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Timberwolves offseason: Summer games, draft firepower and free-agent speculation

Ex-Timberwolves writer Kyle Ratke makes his debut contribution to Bring Me The News.
Jarret Culver

Kyle Ratke, a native of Cold Spring, Minnesota, has nearly a decade of experience covering the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves.  

The Timberwolves will not be one of the 22 teams playing in Orlando later this month.

With a 19-45 record, Minnesota clinched its spot as one of the three worst teams in the league and will have a 14% chance to win the lottery.

We’re already off to a very strange offseason. But hey, welcome to 2020!

Instead of waking up at 3 a.m. to 58 Woj Bombs during what would be the height of free agency, we’re wondering if the league will even be able to pull off the end of its regular season in a state that reported more than 11,000 cases in a single day on Sunday. Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, says the state will not go backwards in its reopening efforts, but umm, it probably should.

Gersson Rosas and the Timberwolves have an important offseason ahead of them. That seems odd to say considering the only players left on Rosas’ roster from when he took over are Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie. The team even got rid of its Digital Content Manager. Haven’t they already done enough?!

What’s ahead for the Timberwolves this offseason? Let’s take a little ride.

The Not-So-Elite 8

Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that the Timberwolves, along with the other seven teams not in Orlando, are trying to get some sort of competition together to balance the rest of the league getting eight more regular season games.

It was reported on Thursday by ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that those eight teams have discussed Chicago for the second bubble city sometime in September.

It’s not a surprise that these teams want to get together.

The Timberwolves have some big decisions to make (more on this in a bit) this offseason. Rosas only saw Towns, Russell and Malik Beasley play one game together. Russell and Beasley played just 12 games together. While you can take something from a dozen games, it’s not a lot. It’s like saying at 10:30 a.m. that the rest of your day is going to be great. Little do you know about that food poisoning that’s going to hit after the leftover coleslaw you eat for lunch.

It was previously reported that the Timberwolves were hoping to host the event. Minneapolis would have been a good host city considering that the Timberwolves have one of the best practice facilities in the NBA and there are multiple arena options throughout the Twin Cities. It also makes sense when you consider the fact that it would give Rosas and his staff an up-close look at more than 100 players from around the league.

Also, what a fun time to show players from around the league that it’s not “I can’t feel my bones” cold all the time in Minnesota.

I speculated about this a bit at earlier this offseason, but is there a way this could be televised and the teams involved could obtain some of the TV rights money they lost? Will Timberwolves’ fans be able to hear the voices of Jim Petersen, Dave Benz and Marney Gellner before the summer ends?

The question here, like pretty much everything else in America right now, comes down to safety. Illinois has had 4.98% of the nation’s infections while Minnesota has just 1.29%. I understand everything is in a bubble, but what happens when someone bursts through that bubble?

We’ve already seen seven teams set to play in Orlando shut down their practice facilities because of positive tests.

Whatever competition that takes place in Chicago would be pretty meaningless. It certainly would be nice for the Timberwolves and other teams to get a few more games in. But guess what? It would also be nice if everyone remained healthy and safe! We’re in a national pandemic! People are dying! During discussions like these, it feels like we need to be reminded of that.

I would be surprised if this goes on as scheduled in September. It’s a good thought, but certainly not an “essential” event.

The most firepower in the draft

Minnesota acquired Brooklyn’s pick from the Hawks when they traded Robert Covington to the Rockets in a four-team, 3,387-player trade the night before the trade deadline.

In order to keep this pick, the Nets need to make the playoffs since the pick is lottery protected.

While that seems like a sure thing considering the Nets are in seventh place and have a six-game lead over the Wizards . . . the Nets aren’t in a great place right now. We already knew Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant weren’t going to play. Now we can add DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, and Spencer Dinwiddie to that list.

The Wizards would need to clear four games here to force a “play-in tournament” with Brooklyn in which they’d need to win both games (this whole play-in tournament isn’t actually a tournament at all, by the way). Washington will be without Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans for the tournament, so unless Mo Wagner becomes Dirk Nowitzki, the Wolves will hold onto Brooklyn’s pick.

The Nets will likely fall from seventh to eighth in the conference, which would mean the Timberwolves would have the 15th pick as well as their own pick, which could range anywhere from 1-7.

Here are where the Timberwolves’ odds fall in the lottery:

  • 1st pick: 14%
  • 2nd pick: 13.4%
  • 3rd pick: 12.7%
  • 4th pick: 12%
  • 5th pick: 14.8%
  • 6th pick: 26%
  • 7th pick: 7%

It’s exciting because the Timberwolves have the best odds in the league (along with the Warriors and Cavaliers) for the top pick in the draft. But they have better odds to land the sixth-overall pick which would certainly be a buzzkill.

With a top-three pick, the Wolves could be looking at someone like Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball. If they fall back a few spots, keep an eye on someone like Killian Hayes or Obi Toppin.

That pick, combined with Brooklyn’s pick, gives the Timberwolves the most value in the draft and it’s not particularly close. The Wolves also have the 33rd overall pick.

Having the most firepower in a not-so-great draft class seems very on brand for the Timberwolves. The 2020 draft draws a lot of comparisons to the 2013 draft when Anthony Bennett went first overall. But let’s not forget Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th), Rudy Gobert (27th), Steven Adams (12th), CJ McCollum (10th) and Victor Oladipo (2nd) were all part of that draft. 

The more ammo you have, the better chance you have of hitting on something. With that being said, the Timberwolves had two first-round picks in that draft and ended up with Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. So, yeah . . .

The probability that the Timberwolves end up with all three picks in the draft seem unlikely considering who is at the helm. I’d expect the Timberwolves to be at the center of plenty of trade rumors and if you squint long enough, or go on Wolves’ Twitter for five minutes, maybe you’ll see a glimpse of Devin Booker.

The NBA lottery is scheduled for Aug. 25 while the draft is set for Oct. 16.

Taking care of your own

We can get into possible free-agent targets at a later date this offseason, but for now, let’s focus on three players who the Timberwolves will have to make decisions on.

The most obvious is Beasley. In 14 games with the Wolves, Beasley averaged 20.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 42.6% from the 3-point line. It’s pretty obvious that Rosas and his crew identified Beasley as a fit for Ryan Saunders’ offense, and they were right. Getting Beasley and a first-round pick for Covington looks like an absolute steal, but there was a reason why the Nuggets were so willing to get rid of Beasley: He’s about to get paid. 

Beasley will be a restricted free agent and the Timberwolves will get the chance to match any offer sent his way. I’d imagine that the team will retain Beasley’s services, but Beasley’s play late in the season for the Timberwolves upped his price quite a bit.

Last year, Sacramento’s Buddy Hield signed a four-year, $94 million deal. That seems a little too rich. Maybe it will look something more like Zach LaVine’s four-year, $78 million deal that kicked in prior to the 2018 season. Even so, that’s a lot of money for someone who had the best stretch of his career when he needed it the most.

The team also acquired forward Juancho Hernangomez in the Beasley/Covington trade. Hernangomez won’t demand the type of money that Beasley will, but he’s a good fit with the offense, too. Hernangomez averaged 12.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting 42% from the 3-point line. Offensively, he’s the stretch four that the offense needed.

The question is whether or not Hernangomez can be a starting power forward on a playoff team. I tend to think probably not, but it’s hard to say considering Hernangomez and Towns played just one game together. Hernangomez is also a restricted free agent and the Wolves have the right to match any offer made to him.

If that is the case, though, a starting lineup with Russell, Beasley, Hernangomez and Towns is going to need to figure out how to play team defense or score 180 points in a game.

And then we get to perhaps my favorite player on the team. In the 2019 Summer League, Jordan McLaughlin was a quiet leader. I know this is wild to say, but he had a little Steve Nash to him -- the way he would weave around defenses and create opportunities for his teammates. Then again, in Summer League, it doesn’t take much to look like Steve Nash considering nobody really plays defense, but still, McLaughlin stuck out.

Instantly, he became a guy who I had my eye on as the season approached. He’s undersized, sure, but that helps him fit into spots where others can’t and make plays.

His Summer League play earned him a two-way contract with the team.

When Shabazz Napier was injured in early November, McLaughlin came up from Iowa and appeared in four games. The results were not super promising. McLaughlin looked lost on both ends and shot just 3-for-15 from the field and 1-for-8 from deep.

Maybe he didn’t have it.

Things changed, though. McLaughlin was a staple in the rotation after Jan. 17. The former USC Trojan started to get more comfortable and it was clear that he at least had a place in the NBA, probably as a third point guard on a team. But after the trade deadline, it became clear McLaughlin has the makings of a backup point guard. In the final 14 games of the season, McLaughlin averaged 9.6 points, 5.0 assists and 1.3 steals in 21 minutes per game while shooting 56.7% from the field and 45.7% from the 3-point line.

The Wolves went into the season hoping Napier, Jeff Teague and Jarrett Culver could hold things down at point guard. Here we are nine months later and how things have changed.

The team’s scouting department deserves a lot of credit for taking a chance on someone like McLaughlin, who spent time with assistant coach Pablo Prigioni during his time with the Nets’ G League affiliate. McLaughlin was a rookie last season, but at 23, he’s the same age as both Russell and Beasley, which fits the team’s timeline nicely. What’s wild about McLaughlin’s success with the Timberwolves is that he excelled with pretty much zero practice time with the team. 

As a two-way player, he was only given 45 days with the team and that included practice and game days. To keep his eligibility to play in games, he would often have to sit out of a practice and do an individual workout afterwards. McLaughlin will also be a free agent and he deserves whatever money is coming his way. I would imagine the Wolves will do whatever they can to make sure he’s back in Minnesota.

The offseason is going to be a longer one than most. Even so, the Timberwolves’ front office has plenty on its to-do list. Will Rosas go star hunting and make another huge trade? Will he develop the players on the roster and hope for a playoff spot in 2020-21? It seems like all options are on the table. Unlike everything else in the world, the next few months for the Timberwolves should be fun to watch. 

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