Building a winner

 

462px-bob_the_builder_medium

With the season nearly 1/2 gone, the win streak over, and all eyes on the league standings because of the Marko/Clipper pick, it's now time to talk about the issues that face this team going forward.  What do they need and what should they do?  Let's run this down in 2 sections: front office/coaching and personnel.  

Front office/coaching:

The most pressing issue facing the squad is the coach and front office.  Will Kevin McHale be at the end of the bench at the opening tip of the 2009/10 season?  Will Toronto Ron, Jesus Jim, and Freddie Iowa run the front office in Triangle of Accountability fashion?  Will Papa Glen bring in an honest-to-Pete professional GM to run the ship? 

While things have turned around a bit of late, this team is still built on the backs of a rather large contingent of McHale blunders and I believe Wolves fans should begin to brace themselves for a continuation of the status quo.  If the Wolves win between 25-30 games, and if the current trend of player development continues, it would be very hard to argue that the Wolves could find a coach that would improve upon what McHale is already doing at the end of the bench.  He clearly has his in-game flaws, but if this team continues to play as it should have since the beginning of the year, and if guys like Kevin Love, Sebastian Telfair, and Ryan Gomes continue to show solid development, McHale should be brought back as a coach.  What other available coach can bring around this type of improvement?  Sam Mitchell? Flip Saunders?  Sorry folks. Not going to happen.

Of course, it follows that if McHale stays, the likelihood of a new GM being brought in goes out the window, as any new front office director would want to put their own stamp on the ball club and that typically begins with their choice of coach.  What young and promising front office professional in his right mind would take a job with a built-in coach who also happens to be the guy who put together the talent on the floor?  My guess is that such a creature does not exist.

Hoopus Prediction:

Kevin McHale will remain at the head of the bench and Ron/Fred/Jim will man the front office with input from the head coach.  The Pat Reusse conspiracy theory here is that as long as McHale is employed by this club he will have the last say on personnel matters.  I think it is clear that those days are over.  Papa Glen kicked McHale out of the front office and told him (explicitly or not) to coach or else.  This year's draft is very important and bringing in a new GM would raise numerous schedule and logistical challenges.  There is something to be said about continuity, even in down times. 

Hoopus Prescription:

If the Wolves continue improving both their record and personnel development Kevin McHale should be retained and the front office trio should be allowed to operate throughout the draft and free agency provided that McHale's role is reduced to that of what Minnesota coaches have enjoyed in the past.  If McHale is going to atone for what he did to Dwane Casey, then he should be treated like Mr. Casey when it comes to the duties of his old job.  We have talked about bringing in a real GM quite a bit here at Hoopus but if pressed to make an actual change, the twin constraints of time and continuity make a practical change in this particular off-season (which just happens to be the most important off-season in team history; a make-or-break culmination of both the KG and Mayo trades) a tough proposition.  Like it or not this is the crew that is going to see this thing through and that fact will not change.  The time to make the change was at the firing of Witt.  It didn't happen and this group, for better or worse, is what fans will have to deal with this off-season.

Personnel, pt i: Free Agency:

When the Mayo/Love deal went down one of the first things the team discussed was the impact that the deal would have on the 09 and 10 free agency seasons.  According to our handy-dandy contract page the Wolves are currently on the books for roughly $50.6 mil minus cap holds and options (including one for the short-on-time Rashad McCants).  Assuming they walk away from the draft with about $4 mil in guaranteed contracts (it could be more or less depending on where and who they pick), our favorite squad is looking at coming in somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 mil below the salary cap should the rest of the roster remain the same.  In this economy this is probably enough to land a decent mid-level player but probably not enough to bring in anyone of significance. 

The elephant in the team's off-season room (and pre-trading deadline room) is Mike Miller.  Miller is both the team's most valuable trading asset and salary cutting measure.  Should the Wolves be able to move his contract (+ either Cardinal's or Collins') to, say, Cleveland for an expiring Wally Szczerbiak, they would immediately open up an additional $9-15 mil for use in the 09 free agent market.  While Miller certainly possesses hypothetical trade value, removing his money from the books is the #1 concrete way this team can be the biggest players in a relatively uncontested free agency season.  In other words, Miller needs to be moved for an expiring deal before the year ends. With Randy Foye showing promise at the 2, Miller is a luxury this team cannot afford; a non-shooting sharp shooter who doesn't play a lick of defense at the position the Wolves need athleticism, rebounding, and defense from: the 3.

Let's take a quick look at some free agents of note:

  1. Marvin Williams (restricted)- The Atlanta SF should be the Wolves' #1 free agent target.  He has youth, athleticism and as a former #2 pick, he still has worlds of upside. 
  2. Trevor Ariza (unrestricted)- Young? Check.  Can rebound like hell? Check.  Defensive wiz? Check.  Legit size and athleticism? Check. 
  3. Mehmet Okur (ETO)- Utah's starting center has experience playing next to an undersized 4 as well as being more perimeter oriented on offense.  Okur could be a solid option should Nikola Pekovic send the club signals that he does not want to come over.
  4. Hedo Turkoglu (ETO)- Hedo is about to turn 30 but would be a solid fit on the Wolves. He's Miller with size and a desire to shoot. Will Orlando be able to keep him after overpaying for Rashard Lewis?  Can Hedo keep it up for 4 more years?  He is definitely a risk/reward proposition at this point in his career. 
  5. Ramon Sessions (unrestricted restricted; h/t to Norsktroll in the comments)-  The Milwaukee PG could be an option should the Wolves fail to land a PG in the draft.  He and Bassy could hold down the position for years.
  6. Hakim Warrick (restricted)-  The Memphis forward is coming on this year and is deserving of a look. 
  7. Ben Gordon (unrestricted)- Gordon is having himself a decent year in Chicago.  Wolves fans who feel burned by the O.J. Mayo trade should like Gordon for his ability to score in a similar manner as the Memphis guard.  He may not have the tools to be a Mayo-esque play maker but he does several things that Mayo may never develop into; namely, get to the line.
  8. Josh Childress (restricted)-  He plays in Greece.  You may have heard of him. 
  9. Matt Barnes (unrestricted)- Vet who hustles. 
  10. Bobby Jackson (unrestricted)- Vet who hustles. 

Personnel, pt. ii: Trades:

The yin to the free agent yang is the trade market.  Another way in which Miller + Cardinal can be deployed is to be combined with other assets in a trade to bring on an established player.  Let's take a look-see at some players that could help the squad:

  1. Gerald Wallace- Wolves fans have been on Wallace's bandwagon for a while.  He actually has a fairly decent contract going forward and offers all of the things the Wolves would like to see at the 3: solid defense, athleticism, size, and a decent amount of offense.
  2. Caron Butler- Butler is still young enough to be effective.  He doesn't have the long range game that would be ideal alongside Big Al and Love but he does offer a tip-top mid-range game with grit and defense. 
  3. Tayshaun Prince- A bit long in the tooth but if he wants out of Detroit he'd be a fantastic fit here in Minny. 
  4. Andrei Kirilenko- Would be #1 if not for his absurd contract.  He makes a ton of money.  Otherwise, he's the perfect fit for the Wolves.
  5. Ty Thomas- Can he play the Josh Smith role? Defensive monster from the weak side?
  6. Brandan Wright- Nelly doesn't deserve this guy.  He has underperformed by a mile on the boards but the talent is still there.
  7. Joe Johnson- If they can pry him loose....
  8. Rip Hamilton- Old but good...and apparently a bit disgruntled.

Personnel, pt. iii: The Draft:

This one needs no introduction so let's get started with our current draft board:

  1. James Harden
  2. Blake Griffin
  3. Jrue Holiday
  4. Evan Turner
  5. Hasheem Thabeet

The Next 5: Danny Green, Earl Clark, Cole Aldrich, Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson

Dark Horses: Nick Calathes, Ty Hansbrough, Ty Smith, Jarvis Varnado, Kyle Singler, Chase Budinger, Willie Warren

Internationals: Ricky Rubio, Brandon Jennings, Victor Claver

I still have Harden at the top of the list because I believe he offers exactly the type of impact in the back court as Griffin does in the front court.  Obviously, if the Wolves have the 1st pick they have to consider trade value (esp with Griffin and 2 other PFs on the roster), but Harden should be at the top of his list as he is clearly the best guard in the draft (again, I don't know how to rank internationals so you need to account for Rubio and Jennings). 

I want readers to start paying attention to Jrue Holiday, Jarvis Varnado, Evan Turner, and...sigh...Kyle Singler, a Dukie. 

As if it isn't clear already, the Wolves are in need of help in a few key areas: point, the 3, and a legit athletic front court player.  Take a look at their positional stats:

Minnesota Timberwolves

08-09
Ranks (Net)
PER Difference
POS
Pts
FG%
Reb
Ast
T/O
FTA
PER
Opp
Rank
PG 29   30   30   17   15   21   11.8  20.5  30  
SG 13   21   4   20   14   14   15.8  14.9  12  
SF 30   28   14   21   16   28   11.1  17.9  29  
PF 18   25   15   9   29   12   16.1  18.7  24  
C 2   24   16   17   9   6   21.4  18.0  8  

Net Production by Position

Position
FGA
eFG%
FTA
iFG
Reb
Ast
T/O
Blk
PF
Pts
PER*
PG
-2.3   -.109   -0.9   0%  -1.7   -0.2   -0.1   -0.1   -2.2   -6.5   -8.7  
SG
1.0   -.006   0.1   7%  1.4   -0.5   -0.0   -0.2   -0.2   1.2   +0.9  
SF
-3.6   -.051   -2.7   -2%  0.1   -0.5   -0.1   0.0   -1.0   -7.2   -6.9  
PF
0.5   -.058   0.6   21%  0.2   0.5   -0.7   -1.0   0.6   -1.2   -2.6  
C
7.6   -.043   1.8   -3%  0.4   -0.3   0.2   -1.3   1.3   7.8   +3.4  

With Rashad McCants, Rodney Carney, and possibly Mike Miller headed out the door, and with Sebastian Telfair being the only real point on the squad, the Wolves need to address their perimeter more than anything else.  This team does not--I repeat: does not!!!--need to draft a center for drafting a center's sake.  It is not the most pressing need on the team with the possibility of Pekovic coming over in 2010 and with Big Al holding his own at the position.  This team needs another guard and a 3 in a bad, bad way.

Hoopus Prediction:

The Wolves will put too much stock in their recent win streak/solid play and fail to move Mike Miller and/or Brian Cardinal's contract before the Feb. trading deadline.  (It goes like this: If they were this good without Miller playing well, how good will they be when he "gets it"?) This will significantly impact their ability to operate in free agency during the 2009 off-season as well as their ability to put together a meaningful sign-and-trade package for an upper-level/up-and-coming talent.  They will instead focus on the draft and end up with 2 players, one of them being Tyler Hansbrough (who would actually be fantastic in the role of The Artist Formerly Known as the Rhino).  The status quo will then deliver them a significant amount of cap space in the 2010 off-season which they will be unable to utilize because of the increased competition. 

Hoopus Prescription:

Mike Miller should be traded as soon as possible. The ideal move would be Miller + Cardinal to Cleveland for Wally.  This would free up a significant amount of cap space for the 2009 off-season; a market in which they would then be the top player in the league.  They should also not extend any options to the existing expiring contracts on the squad.  This would then bring them into the draft with 10 contracts, up to 4 1st rounders, and a boat load of cap space. 

The team will then need to deploy its resources with a two-pronged strategy.  They have 2 major pressing needs: a point that can either start or evenly split time with Bassy and a 3 that can allow Ryan Gomes to come off the bench.  There are a few caveats here; namely, if the team is able to draft James Harden or Blake Griffin they should do so without hesitation and then focus on getting the most value for their selection in a trade (for either pick or an existing player).  One way or another, these 2 needs need to be addressed in the draft and free agency.  Let's take a look at what is available at each position. Each player will be designated with either a "D" (draft), "FA" (free agent), or "T" (trade).

Points:

  1. Ricky Rubio (D),
  2. Jrue Holiday (D),
  3. Ramon Sessions (FA),
  4. Ty Lawson (D),
  5. Brandon Jennings (D),
  6. Stephen Curry (D),
  7. Bobby Jackson (FA)

As you can see, this year's draft has the potential to be fairly decent at the point. You can even add guys like Nick Calathes and Patrick Mills to the mix.  The bottom line here is that the team probably has a better chance of receiving value at the point in the draft than it does through free agency unless it wants to attempt to pursue someone a bit longer in the tooth like Mike Bibby or Bobby Jackson.

Small forwards:

  1. Marvin Williams (FA/T)
  2. Trevor Ariza (FA)
  3. Andrei Kirilenko (T)
  4. Caron Butler/Gerald Wallace (T)
  5. Tayshaun Prince (T)
  6. Earl Clark (D)
  7. Chase Budinger (D)
  8. Kyle Singler (D)

I think this is the position where the Wolves will have to do a little wheeling-and-dealing.  Guys like Butler, Wallace, AK47, and Prince all would require significant assets in order to acquire.  Ariza is a bit on the raw side and Williams is a RFA who would likely require some sort of sign-and-trade to keep overpayment down.  Should they simply toss off an offer to Atlanta they would effectively be putting all of their free agent eggs in a single basket for 10 days while Atlanta decides to match or not.  By negotiating a sign-and-trade, they can hit the ground running and avoid any loss of control that would come about by simply issuing an offer to Williams. 

Depending on how the lottery plays out the Wolves could be in a position to draft their way into value while saving money under the cap for a bolder free agent move (like Okur or Hedo) or for a bigger signing down the road. 

If they don't luck out in the lotto, they will then be faced with the question of how to field their assets in order to a) get the pick they want and b) get the player they want (whether by way of cap space or trade value).  If the lotto provides them with either Rubio or Holiday and they retain the Heat pick in a place where Clark, Budinger, or Singler is available, I think they sit tight, count their blessings (and cash), and wait until next off-season to make any additional moves.  If they are further down in the draft I think they first call up Atlanta and see what they would be wiling to take for Marvin Williams.  If Atlanta is not receptive to this offer, or if they needed more assets to move up in the draft to get their guard, then they get on the horn to Trevor Ariza and offer him a contract that will guarantee him, his children, and his children's children comfort for life. I should also note that if the Wolves can move Miller's contract (+ any additional assets to a reasonable extent) for one of the 7 existing players listed below, they should do so; Gerald Wallace is probably the most likely candidate for this proposition.)

Let's lay down these assets in terms of overall talent:

Existing players:

  1. AK47
  2. Caron Butler
  3. Tayshaun Prince
  4. Gerald Wallace
  5. Trevor Ariza
  6. Marvin Williams
  7. Ramon Sessions

Draft:

  1. Ricky Rubio
  2. Jrue Holiday
  3. Ty Lawson
  4. Brandon Jennings
  5. Earl Clark
  6. Chase Budinger
  7. Kyle Singler

Now let's rank these players in terms of ease of acquirement:

  1. Kyle Singler
  2. Chase Budinger
  3. Ty Lawson
  4. Brandon Jennings
  5. Earl Clark
  6. Ramon Sessions
  7. Trevor Ariza
  8. Jrue Holiday
  9. Marvin Williams
  10. Ricky Rubio
  11. Gerald Wallace
  12. Tayshaun Prince'
  13. Caron Butler
  14. AK47

My guess is that if Ricky Rubio comes out, he will be quite the commodity.  The basic formula here is that you try to maximize value by getting as much talent as you can for the assets you have.  We'll adjust this list as we start to find out who is going to be in the draft or not but you get the basic idea.  The most talent the Wolves could hypothetically bring in with this formula is AK47 and Rubio.  The easiest would probably be Kyle Singler and Ty Lawson. 

Personnel, pt. iv: Pet projects:

Following a guard and a legit 3, this team's biggest need is either a positionally flexible backup at the 4/5 or an athletic front court player with good length. I have 3 players in mind: Joakim Noah, Ty Thomas, and Brandan Wright. If the Wolves can acquire any one of these players for something involving Craig Smith + the Utah or Boston draft picks, they should not hesitate to do so.

Well, that about does it.  I wish we had something else to say about the coaching and front office situation but there just doesn't appear to be enough time to make it work; nor does it appear likely that a new GM would come in with McHale as the head coach.  In the mean time, the team needs to set itself up to trade Miller (and hopefully Cardinal) for as large of an expiring deal as possible.  They then need to position themselves for a point and a small forward in the upcoming off-season through free agency and the draft.  Ideally they would retain a large amount of money under the cap ($10-12 mil) to a) save in the 09 season and b) spend down the line on Pekovic and re-upping a core player.  Right now if I had to pick an ultimate scenario it would be this:

  1. Sebastian Telfair/Ricky Rubio
  2. Randy Foye/Corey Brewer
  3. AK47/Ryan Gomes
  4. Kevin Love/(Wright/Thomas/Noah)
  5. Al Jefferson/(Wright/Noah)

I'd also like them to find a way to draft a guy out of Mississippi State named Jarvis Varnado.  Defense and shot blocking of the bench would be quite nice to have.  If I had to pick the most doable situation with the highest value, I would go with this:

  1. Sebastian Telfair/Jrue Holiday
  2. Randy Foye/Corey Brewer
  3. Gerald Wallace/Ryan Gomes
  4. Kevin Love/(HansbroughVarnado)/Gomes
  5. Al Jefferson/Love/(Hansbrough/Varnado)

Ideally, they could get Thomas, Noah, or Wright to fill out a front court position.  What combos do you think are optimal?  Which ones are realistic?  Who would you add?  What do we have right?  What are we missing?  How would you build this club?  We look forward to your input. 

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