Wolves agree to one-year deal with Tolliver, rescind Bjelica’s qualifying offer
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves are welcoming back a familiar face.
The Wolves agreed to a one-year deal with sharpshooting forward Anthony Tolliver on Monday, July 2, a source confirmed. The deal reportedly is worth $5.75 million, draining Minnesota of most of the mid-level exception money it could use without going into the luxury tax.
In a corresponding move, Minnesota rescinded the qualifying offer for Nemanja Bjelica, making the Serbian an unrestricted free agent. The Wolves didn’t have the cap space to bring Bjelica back after signing Tolliver.
In three years in Minnesota, Bjelica established himself as an asset off the Wolves bench, primarily as a floor spacer — the 30-year-old shot 42 percent on 3-point attempts last season — but it always felt like there was more of his game to show, primarily his play-making abilities. He battled inconsistent play, but that could have been a product of his sporadic playing time.
Minnesota chased Tolliver from the start of free agency, with coach Tom Thibodeau reaching out to the 6-foot-8 forward early to get his foot in the door. The Wolves showed interest in Tolliver in previous years but were able to close a deal this time around. This will be Tolliver’s second stint in Minnesota. He played for the Wolves from 2010-12.
That familiarity, not with the coaching staff but with the city, played a large role in Tolliver’s decision. He had offers for similar money from other teams, and the Los Angeles Clippers put the full-court press on Tolliver, sending a contingent — led by team owner Steve Ballmer — to visit Tolliver at his Dallas home in an attempt to sign the 33-year-old.
But ultimately, Tolliver’s comfort with the area and value of the Twin Cities community, along with the Wolves’ commitment to him during free agency, pushed Tolliver to Minnesota.
Tolliver averaged 8.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in 22.2 minutes a game last season in Detroit.
He is one of the NBA’s premier shooters among big men. Tolliver shot 43.6 percent from 3-point range last season on 4.6 attempts a game. He averaged 7.5 3-point attempts per 36 minutes, which would have ranked first among Timberwolves players. He is more comfortable serving as a catch-and-shoot option than Bjelica and provides another veteran presence to a locker room that needed more of those after Jamal Crawford opted out of his contract and the team waived veteran center Cole Aldrich.
Tolliver will assume Bjelica’s former role as the Wolves’ backup power forward, and he may also play some small forward when the Wolves go to a big lineup. He is a capable post defender, holding opponents to 49.8 percent on shots within 10 feet last season. For reference, Bjelica had the Wolves’ best such mark last season, holding opponents to 57.6 percent shooting in close.
Tolliver provides stability and versatility and could lighten Taj Gibson’s workload. Gibson averaged more than 33 minutes a game last season, far and away the highest workload of his career.
Assuming Minnesota signs both draft picks — first-round selection Josh Okogie, whose contract will be guaranteed, and second-rounder Keita-Bates Diop — the Wolves will have 12 players signed under contract next season. Barring a trade, they likely will sign one or two more players to minimum-salary contracts, which could be it in terms of guaranteed deals this offseason.
Over the weekend, Marc Stein of the New York Times reported that the Wolves plan to offer Jimmy Butler to a max-salary extension for four years and $110 million. That’s the most Minnesota can offer at the moment given its salary cap situation, but Butler is unlikely to sign the offer because that would mean leaving a lot of money on the table.
The All-NBA wing, who is likely to decline his 2019-20 player option to hit free agency next summer, would be eligible for a five-year deal worth roughly $187 million from the Wolves next offseason should he choose to stay in Minnesota.