Now that most franchises have played between eight to 11 games – nearly all in spite of COVID-19 issues popping up around the league – we’re beginning to see who looks like contenders and which seem destined for the lottery. This week at Basketball Insiders, we’re looking at those off to poor starts and how they can turn it around in our annual Fixing series beginning with the Washington Wizards earlier today.
Today, the Minnesota Timberwolves sit at 3-7, a disappointing mark for a team that has spent its time changing up the core of its roster over the last calendar year.
However, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the Timberwolves as injuries have really plagued this team, thus preventing this Minnesota roster from reaching its full potential. On the other hand, there are plenty of things that could use some patchwork, beginning with the starting lineup.
When the Timberwolves are completely healthy, and that is very rare, they’re actually a super competitive and fun team despite their record. Somehow, Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell have played in just four games together since Russell was shipped to Minnesota at the trade deadline last year.
The Wolves largely switched up their roster last season, adding Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez along with Russell at the deadline, trading for Ricky Rubio in the offseason and drafting Anthony Edwards with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, it’s been nearly impossible to see how these acquisitions all mesh together considering Towns has only played in three games to begin the season. In the games Towns has been available, the Wolves are 2-1 with a +7 score differential. However, when Towns has missed time, the Wolves are 1-6 with a -112 score differential. And, well, yikes.
Another exciting development for this team has been the play of Edwards, which definitely hasn’t been perfect but has given enough flashes to generate hype. Edwards is averaging 15.1 points per game off the bench on mediocre shooting splits and his defense needs serious work – however, his ability to play starter minutes with a big scoring output has been a plus for Minnesota.
It’s evident to see that Minnesota is a completely different team when Towns plays, so it should be reassuring to know that nothing at this moment in time needs to be blown up.
What Isn’t Working?
Even with Towns, the Wolves have a glaring hole at the power forward position. Hernangomez played exceptionally well when he was acquired last season, re-signing with the intention of continuing that streak – sadly, that has not been the case to begin the season.
Hernangomez is a good player but he works best in a backup role and Minnesota needs to set its eyes on other players to add to its frontcourt rotation.
Naz Reid has been a pleasant surprise and Ed Davis is a stable veteran presence but Minnesota needs something more. The team had Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on its training camp roster but cut him before the season began to maintain roster flexibility. Needless to say, that move made little sense at the time and seeing the product on-court has made the move even more of a head-scratcher.
Hollis-Jefferson would be the best frontcourt defender outside of Towns on the roster and the team should look to re-sign him before he’s swept out of the free agency market by a team that will actually use him.
What Needs To Change?
There are other free agents that could appeal to Minnesota if they so choose but after Hollis-Jefferson, there is a substantial drop off – especially now that Taj Gibson re-upped with the New York Knicks.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thabo Sefolosha, Luc Mbah a Moute, DeMarre Carroll, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova and Noah Vonleh comprise of some of the available veterans that the Wolves could add to their power forward rotation.
Slightly more appealing for this season, however, would be to add a forward off the trade market. Thaddeus Young, LaMarcus Aldridge, Aron Baynes, Rudy Gay, Trevor Ariza and Jabari Parker feature some of the prominent names that could be on the market, although Aldridge is unlikely due to the Wolves having traded away their first round pick this year and likely need a younger option at that spot.
Because of the lack of true problem-solving options, the Wolves could look to add a stopgap player at the four and focus on that position through the upcoming free agency period, the draft and development of Jarred Vanderbilt and Jaden McDaniels.
Speaking of Vanderbilt, the young forward should absolutely get more minutes for this team as he has impressed greatly in limited minutes. Making him a part of the rotation could solve the power forward conundrum, at least defensively.
If Minnesota continues to struggle, they can rest easy with top-three protection on the pick in the upcoming draft that is owed to the Golden State Warriors in the aftermath of the D’Angelo Russell-Andrew Wiggins swap. If that pick does land in the top three, the Timberwolves could focus on adding someone like the G League Ignite’s Jonathan Kuminga or USC’s Evan Mobley to complete their rotation.
Another position that needs to be addressed is the backup point guard spot as Rubio has really struggled to kick off the year, putting up only 6.1 points and 5.2 assists in nearly 25 minutes per contest. Rubio was expected to be a strong veteran presence in a familiar place but will need to pick up his play if Minnesota wishes to reach the playoffs.
So while a 3-7 record looks disappointing on paper, the Timberwolves have a borderline playoff roster when fully healthy and plenty of young talent like Edwards, Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver to develop around the nucleus of Towns and Russell. Around midseason, the team and its fans should get a clearer idea of what this team is, hopefully with the knowledge that they’re just a few pieces away from being a playoff contender, if not already.
Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.
Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.
The Grizzlies and Pelicans have agreed on a trade to send Jonas Valanciunas, 2021 Nos. 17 and 51 picks to New Orleans for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, 2021 picks Nos. 10 and 40 and a protected 2022 first-round pick via the Lakers, per @wojespn pic.twitter.com/q7ZoqzpJjt
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 26, 2021
Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.
From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.
Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.
NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft
Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.
“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.
In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.
Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.
NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.
Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons
According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.
However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.
Raptors, Wolves, Cavs, Pacers and Kings have all showed interest in acquiring Ben Simmons, per B/R's @JakeLFischer
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 25, 2021
Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.
On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.
Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.
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