MINNEAPOLIS — The Timberwolves’ 2014-15 guard rotation — and the franchise’s future as a whole — continued to take shape Monday with the free-agent landing of veteran Mo Williams.
The team reached an agreement with the 11-year combo guard, an unrestricted free agent who spent last season in Portland and joins his fifth team in the past five seasons. According to agent Mark Bartelstein, Williams and the Wolves have agreed to a one-year contract worth $3.75 million.
A team source confirmed the accord with the 32-year-old unrestricted free agent.
With five guards currently under contract for the upcoming season, Minnesota isn’t exactly thin at the position. But that could change in a hurry as president of basketball operations and coach Flip Saunders tries to attach J.J. Barea and/or Kevin Martin to a trade involving Kevin Love.
The Wolves are currently up against the cap and used a good portion of their $5.3 million, non-taxpayer midlevel exception to ink Williams, indicating confidence on Saunders’ part he can deal Barea, Martin or another guard between now and the start of the season. Per the NBA’S collective bargaining agreement, the non-taxpayer midlevel exception is granted to teams that haven’t gone beyond $4 million above the luxury tax line.
Adding in Williams’ salary, Minnesota’s payroll is currently at about $72.8 million. The NBA’s 2014-15 salary cap is approximately $63 million, and the luxury tax line is $76.8 million. The Wolves have Bird rights to several players under contract that allow them to exceed the cap without paying a penalty.
Saunders used the same midlevel exception to nab small forward Corey Brewer in free agency last year.
This time, it’s Williams, whose most famous moments came when he partnered with LeBron James in Cleveland’s run to the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. There, they fell in six games to Orlando.
Just 26 years old then, Williams made his only All-Star appearance and averaged 17.8 points and 4.1 assists per game.
Since then, though, he’s struggled to find his place in the league. The Cavaliers traded him to the Clippers midway through the 2010-11 season, and Los Angeles dealt him to Utah in the summer of 2012.
Last year, Williams came off the bench and appeared in 74 games, averaging 9.7 points and 24.8 minutes a contest — both career lows since his rookie season with the Jazz, who drafted him 47th overall out of Alabama in 2003.
Williams didn’t make the roster in Utah a year later, instead signing a free-agent deal with Milwaukee. He spent the next four seasons with the Bucks before being dealt to Cleveland in a three-team trade that united him with James.
Now, he could quite possibly play a role in helping Love do the same.
The three-time All-Star has indicated he’ll opt out of his contract after the season, prompting Minnesota to field trade offers for him. The most lucrative proposed deal, per reports, includes Cleveland’s past two No. 1 overall picks in Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett and future first-round draft selections.
With Cleveland signing James as an unrestricted free agent, Love has included the Cavs in his list of desired destinations. Talks with Cleveland likely wouldn’t have gotten this far if he hadn’t; their front office wants assurances he’ll agree to a long-term extension when his current contract runs out.
Wiggins signed his rookie contract late last week and, per NBA trade rules, can’t be dealt until Aug. 23 (30 days after signing his rookie deal). The two sides could come to a handshake agreement before then, though.
But another club, hypothetically, could jump in the running for Love. Chicago reportedly offered first-round pick Doug McDermott, power forward Taj Gibson and European superstar Nikola Mirotic in exchange for Love’s services.
But those two teams would have to wait, too; McDermott put pen to his rookie contract last Tuesday, and Mirotic signed his deal July 18.
In any case, negotiations have taken time because Saunders would like Barea, and perhaps Martin, off the books. Barea has one year worth $4.5 million left on his contract, while Martin is owed roughly $21 million over the next three seasons.
Barea shot a back-breaking 38.7 percent from the floor — his worst mark since his rookie season in 2006-07 — and averaged 8.4 points and 3.8 assists per contests last season. Martin’s 19.1 points per game ranked second on the team behind Love, and his 89.1-percent free-throw clip was the NBA’s fourth-best.
But he only solidified his role as an impotent defender and missed 14 games, most of which were due to a foot injury.
Although he’s 32, Williams represents a more dynamic guard in the vein of Rubio and 2014 first-round selection Zach LaVine. Having a second-unit player with experience at both guard spots also allows the Wolves more flexibility in addressing other positions.
Williams’ impending signing brings Minnesota’s roster number to 15. That, too, could change in the event of a Love trade.