NBA free agency begins July 1. Until then, you’re going to see free agent profiles from all over the league. Where will the most notable names land? Why will they land there? For all the profiles we’ve already covered, click here.
P.J. Tucker is the rare player who fits on just about any roster in basketball. He plays excellent defense across multiple positions. He shoots decently enough on three’s. He’s tough enough to give your team’s personality and edge without being so brutish as to overwhelm it. He’s the sort of player any team with an active interest in winning should want.
Trouble is, the teams with an active interest in winning don’t have money. That’s a problem for Tucker. Most 32-year-old players have made enough of it to take a pay cut at that stage of their career so they can compete for a championship. But after one year as a second round draft pick for the Raptors, Tucker spent the next five season in Europe. The three-year, $16.5 million contract he signed in 2014 represents almost all of his career earnings. Bismack Biyombo made more than that this season alone.
That limits Tucker’s options pretty severely. He will not get a better chance to cash out than he has right now. But no team will make him their top priority. In that sense, Tucker’s best hope is someone else striking out on bigger targets and turning to him as a consolation prize.
Minnesota is a prime consolation prize destination. They can create something like $30 million in cap space pretty easily, enough to take a swing on someone like Serge Ibaka or Paul Millsap if they so choose. They also play in Minnesota and are several years away from contention. So when they inevitably miss on whoever that first choice is, players like Tucker become pretty appealing.
Does that make it a great move for Minnesota? Probably not. They’re so young that investing in a player in his 30s would be a bizarre choice. By the time they’re ready to compete he will likely have outlived his usefulness. And with their cap space set to expire next summer, the Timberwolves aren’t going to get a do-over on this signing.
But Tom Thibodeau is impatient and wants his wings to play defense first and foremost. That makes Andre Roberson another candidate for Minnesota’s cap space. And they’ll give him a look, but there are market considerations here. If Minnesota spends up to the cap on a wing and a big, or blows their wad on one big-name player, they’ll jump up to the tax next summer with Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine signing new contracts. With Karl-Anthony Towns’ mega-extension looming the year after, the Timberwolves would probably prefer something a bit shorter-term than what the younger Roberson will want.
They need to maintain flexibility, so getting Tucker for two years probably makes more sense than getting Roberson for four purely from a business perspective. On the basketball side? Not so much. But the Timberwolves are subject to stricter financial realities than most teams.
There’s an argument to be made that someone like Tucker would be perfect for Minnesota’s locker room. Frankly, their young players (most notably Andrew Wiggins) don’t try very hard. Giving them an example of a veteran who has survived on effort and grit could be helpful. I’m dubious of that. If Kevin Garnett can’t get you to care, I’m not sure anyone can. But I’m sure the thought eventually crosses Thibodeau’s mind.
Something like a two-year, $25 million contract probably gets it done for Tucker. If the market sours because of his age, he might fall down into mid-level territory. Milwaukee is a team to watch there if they lose Tony Snell in restricted free agency, but that’s not likely. Minnesota just has the best combination of need, culture fit and cap space to get a deal done.
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