team-friendly contract (two more years after this one at about $12 million per year).
The Ringer reports that “playoff teams are monitoring the availability of Robert Covington, according to multiple league sources.”
Covington is eligible to be traded any time, so his availability has nothing to do with Sunday and everything to do with the trajectory of the Wolves’ season, his value and how he fits.
But it’s worth noting that all the lower-level free agents the Wolves signed this past offseason — Jake Layman, Napier, Treveon Graham, Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell — are eligible to be dealt as of Sunday.
That doesn’t mean anything is imminent, particularly since the trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 6 and teams (including the Wolves) might want more time to evaluate their current roster and options.
But expect at least some movement around the league — and plenty of speculation — starting Sunday.