Wolves Lead

T-Wolves Stabilized Team Culture This Offseason

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The Minnesota Timberwolves are trying to alter the culture of the franchise after the end of the Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler era. Ownership brought in new leadership and the new front office has made plenty of deals this offseason. Now that the NBA is entering the lull of the offseason, it seems to be the perfect time to be reviewing all the moves made by the franchise this summer.

Before diving into any player movement, it’s important to review the major moves made in the power structure of the organization. The front office and coaching staff saw overhauls since the beginning of this past season and appear ready to install a very different basketball philosophy than the previous regime had.

Front office

Ownership brought in Gersson Rosas, who is a well-respected executive in the NBA. Prior to being hired by the Timberwolves, Rosas came from an analytic-driven organization like the Houston Rockets. Working under a front office elite like Daryl Morey should help Rosas as he takes the lead in Minnesota. Bringing in Rosas as president of basketball operations is a breath of fresh air for the Timberwolves and should hopefully change the direction of the franchise.

Grade: A+

Head coach and coaching staff

After the firing of Thibodeau around the mid part of the season, Ryan Saunders took over the role of interim head coach for the rest of the season. Saunders finished with the record of 17-25 without a healthy Robert Covington in the rotation. Due to his relationship with the players and the good impressions he made on ownership and management, he was hired as the full-time head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. A first time head coach at 33 years old doesn’t invoke too much confidence.

Luckily he has strong assistant coaches around him that was added to his staff this offseason. David Vanterpool was hired as the associate head coach after working under Terry Stotts in Portland. Pablo Prigioni is a former player and recently worked for the Brooklyn Nets. Brian Gates was another solid addition as he previous job was with the New Orleans Pelicans. The team also added Kevin Hanson from the Pelicans to Saunders’ coaching staff.

Head coach grade: C

Coaching staff grade: B+

Overall grade: B

Draft

The Minnesota Timberwolves came away from the draft with two players in Jarrett Culver and Jaylen Nowell. Culver was acquired via a trade that was agreed upon on draft night, so not only will the grade given based off the draft needs/best available player, but also what the Timberwolves did to get him.

Originally the T-Wolves had the 11th pick in the draft, but the franchise opted to move up to possibly land a franchise-changing prospect. They acquired Phoenix’s sixth selection in exchange for the 11th pick and Dario Saric . Minny decided to select Culver with the acquired pick. Giving up Saric was a steep price, but he didn’t have any room to grow in Minnesota, so moving him makes sense.

There are questions about Culver’s 3-point shooting abilities entering in the NBA, but the 6-foot-6 wing has the physical tools to become an elite two-way player. There’s no denying that Culver was the best prospect with the biggest upside available, but he doesn’t fill the need for a point guard of the future.

Coby White was still on the draft board when Minny selected Culver. White doesn’t have the same amount of upside that Culver does on both ends, but White does have major potential on offense. It appears that Minny went with best available versus biggest need, which should pay off in the long haul.

Nowell has potential as a 3-and-D player, so selecting him with the 43rd pick is a fair risk. He very well could become a good rotational player. Only player one could argue the T-Wolves could have taken instead was Bol Bol, who has ridiculous upside. Minny may have missed out on a very good big man to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns down the road, but Nowell potential as a 3-and-D player makes him a good mid-second round pick.

Trade from 11th to sixth pick grade: B+

Culver draft grade: A-

Nowell draft grade: B

Overall grade: B+

Free agency

Sadly, the Timberwolves failed to make a big splash in free agency. However, the team got younger in this free agency and with the core of Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Culver, that approach makes sense.

After the draft, the team signed Naz Reid to a two-way contract, but after an impressive summer league, the team upgraded him to a regular NBA deal. Reid is a young stretch big out of LSU, who struggled on defense at times, but has the potential to be a legit threat from downtown which makes him a legit prospect for the future. Reid’s deal is for four years and $6.1 million.

Jordan McLaughlin signed a two-way contract as well. McLaughlin played in the G-League last season with the Long Island Nets. He showed potential as a playmaker and defender at the point guard spot, but has to improve his three-point shot.

The Timberwolves also signed Tyus Battle to an Exhibit 10 deal. An Exhibit 10 gives players added incentive to sign with the NBA G-League affiliate if waived. With that in mind, there’s a decent chance that fans could see Battle with the Iowa Wolves this upcoming season. Battle played three seasons at Syracuse and showed potential to be a defensive wing, but has to add an outside shot if he wants to become an NBA player.

Minnesota signed Jordan Bell from Western Conference rival Golden State Warriors. Bell is a defensive big man that plays with a lot of energy. He’s been limited in what he has shown up to this point in his career, because of the stacked roster that the Warriors have had. It’s unclear what role Bell will have, but there’s a good chance he has a breakout season. Bell signed for one year and $1.6 million, which isn’t a very team-friendly deal.

On the same note of breakout season, the T-Wolves also signed Noah Vonleh who just had a career year with the New York Knicks. He saw career highs in several categories, but has yet to reach his potential at the age of 23. Vonleh can somewhat stretch the floor and defend both big men positions, so he can be a quality player to pair with Towns. He was signed for one year and $2 million, which is very good value for a good defensive big man with a little bit of range.

The other free agent move the team made was by claiming Tyrone Wallace after he was waived by the Los Angeles Clippers. Wallace provides some additional depth at both guard spots, but he isn’t a floor spacer. The 25-year-old probably won’t be relied upon this upcoming season, but at 6-foot-5, he provides good depth.

Besides Ried’s contract, the T-Wolves got young talent on cheap and short contracts. This allows Minny to see which players fit best with their core without committing to them. Overall successful free agency considering the team didn’t make a big splash.

Reid signing grade: B-

McLaughlin signing grade: C

Battle signing grade: C+

Bell signing grade: B

Vonleh signing grade: B+

Claiming Wallace off waivers grade: C-

Overall grade: C+

Trades

Besides the trade already covered in the draft, the team made two other trades this offseason. Like with free agency, the moves made added to the young core that the Minnesota Timberwolves already have.

Despite missing out on a big name free agent like D’Angelo Russell, the T-Wolves still benefited from the deal that sent him to the Golden State Warriors. Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham were part of the deal that sent Russell to the Warriors and then Golden State redirected the two players, along with cash considerations, to Minny for the rights to Lior Eliyahu. Minnesota coming away from the trade with a quality backup point guard and a potential floor spacer for the draft rights to one can be considered a win.

Napier can be a spark plug for Minny off the bench in a similar fashion that Derrick Rose was, although not on the same level. Napier should be the clear-cut backup for Jeff Teague entering the season, so the there’s a chance he could have somewhat of a breakout season at 28 years old. Graham struggled from the 3-point line last season, but for his career the 25-year-old wing has been solid on 3-pointers. Graham should be in competition for minutes this upcoming season.

The other trade came as a sign-and-trade to obtain restricted free agent Jake Layman. While this could be considered a free agent move, technically it was a trade, so it’s in this category. Minny obtained Layman on a three year, $11.5 million deal in exchange for the rights to Bojan Dubljevic. Layman didn’t really break out in the league until his third season last year. The combo forward averaged career highs across the board and his clear-cut skills comes as a slasher, but he has yet to become a legit threat from the 3-point line. He should be in line for playing time this season.

Trade for Napier and Graham grade: B

Sign-and-trade for Layman: B-

Overall grade: B

Considering that the T-Wolves lost Rose and Tyus Jones at the point guard spots in free agency while only obtaining one quality backup in Napier to replace both, the franchise failed in that regard of the offseason. Besides failing to fortify the point guard spot for the present and future, Minnesota had a good offseason in regards of resetting the culture and finding young talent to grow.

Offseason grade: B

This might be a season of rebuilding for the Minnesota Timberwolves as the new culture and young talent will take time to develop. Hopefully, fans can start seeing positives even if the club doesn’t make the playoffs.

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About Lucas Johnson

Regent University graduate with a B.A. in History. Married to the most wonderful woman in the world. Past writing experience includes The Sixer Sense, PopGates and Rotoden, while also being former Co-Site Expert for Valley of the Suns. Current Minnesota Timberwolves Lead for The Lead Sports Media and Co-Site Expert for The Sixer Sense.

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