The Timberwolves have been the talk of the NBA since trading for All-Star forward Jimmy Butler on draft night. But they could just be getting started. Although teams can’t make any deals official until July 6, the NBA free-agency negotiating period begins July 1 -- meaning Wolves fans will be glued to their phones checking Twitter during barbeques this holiday weekend.
At his initial Wolves press conference on Thursday afternoon, Butler claimed he’s “talking to free agents a lot better than me,” trying to recruit them to come to Minnesota.
So who are these free agents?
First: The logistics
The NBA salary cap will increase from $94 million last season to a projected $99 million in 2017-18. Minnesota has four players that are pending free agents: Shabazz Muhammad, Brandon Rush, Adreian Payne and Omri Casspi.
Muhammad is the biggest name the Wolves will potentially lose. Traded to the Wolves on draft night in 2013, Bazz has emerged as a sparkplug off the bench in four seasons. But the 24-year-old has stated several times that he wants to start, which will not happen in Minnesota now that Butler’s in the mix. The other three (Rush, Payne and Casspi) didn’t make much of an impact in their stints with the organization.
If all four players depart, the Timberwolves will have somewhere around $19 million to work with in free agency. A trade of Ricky Rubio, which appears imminent, would give Minnesota another $14 million in cap space.
USA TODAY SportsHoward Smith
For the first time in years (decades?), the Wolves have a legitimate chance to sign a splashy name. Lowry might be the answer. He's 31, but the three-time all-star guard is playing the best basketball of his career. After shooting 35 percent from the 3-point line in his first 10 seasons, Lowry recorded a career-best 41 percent in 2016-17. He also set career highs in minutes (37.4), points (22.4) and rebounds per game (4.8), as well as field-goal percentage (.464).
Butler, who played with Lowry on the gold-medal 2016 U.S. Olympic team, is reportedly recruiting the 6-foot guard to come play at the Target Center. Lowry’s skill set would be a good fit for the revamped Timberwolves, and his eleven years of NBA experience is what the Wolves need. He’s a point guard that distributes the ball well but also doubles as a consistent scoring threat.
USA TODAY SportsBill Streicher
We'll caution you here: Don't get your hopes up on this one. While Minnesota reportedly is one of Holiday's suitors, reports have emerged that the point guard is expected to re-sign with New Orleans for five years and a boatload of money. If that falls through and the Wolves have a need for a starting point guard -- ahem -- you could do a lot worse than Holiday, who averaged 15.4 points and 7.3 assists last season while shooting 45.4 percent from the field.
USA TODAY SportsDerick E. Hingle
Yep, Gibson would be another former Bulls player reuniting with Thibs. A first-round pick by Chicago in 2009, Gibson spent his whole career there before being traded to the Thunder in February. At 31 years old, he averaged 10.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the field last season. He’d add experience (see a theme here?) and depth to the Wolves young frontcourt of Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng and 2017 first-rounder Justin Patton.
Mark D. Smith
After Chris Paul was traded to the Rockets, the Clippers’ window to take over Los Angeles from the Lakers and win a NBA championship is now officially closed. One would think Redick would pack up his 3-pointers and head out the door for a contender. Why not Minnesota? Redick, who led the NBA in 3-point percentage (.475) in 2015-16, would provide the Wolves with another offensive weapon. But he’s not necessarily known to be a hard-nosed defender (as Thibs would prefer), and he’d likely want too much money from the Wolves.
Like Lowry, Hill is 31, so a bit of an older point guard. He also played in just 49 games last season due to injuries in what was his first -- and possibly last -- year in Utah. Still, Hill averaged a career-high 16.9 points to go with 4.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds. Hill also made 94 3-pointers -- nearly two makes a game -- with 40.3 percent accuracy. He shot 47.7 percent overall from the field. Again, if the Wolves need a point guard, Hill could be a nice fit thanks to his overall, rounded game.
We could play this point guard game all day, adding in names like Jeff Teague and Patty Mills, for example.
In case you haven't heard, Minnesota head coach Tom Thibodeau values defense. Tucker would fit in beautifully with Thibs' scheme as the 6-foot-6 swingman has the capability of guarding multiple positions and doing it well. Tucker can help out in other areas as well, hitting the occasional 3 -- he made 70 last season in stints with Phoenix and Toronto and in 2014-15 made 87 with the Suns -- and rebound (5.7 average). He's just the kind of role players a team planning on winning a lot of games can use.