No one but Karl-Anthony Towns was safe on draft night. The Timberwolves spent much of Thursday discussing trade options for the No. 11 overall pick with the Pelicans. Robert Covington was rumored to be a part of the package for the No. 4 pick. When that fell through, the Timberwolves found a new swing partner.
Minnesota eventually acquired the No. 6 pick from Phoenix in exchange for pick No. 11 and forward Dario Saric. Saric was acquired by the Timberwolves along with Covington in last November’s Jimmy Butler trade.
Despite playing better after the trade, the Wolves decided to move Saric now. Saric was once a lottery pick in 2014 and just finished his third NBA season. It seemed reasonable before the draft that Saric may be a player the new front office would want to evaluate before moving, but that was not the case.
Here are a few reasons the Timberwolves may have decided to bail on Saric now.
Have someone else decide whether to pay him
If you’re not sold on a player and the time to extend their contract is approaching, it’s nice to have someone else make that decision. Saric is owed $3.7 million for 2020 but has a $4.8 million qualifying offer for 2021 if he chose to take it. Otherwise, Saric could enter restricted free agency where another team could sign him to an exorbitant offer sheet. By trading Saric now, the Wolves no longer have to decide to extend him or match an offer sheet.
When a team like Minnesota is figuring out how to manage the bad contracts they already have, they don’t want to worry about possibly adding another one. That’s Phoenix’s problem now.
New management wasn’t sold on Saric
Wolves President of Basketball of Operations Gersson Rosas has been around a long time. It’s likely that Rosas and his new managerial staff knew enough about Saric to decide that he didn’t fit their vision for the future.
Although Saric improved after Minnesota acquired him, especially as a shooter, he was still inconsistent and lacked decisiveness in his decision making. The idea of Saric as a stretch big man has often been far from Saric on the floor.
After three seasons, Saric is a 35 percent career 3-point shooter. Saric’s 3-point percent may have risen to 38.3 in his 68 games as a Timberwolf but on just 3.7 attempts per game, which would be a career-low. This is especially concerning since Saric was taking over five per game in 2018 and connecting on just under 40 percent of his 3-pointers.
The big man that makes 40 percent of his 3-pointers at a high volume is certainly worth that larger offer but a guy who shoots 35 percent from beyond the arc? Not so much. A player has to consistently demonstrate that they can stretch the floor in order to be a stretch big.
The Wolves decided between Saric and Covington
It seems likely that Saric and Covington were the team’s two best trade assets outside of Towns. However, trading Covington — a more consistent shooter and perimeter defender on a team-friendly deal — was likely less desirable. If it meant having to move arguably the team’s second-best player or Saric, you see why they chose to deal Saric.
The Wolves liked Saric but liked Jarret Culver more
This theory holds less water than the others because ESPN was reporting that the Wolves were still trying to trade the sixth pick up until it was announced. But it’s possible that the team had a strong indication that one of their top players was going to be available with that pick and that losing Saric was worth it.
Time will tell if trading Saric was the right decision
Whatever the reason was for moving Saric, we are unlikely to find out if this decision was the correct one. There is always the chance for regret when a team trades a 25-year-old player who just finished his third season, but any success will have to be measured against what happens to Culver throughout his career. Maybe just one team wins or the trade becomes a win-win.
We may not know why the Wolves moved Saric now but it will take time to learn if this was the correct decision.