The Minnesota Timberwolves have plenty of young talent, but could use a little more veteran leadership. Which is likely why the team has been linked to J.R. Smith, Dorrell Wright and Rasual Butler.
The Wolves have been relatively quiet this offseason, besides the hiring of head coach Tom Thibodeau following the conclusion of last season. Minnesota has added just six players since the summer began with the biggest name being 2016 draft pick Kris Dunn, though there are reports circulating that the T-Wolves may not be done adding players this year.
Minnesota currently has 17 players under contract with 15 players possessing fully-guaranteed contracts. The Timberwolves are essentially set in the frontcourt, but could use another wing that has the ability to shoot from the perimeter. The Wolves do have the ability to eat one of the fully-guaranteed contracts, as they are around $13 million under the league’s $94 million salary cap. John Lucas III and Toure’ Murry are the two players with non-guaranteed contracts, and neither player are likely to make the squad.
Perimeter shooting was one of the Wolves’ weaknesses last season. Minnesota made only 5.5 three-pointers on 16.4 attempts for a 33.8 percent clip in 2015-16. Zach LaVine, who made 38.9 percent of his long distance shots last year, is the lone returning player to average more than one three-pointer a game (1.5) for the Timberwolves. Nemanja Bjelica is the only other returning player to knock down over 35 percent (38.4 percent) of his three-point attempts a year ago.
The Timberwolves did add Brandon Rush to the mix this offseason. The 31-year-old wing nearly made one trey a game a year ago in 14.9 minutes a game with Golden State, and shoots 40.3 percent from long-distance for his career.
Chat Sports recently reported that Smith could definitely be playing for someone other than the Cleveland Cavaliers this year due to his contract demands, and listed the Wolves are one of several potential suitors. Smith and the Cavaliers, who are over the luxury tax threshold, have been at a contract impasse for the last several months as the 30-year-old has been said to be seeking around $15 million a year.
Smith has been very productive throughout his NBA tenure and even has tempered his hothead a bit. The six foot, six inch guard had one of his finer campaigns last season, averaging 12.4 points a game while shooting 41.5 percent from the field and a career-best 40.0 percent from beyond the arc – tying a career-high with 2.6 triples a contest – in 77 games. He produced one double-double, had a personal best 2.2-to-1 turnover ratio, and his scoring efficiency as well as shooting proficiency were both above his career averages.
Smith also ranked in the top 13 among all shooting guards in win shares and real RPM. He was No. 4 in offensive RPM, but was only 57th in defensive RPM. Smith’s biggest problem defensively is that he has lapses on occasion.
For his career, Smith averages 12.6 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. He shoots just 39.9 percent from the field, though he knocks down over two triples a game and 35.2 percent of his three-point attempts.
Minnesota and Cleveland are not the only teams apparently pursuing Smith as the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn Nets and Denver Nuggets have also reportedly interest in the 12-year veteran.
According to Darren Wolfson of ESPN Radio, Smith is not the only veteran Minnesota is interested in. Wolfson tweeted that the Wolves are holding a veteran’s free agent minicamp this week and two of the players that have been invited are renown shooters Rasual Butler and Dorrell Wright.
Butler appeared in 46 games a season ago for the San Antonio Spurs, putting up 2.7 points in 9.4 minutes of action. The 37-year-old is a career 36.2 percent shooter from beyond the three-point line. He has produced 7.5 points and 2.4 rebounds a contest for his career.
Wright spent most of last season playing in China before landing in Miami late in the year. While the 30-year-old did not appear in regular season games for the Heat last year, he did get into five playoff games — contributing 3.2 points in 3.8 minutes of playing time. Wright has 12 years of NBA experience and holds a career average of 8.4 points on 36.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
If any of the three players are ultimately signed, only Smith would likely make much of impact on the court. Smith would likely be a reserve behind starter LaVine. In the meantime, Butler and Wright would both likely see sparse action behind Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad.
Minnesota would likely look to trade one of their bigs, if they decided to sign another player with Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic and Adreian Payne being the most likely players to be moved. The Wolves could also decide to waive Payne, who is owed $2.022 million this upcoming season.
[Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo]