Whew, what a crazy free agency period this has been! All the talking heads (media), players, coaches and fans alike were right—with the cap maximum around $94 million during the 2016 NBA free agency, the prediction that “all hell will break loose” was an understatement.
It definitely broke, and some.
This wild free agency featured Mike Conley re-upping with the Memphis Grizzlies for FIVE-YEARS and $153 MILLION. Mike Conley is good, but is he Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant good? He had joined those two to be (at the time of his signing) as the third player in NBA history to make $30 million a year.
However, I don’t even think that was the worst/most surprising contract given out. That honor may be going to the L.A. Lakers and Timofey Mozgov. He signed a four-year $64 million contract with them, starting off the NBA free agency with one of the most laughable contracts ever given, especially while giving it out to one of the worst centers in the league last season. He had an overall player efficiency rating (PER) of 14.63, the lowest in the league of qualified centers.
The Minnesota Timberwolves signed former L.A. Clipper, Cole Aldrich, to a much cap-friendlier-contract at three-years and $22 million. In fact, his overall PER from last season was 21.53, ranking him 11th at his position. We’ll get more to him later.
Finally, July 4th isn’t just the day to celebrate our Independence from Great Britain’s rule now. It’s now remembered as the day Kevin Durant sought independence from the Republic of OKC. Fireworks streamed the sky starting in the late a.m. in Oakland, and they haven’t stopped yet.
This is a team that is already as stacked as humanly possible, a team with a current “Big-Three”, now a “Big-Four”, and with Durant’s arrival, they now have the NBA’s most talented assembled roster of all time. They could be a lock for the NBA Finals for the next five years. Older, but serviceable veterans will be taking the veteran minimum each and every free agency, just to get a shot at a ring. Hence, David West and Zaza Pachulia signing with the Warriors for peanuts.
But we’re not here to overanalyze the entirety of the free agent acquisitions across the league.
We are here to talk about the Timberwolves. A squad who had around $25 million in cap space, and have been really quiet throughout most of this period, signing nice depth players at very team-friendly-contracts.
The Timberwolves ended the first week of free agency signing two quality bench players to help bolster the depth on the squad. These players are former Minnesota native, Cole Aldrich, and former Warriors’ player, Brandon Rush.
You may recognize the name “Rush” if you watched the Wolves back when they were good with Kevin Garnett. Brandon’s brother, Kareem, ended up hitting six three pointers in game six of the 2004 Western Conference Finals, helping the Lakers to eliminate the Timberwolves and to move on to the NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons.
But let’s not dwell on the past, let’s focus on the future. These two signings may not be very exciting to the rest of the NBA world, but for Minnesota, it clearly shows what Coach and President of Basketball Operations, Tom Thibodeau, has in mind for the progression of this team.
Year one of the Thibodeau era is clearly meant to be an evaluation period as well as competing for a playoff spot.
*Note: We know that Thibodeau was set to offer pretty significant money to Pau Gasol, Luol Deng, and Courtney Lee. However, he was not going to budge on giving them a lot of years. These players are all on the wrong side of 30, and with the how the cap skyrocketed, many teams were going to shell out many suspect contracts to good, but not great players. The Timberwolves just aren’t at the point where good veterans will take a smaller cut/less years to play for them, yet.
As stated earlier, Aldrich was signed to the Timberwolves with a three-year contract at a total of $22 million. This was not a sexy signing by all means, but he provides much needed big man depth behind Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns.
As a Clipper last season, Aldrich averaged 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in about 13 minutes a game. When translated into 36 minutes a game, that looks like 14.8 points, 13 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game.
What this means is that with Aldrich’s very limited minutes per game, he was very efficient with what he had to work with. He also provides the defensive presence that Thibodeau looks for with a player.
Since his 6th NBA season, Aldrich has dropped 25 lbs which has improved his conditioning and his overall mobility. He had his best season to date with the Clippers because of his healthy transformation.
As an NBA journeyman since joining the league, Aldrich definitely has earned an opportunity to land with a team for long term deal. He has been improving his game since he entered the league when drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder back in the 2010-2011 season.
With the addition of Aldrich, the Wolves can definitely count on the big man to play more than 12 games in a season and also provide a quality defensive presence while playing.
No offense to Nikola Pekovic, foot injuries are detrimental to big men, but right now he’s just trying to play the minimum amount of games to continue to receive his $24 million left on two years remaining.
Also with the addition of Aldrich, the Timberwolves can continue to slide Adrien Payne to the end of the bench. As a very inconsistent player with a low BBIQ, Payne at times can hit an open three, and even make a big block. But overall, he’s just been too inconsistent and too frustrating to trust on the court.
Who knows what effect Aldrich will have on Kevin Garnett if he ultimately returns to play out his last remaining year of his contract, but that is another developing story soon to be played out.
Noted as a college prodigy, leading the Kansas Jayhawks to a national title win over the Memphis Tigers back in 2008, Rush has definitely not lived up to expectations in the NBA, but he is well regarded as player who can provide three point shooting and defensive depth to any team looking for it.
Signing a one-year contract worth $3.5 million, Rush’s deal is considered another team-friendly-contract. As a career 40% three point shooter, and a dynamic defender, he adds two attributes to the team that is in dire need of them.
The Wolves have three or four capable three point shooters in Zach LaVine, Nemanja Bjelica, maybe Andrew Wiggins, and Towns—but they all need a few more years of making three pointers at a high percentage to be considered threats.
Although they were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA last season, they have the player personnel on the team to be very good defensively. Under the influence of Thibodeau, the team should be able to fix their defensive woes internally.
Adding Rush provides much better backup depth to both Zach LaVine at the shooting guard position and Andrew Wiggins at the small forward position. I know Shabazz Muhammad is the fan favorite right now to back up those guys, but he is more or less an inconsistent spark-plug.
Muhammad rarely plays defense, rarely passes the ball, and can be a homerun or a strikeout on the offensive side of the ball.
Rush has every opportunity to pass Muhammad on the depth chart, and because he’s a three-and-D specialist, the advantage is already his. Thibodeau has a reputation for not having patience with players who can’t/won’t play defense. It will be interesting to see how Muhammad responds to this signing.
Overall the signings of both Aldrich and Rush really bring in some nice depth to compliment this young and up-and-coming team. The bench unit as a whole looks pretty nice with Kris Dunn, Bjelica, Muhammad (maybe), Rush, and Aldrich.
All these guys should be able to come in and provide quality minutes to help sustain leads and to help close games.
Thibodeau is playing it smart his first year as the Wolves’ boss. He is shoring up the depth, and he is evaluating his current talent on hand. There are still two players he needs to add to the roster, we’ll see if he signs two more or if there may be a multiplayer trade in the works.
If the Timberwolves do make some big strides the 2016-2017 season, whether it be making the playoffs, or just missing out, barely. They will definitely have the income to throw at a really good player come this highly anticipated 2017 free agency class.
Thibodeau is the perfect guy to convince a star player to come to Minnesota and be the final piece to put the Wolves over the edge as an actual contender.
Blake Griffin anyone?
*All statistics used within this article have been pulled from NBA.com/stats and basketball-reference.com