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Timberwolves free-agency primer: What I’m hearing about Kyle Anderson and more

Timberwolves free-agency primer: What I’m hearing about Kyle Anderson and more

Kyle Anderson’s second season in Minnesota was difficult to describe.

On the one hand, Anderson’s numbers took a significant dip when he returned from a serious eye injury. He shot a terrible 23 percent from 3-point range, and struggled so much that he virtually stopped shooting altogether. With Karl-Anthony Towns healthy to start the season, Anderson had to play small forward more than his natural position of power forward, and that cost him his effectiveness.

On the other hand, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch trusted Anderson implicitly. The veteran’s basketball IQ, playmaking and ability to play multiple positions and defend were so important to Finch that he didn’t let the poor shooting shake his confidence in Anderson.

As he contemplated his future late in the season, Anderson was fully aware of both elements. He knew that the Wolves’ payroll was about to skyrocket and that it would be difficult for the team to hold him to a new multi-year deal that would pay him nearly the $9 million he earned last season. Anderson also knew that it might be difficult for him to find a coach who believed in him more than Finch did.

“A lot of coaches I’ve come across in my career sometimes don’t know how to use me or what to do with me,” Anderson said. “As long as I’ve been here, Finchy has put me in positions where I’ve been successful. He trusted me to make decisions, trusted me to play my game and let me keep the ball in my hands.”

When the Timberwolves acquired the 8th overall pick from San Antonio last week to get Rob Dillingham, they added more than $20 million to their already bloated salary range. Such is their new life as a tax-paying team with a salary that will exceed the second apron of the league’s tax structure, meaning it will exceed $189 million. That severely limits the team’s options when it comes to adding talent.

As it stands, the Wolves can spend whatever they want to keep their free agents, including Anderson, Monte Morris and Jordan McLaughlin. But every dollar spent comes with a tax, making it seem like they’re spending four times as much. Owner Glen Taylor has been aggressive in giving president of basketball operations Tim Connelly the green light to do what it takes to improve a team that reached the Western Conference finals last season.

But Anderson knew then, and he knows now, that the Timberwolves can only go so high if they want to keep a player who turns 31 in September and is coming off the worst shooting season of his career.

Connelly and Finch have said they want Anderson back. But as the teams began negotiating with free agents Sunday night, it became clear the two sides were far apart, according to team and league sources. A reunion has not been ruled out, but there were initially few signs of progress.

Anderson also said he would like to return at the end of the season. His son is on the autism spectrum and Anderson said he is doing well in suburban Minneapolis schools. But as the season progressed and free agency approached, there seemed to be less agreement between Anderson and the Wolves.

Anderson is one of the best free-agent signings in Timberwolves history. He was a vocal leader in the locker room and a do-it-all on the court. If he leaves, Finch will no longer have one of his most trusted players to lean on. It could mean an even bigger offensive role for Naz Reid. Josh Minott and Leonard Miller saw more than scraps of garbage time. Terrence Shannon Jr., the other Timberwolves rookie, could see more minutes on the wing.

Or maybe Anderson tests the market, sees fewer dollars than he expected and returns to a team and a coach who value him. That’s not how it felt on Day 1 of the free-agent talks, but things can change quickly in this league.

If Anderson goes elsewhere, the Wolves can only replace him on a veteran minimum contract. The young players will likely be relied on a lot more than before.

The Wolves didn’t agree on deals on the first day of the market open, but now is a good time to take a look at where the roster stands.

Point guard

Beginner: Mike Conley, 36 years old

Bank: Rob Dillingham, 19

The skinny one: Conley signed a two-year extension in February, a deal that would likely take him to the end of his career. He is an essential part of what the Timberwolves do, and his physical limitations in the Western Conference finals were one of the reasons the series was over so quickly.

Conley is still a starter in this league, but the Wolves need more depth behind him, which is one of the reasons they were so aggressive in signing Dillingham on the first night of the draft.

For all the flashy, bucket-generated highlights in Dillingham’s reel, Connelly made one thing very clear after trading him. The Wolves see him as a point guard.

“He’s a 1,” Connelly said. “He is a 1 who is a bucket.”

Free agent outlook: Morris and McLaughlin were backup point guards last season. There are indications that McLaughlin is likely to end up elsewhere. The Wolves would like to bring Morris back to give them some more veteran experience, but that also seems unlikely given his limited playing time in the playoffs and the addition of Dillingham in the draft.

Shooting guard

Beginner: Anthony Edwards, 22

Bank: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, 25; Jaylen Clark, 22

The skinny: Edwards emerged as a legitimate superstar in his fourth season after playing with Team USA in the FIBA ​​World Cup. Now he’s heading to Paris for the Olympics, which will surely give him even more strength when he comes back for Year 5, a special track for him. Alexander-Walker made a name for himself last season as a top-level perimeter defender. The next step for him is becoming more consistent with his offense.

Clark sat out his rookie season while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and will play in the summer league. He will have plenty of rust to beat, but he was highly regarded as a college prospect before his injury at UCLA.

Free agent prospects: Because Dillingham can also play off the ball, the Wolves have a lot of versatility in the backcourt. Do they need another shooting guard? No. But adding shooting is never a bad thing. Delon Wright, a combo guard, could be worth considering if the market allows it. Eric Gordon would have been interesting, but he was picked up by Philadelphia soon after the market opened.

Small forward

Beginner: Jaden McDaniels, 23

Bank: Terrence Shannon Jr., 23; Josh Minott, 21

The skinny one: McDaniels was great defensively last season, building on his reputation as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. But he had a disappointing season on offense, with poor stats across the board, including his 33.7 percent three-point shooting. He was much better in the playoffs and should build on that in his fifth season.

Shannon was selected 27th overall and the Wolves like his aggressiveness attacking the rim and getting out in transition. He will turn 24 at the end of July, which makes him older than many ‘veterans’ on the roster.

Minott has played 187 minutes in his two seasons. With so much on the line in the regular season, as the Wolves battled for a playoff spot, Finch simply didn’t trust himself to give Minott consistent playing time. If Anderson leaves, Finch may have no choice but to give Minott a real chance. He has intriguing physical skills. It’s time to see if he’s ready for real action.

Free agent prospects: There’s a lot of youth at the position. Even though Anderson was more of a power forward, he could handle the ball and get to the 3 when needed. Joe Ingles, a player the Wolves have attracted interest in the past, would bring a veteran presence and shot maker. Connelly would have been interested in Gordon Hayward had he hit the buyout market last winter, but I haven’t heard any buzz about his name in free agency. Torrey Craig has hit 39 percent of his 3s over the last two seasons.

Power forward

Beginner: Karl-Anthony Steden, 28

Bank: Naz Reid, 24; Leonard Miller, 20

The skinny: Towns was an All-Star again in 2023-24 and played very well against Phoenix and Denver in the playoffs. He struggled against Dallas, renewing calls in some quarters to trade him. But the Wolves won’t be making a trade this summer to save money. Owner Glen Taylor is determined to spend big to keep the team competitive.

Reid won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year for his play last season and has measurably improved each season he has been in the league. He likely has real trade value in the league, but the Wolves see him as a vital part of their team going forward.

Miller is an exciting prospect, big, strong, athletic and with a knack for rebounding. He is still relatively inexperienced and will likely spend a lot of time in Iowa again. But the Wolves are very positive about his long-term prospects.

Free agent prospects: Point guard and wing seem like more likely targets for the Wolves, but they could consider old friend Robert Covington as a possibility. He’s dealing with injuries and could just stay in Philly, so it might be unlikely. Doug McDermott is a 41 percent 3-point shooter in his career. His defensive shortcomings may not be as noticeable against this group of Wolves and his ability to hit open 3s would be helpful.

Centre

Beginner: Rudy Gobert, 32

Bank: Reid and cities

The skinny one: Gobert returned to form as one of the dominant defenders in the league and won his fourth NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. The image of Luka Dončić hitting the 3 over him in the conference finals will linger, but the deal to get him has already been validated by their success this season and the playoff experience it gave Edwards, Reid and McDaniels .

The Wolves have the best three-big rotation in the league. KAT and Naz’s versatility allows them to play both frontcourt positions, and all three can play in two-big or one-big lineups.

Free agent outlook: Luka Garza is a restricted free agent. The Wolves really want to bring him back. He hasn’t been able to play much yet, but he is a gifted attacking player and does provide insurance if one of the biggest players gets injured.

(Photo by Kyle Anderson: David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)