After shaking up their roster to make a push for the playoffs, the Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t finished yet.
The Timberwolves are scheduled to meet with free agent forward Paul Millsap on Saturday, according to Basketball Insiders’ Michael Scotto. Signing the All-Star power forward could round out a significantly upgraded Minnesota starting five.
Paul Millsap has a meeting lined up with the Minnesota Timberwolves today, league sources told Basketball Insiders.— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) July 1, 2017
The Wolves have been the most active team since the NBA Draft. They traded Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the pick that became Lauri Markkanen to the Bulls for Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick, Justin Patton. They then traded Ricky Rubio to the Jazz in a cap dump for a protected first-round pick before signing point guard Jeff Teague to a three-year, $57 million deal.
Now, in addressing their last need at the four spot, Timberwolves president and head coach Tom Thibodeau could create one of the best top-to-bottom starting lineups in the stacked Western Conference.
Millsap has made the All-Star team every year since 2014. The 32-year-old forward averaged 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists, about a steal and a block per game for the Hawks last season.
The salary cap has been established as a tick under $99.1 million, and the Timberwolves currently have about $87 million committed in guaranteed salaries this season. That number hinges on a flat payout of $19 million a year over three years for Teague’s new $57 million contract.
But Minnesota could clear room for a Millsap deal in a heartbeat.
The Timberwolves are scheduled to pay Cole Aldrich $7.3 million this season, but his contract is non-guaranteed for 2018-19. Minnesota could trade him as an expiring contract to a team with the space to absorb his salary whole, and attach Oklahoma City’s future first-round pick (via Utah: Ricky Rubio trade) as a sweetener for the deal.
From here, the Timberwolves have options. They could offer the Hawks a sign-and-trade for Millsap, sending Gorgui Dieng’s four year, $64 million contract to Atlanta in exchange. They could also renounce their rights to restricted free agent Shabazz Muhammad, making him an unrestricted free agent. Doing so frees the team of his $7.6 million cap hold and could create more than $16 million in cap space for this summer, but is an undesirable option, given his potential as a spark plug off the bench.
Whichever route Minnesota chooses, it will still be able to round out the roster with the $4.328 room mid-level exception and whatever cap space it has left.
Why Millsap to the Timberwolves makes sense
For a variety of reasons, Paul Millsap to Minnesota makes sense.
It could allow for endless switchability
Aside from Teague, who will have to be hidden defensively, the Timberwolves could have four players who could ostensibly defend positions two to four. Adding Millsap is critical to making that defensive possibility a reality.
Millsap has the ability to guard every front court position. He’s active with his hands and is agile for a player his age. Putting the veteran four at Thibodeau’s disposal could create one of the best defensive teams in the Western Conference.
It gives the Wolves another playmaker
Between Teague and Butler, Minnesota has two primary ball-handlers and play initiators. In Millsap, they could get a third.
Millsap was a playmaker in Atlanta, with the ability to run the pick-and-roll and, at times, create a double team to open opportunities for his teammates. Between Towns, Wiggins, Butler, Teague and potentially Millsap, Minnesota could have five starters each capable of getting their own shot.
Why Millsap to the Timberwolves wouldn’t make sense
As well as he’s aged, Paul Millsap is still in the latter stretch of his prime. Millsap is 32 years old. That age doesn’t match up with the Wolves’ core of Towns (21), Wiggins (22) and Butler (27). Even Teague has another calendar year before cracking age 30.
Millsap will be 33 in February and is likely looking to both cash-in on his last lucrative contract while putting himself in position to sign long-term with a franchise.
The Timberwolves will have to make the decision of whether to offer max contracts to each Towns, Wiggins and Butler by 2019. Inking Millsap to a big, long-term deal could drown Minnesota ownership in luxury taxes moving forward.
Probability Millsap signs with Minnesota
The Timberwolves have an opportunity to vault themselves from perennial lottery team to a potential Western Conference powerhouse. And as promising as the roster looks right now, the difference between fringe playoff contender and top-four West team is locking up a star at the power forward.
Millsap could have other lucrative offers on the table, as well. He’s reportedly drawing interest from Phoenix and Denver, two teams willing to empty the coffers for an All-Star of his caliber. But no team offers a chance to create a Big 5.
Minnesota does. For that reason, I give Millsap a 55 percent chance of joining the Wolves in free agency. Doing so makes sense for all the right reasons. And if the vet’s willing to sacrifice a few extra bucks for a chance to compete in the West, it’ll pay off for both sides in the end.