Trades, targets and Taurean Prince: What I’m hearing about Wolves free agency

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With the opening of the free agent market just around the corner, the Timberwolves said goodbye to veteran forward Taurean Prince. Or did they?

The Wolves waived Prince on Wednesday to avoid guaranteeing his $7.4 million salary for next season. But league sources said so Athletics the team remains open to the idea of ​​bringing Prince back, depending on how the market shakes out when it opens for business on Friday. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the Timberwolves do not publicly comment on their plans for free agency.

When the opening bell rings on Friday night, anything can happen. And while the move may have felt personal to Prince, a proud veteran who helped Minnesota to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2004, it was all business for the Timberwolves, a team trying to get as much flexibility as possible to supplement their roster. The Wolves know there are several moves they need to make to keep up in the Western Conference, and the decision on Prince was designed to give them as much freedom as possible to make that happen.

Improving their outside shooting and adding another point guard are two of the team’s biggest goals heading into free agency, and there are several candidates on the market who could fill those needs. Theoretically, Prince could still be a part of it.

Prince played a key role with the Wolves over the past two seasons, hitting open 3-pointers when the ball found him, giving coach Chris Finch a versatile defender who could guard multiple positions and solidified himself as one of the team’s veteran voices in the closet. room. He averaged 9.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and shot 38 percent from 3 last season. He played just 54 games, mainly due to a shoulder injury, and was sorely missed when he was out. The Wolves went 7-13 during a 20-game stretch he missed from late November to mid-December.

The arrangement was mutually beneficial. When Prince was acquired from Cleveland in a 2021 trade with Ricky Rubio, he was coming off an injury-plagued season that had made the deal look like nothing more than a cost-cutting move for the Wolves. After shooting poorly to start his first season in Minnesota, he found a groove in the second half and showed the hustle, efficiency and disruption that teams crave.

He had some big moments in his sophomore season, including going 8 for 8 from 3-point range at Madison Square Garden to beat the New York Knicks in March.

But the Wolves are navigating complex fiscal issues right now. Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert have max contracts. Anthony Edwards is about to get one as soon as the market opens. Jaden McDaniels is also due a big raise. And the Wolves just signed Naz Reid to a healthy three-year, $42 million deal to become the third big.

That puts the onus on President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly to get creative to continue tinkering with a roster that won 42 games last season while dealing with significant injuries to Towns, Prince, Reid and McDaniels. In a vacuum, paying a good shooter like Prince $7.4 million next season is reasonable. But the wolves do not operate in a vacuum. They run in a pressure cooker.

The Wolves looked at other options to use Prince’s contract to make a deal before it had to be guaranteed, but couldn’t find a workable trade before the deadline Wednesday. One of the teams the Wolves had several conversations with, according to sources on both sides of it, was the Washington Wizards. Monte Morris, who played for Connelly on the Denver Nuggets, and Delon Wright were among the players discussed, but there was never any real traction on a deal.

Waiving Prince gets the Wolves for $15.5 million under the luxury tax with four guard spots to fill. They could use the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception worth $12.4 million next season, putting them in the running with much of the league in terms of spending power.

If no team claims Prince off waivers, he will become a free agent. Depending on how things pan out, the Timberwolves could be open to bringing him back on a deal for a little less money. It’s still unclear if Prince would be open to it as well. These types of transactions can often be difficult for the player to swallow. Taking a pay cut to play elsewhere is one thing, but doing it to stay is less common.

Prince could have several suitors on the open market, but he also has close relationships with many of his Timberwolves teammates and has become involved in community service in the Twin Cities. It may take some time to play out while the wolves look around to see what’s out there.

Biggest priorities

  • Anthony Edwards: After two equally strong performances in the playoffs, Edwards has solidified himself as a rising star and the Wolves’ centerpiece going forward. He recently announced that he will now be represented by WME Sports, and all signs point to a maximum contract extension very soon after the market opens. “I think any decision we make going forward will be with Ant at the forefront,” Connelly said at the end of the season.
  • Jaden McDaniels: The small forward is also in line for a contract extension on his rookie deal and expects to receive a significant offer. It’s not entirely clear what McDaniels will be offered. He is one of the very best under-25 two-way players in the league, a remarkable defender with a growing offensive game. His name was a hot topic for other teams during the draft, but the Wolves resisted trade offers because they see him as part of their core going forward. McDaniels is also co-repped by Innovative and WME, who took Suns center Deandre Ayton to restricted free agency when the offer they received wasn’t to their liking, so it will be interesting to see how high the Wolves offer goes. “I think the minute we can talk, we’re going to be very aggressive,” Connelly said of both young players. “Those guys are great. I meet a lot with those guys, Jaden and Ant together, because I know they’re going to be linked at the hip and they’re going to be as important to this team as everybody else is obviously.
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker: He was considered a throw-in by some when the Wolves traded D’Angelo Russell for Mike Conley in February. But NAW became a critical part of the Timberwolves rotation, defending Jamal Murray as well as any player in the playoffs. He can play either guard spot, giving Finch some flexibility with lineups. If he can become a more consistent 3-point shooter, he could be a real weapon off the bench. The Wolves have not announced the utilization of Alexander-Walker’s qualifying offer. If they exercise it and NAW signs it, he would be on the books for more than $7 million next season. But not fining him would do nothing to dampen their desire to keep him. It would just be a way of trying to keep the first year salary below that QO number. Alexander-Walker is a prime target for them.

External targets

There are several interesting options on the open market for the Wolves, who are looking to add a point guard to take some of the workload off Conley, who turns 36 before the season begins. With Prince hanging out there, the Wolves could also really use another 3-point shooter on a team that was middle of the pack in 3-point attempts (15th), makes (14th) and percentage (13th) last season.

In random order and not exhaustively:

  • Eric Gordon: News broke late Wednesday night that the Los Angeles Clippers waived Gordon to save money. He would be an ideal fit as a bench scorer if he would accept the mid-level exception. Gordon shot 42 percent after coming to Los Angeles in a trade with Houston.
    Likelihood of a deal: Slender. There should be a line out the door for his services.
  • Bruce Brown: What a playoff run with Denver for the tough defender and timely shot maker. Brown stepped out of Kevin Durant’s shadow in Brooklyn and was a major reason the Nuggets won a title. He can play either guard spot and would help the Wolves in so many areas. But every team in the league will be lining up to pay him.
    Likelihood of a deal: Can not see it.
  • Dennis Schroeder: The Wolves need a backup point guard, and Schroder filled just that role with the Los Angeles Lakers last season. He often played off D’Angelo Russell in the playoffs, leading to more minutes in big spots for him. He is an aggressive defender and forward with an edge.
    Likelihood of a deal: Doubtful, but never say never.
  • Jevon Carter: A tough, tough guard who quietly shot 42 percent from 3-point land for the Milwaukee Bucks last season. Carter started 39 games for one of the best teams in the league. His wing and playoff experience would serve this team well.
    Likelihood of a deal: This feels doable. Carter made a modest $3.9 million last season and will likely be looking for a bigger raise than Milwaukee can give him.
  • Max Strus: His shooting ability helped the Miami Heat in their surprising run to the NBA Finals. The Wolves registered interest in him at the trade deadline last year. Strus is also a hard-playing defender. Some of that heat culture could come in handy for this Timberwolves team.
    Likelihood of a deal: Certainly possible if another team doesn’t blow him out of the water with a huge offer.
  • Donte DiVincenzo: Much to like here. A good shooter (39.7 percent from 3 for the Warriors last season) who can handle it, get out in transition and defend a little bit. The Wolves were hot on him in the 2018 draft when he went three spots ahead of them and believed they were close to signing him last summer before he chose Golden State.
    Likelihood of a deal: It’s certainly possible, but I don’t think it’s likely.
  • Troy Brown Jr.: At 6-6, 215 pounds, Brown has good size for a wing. He shot 38 percent for the Lakers last season, but played sparingly in the Western Conference Finals. Wouldn’t break the bank for him.
    Likelihood of a deal: That could depend on how badly the Lakers want him back.
  • Josh Richardson: Only played 24 games for New Orleans, but at his best he’s a solid wing defender and a good shooter from 3. Does he still have it in him? Would come full circle because his name was involved in trade talks as Jimmy Butler orchestrated his way out of town.
    Likelihood of a deal: The market will likely be less competitive for him than for Brown or DiVincenzo, which would probably make a trade easier.

(Photo of Taurean Prince: C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)

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