With the trade deadline approaching, I figure it would behoove us to look at moves the Wolves could conceivably make in order to improve this team. Now, the caveat with these is that I don't think the Wolves should necessarily look at something for this season. It would take a rather larger miracle for the Wolves to make the postseason, and they'd probably get waxed in the first round anyway. But they could make some moves to get things set for the next seaon.
As has been discussed here several times, the two weakest positions for the Wolves right now are point guard and small forward. Now, contrary to that sentence, I will say that I think the Wolves have solid depth at those two positions. Gomes, Telfair, Brewer, and Telfair are all very fine second-string options for those positions. I would go further and say the only depth the Wolves are missing is a 7' swatter, as you can add Mike Miller, Randy Foye at point, and Craig Smith at the 4 as very capable backups. So the Wolves need to get some solid starters. But how?
First, let's look at the point guards. The first target on the list is Mike Conley. He's been having a rough year, as Mayo has emerged as the young face of the Grizzlies, and he's being made redundant by the mangement and/or OJ Mayo's insistence that the #3 pick plays the point. On top of that, his numbers have been dropping this year. But those are misleading numbers, and hiding the sucess he's been having. First, the sucess; Conly is hitting 39% of his threes, takes a very solid 4 points per 100 possessions off opponents' offense, he's a plus rebounder, and has a very good ast:to ratio. If he drives to the hoop a bit more, and steps out on the long twos, his efg% should improve nicely and he should see the line a lot more. Now, the problems is that his points and assists have dropped like a rock this year. That's the opposite of what you want to see in a point guard, but there is a very simple reason for this: OJ Mayo.
For those that remember, I spent a lot of time early in the season banging on about how OJ Mayo got his numbers through and absurdly high number of touches. But taking it from a Wolves perspective, I never considered where he was getting those numbers. It turns out it was coming at Conley's expense. Conley currently has a usage % (that's the percentage of plays that occur on the court the player is involved in, for the non-uber nerds in the crowd) of 16.0. Let me read off some known names that are between 15.5 and 16.5, and you tell me what they have in common: Delonte West. Trevor Ariza. Corey Brewer. Wally Szczerbiak. Sasha Vujacic. Al Horford. Sean Marks. Vladimir Radmanovic. Brandon Rush. Figure out what they all have in common? That's right, they're not point guards, nor are the on the court to create offense for others. There are three other point guards in that range. Two (Mario Chalmers and Chris Quinn) of them play for Miami, whose use of Dwayne Wade seems to be Memphis' template for using Mayo, and the other (Derek Fischer) plays in the triangle offense, which has no need for a traditional point. And to further prove the Mayo Affect, Conley has played 805 of his minutes with him. I think there's little doubt that Conley will improve, possibly vastly and quickly, should he be put on a team that uses point guards in a more traditional way. Two additional points on Conley. First, we know that he does very well when playing with a low-post beast. Can you think of anyone like that on the Wolves' roster? Second, he's some whose trade value is actually very easy to figure out. First, Milwaukee scuttled a deal that would have sent out Ramon Sessions and Joe Alexander, then Memphis killed a trade for Travis Outlaw. So why don't the Wolves offer Craig Smith, Rashad McCants, and a first rounder (ideally Boston's, but the lesser of the Utah/Miami set, if needed) to bring in a young, solid defending, woefully misused point guard?
Next up is Raymond Felton. The argument for him is a lot simpler. First he's going to get moved by the start of next season. Second he's pretty much a super-charged Bassy (bad shooting, good ball movement, workable defense). Along with Conley, he would probably benefit from a change of scenery. And it would be a lot of fun to see Larry Brown deal with Rashad McCants for half a season. The downside to this idea is that Felton is a restricted free agent after this season, which could result in limiting the Wolves future cap room. Additionally, he's 24, and while points take longer to mature, I like where Conley is at 21 a lot more. The upside is that it would probably cost the Wolves a lot less, and not damage that depth I was bragging about two paragraphs ago. Considering how hot Charlotte is to drop him, I see McCants, Booth, and the Celtics pick as being sufficient to get it done. But if the Wolves do like him, there's no reason they can't spend some money on him in the offseason, as I imagine Charlotte wouldn't match any contract, no matter how reasonable for the team.
Now, the small forwards. This seems to be much more difficult, as there don't seem to be any truly quality, young SFs in the discount bin at the moment. Additionally, I'm starting to think that you won't be able to get your hands on a young FA small forward for blood or money this offseason. In this environment, nere's the best I can find: Gerald Wallace, Brandan Wright, and Luol Deng (seriously).
The one that Wolves fans seem to like the most is Gerald Wallace. I like him too, but the only question is what the cost would be for the Wolves. While I don't think getting rid of one or two of the draft picks is necessarily bad, this trade would seem to be between two teams looking for similar things. Both are young teams looking to rebuild, and as such I imagine Charlotte would hope to get a young player back. But is there really any youth that we should throw to the non-wolves at this point? Besides McCants, who is pretty much just an expiring contract at this point?
The Brendan Wright situation is interesting. He's a solid rebounding, plus defending, good scoring small forward sophomore who seems to already be in Nellie's doghouse. He seems to be like the type of guy who the Wolves need, an athletic, fast jump shooter/ball control freak. In the past I've mentioned that I love Al's ability to not turn the ball over, and Wright is the exact same with the 11th lowest turnover rate in the league (second in SFs). I don't know why Nellie doesn't like him and I don't care. He would be a good fit, and could probably be had for McCants and pick, if he's truly as far out with Nellie as he seems to be. As an aside, I think Golden State is the one place McCants could redeem himself, as he seems tailor-made for Nellieball. The big caveat with Wright is that he only plays 16 minutes a game, and I have no idea how well he would hold up getting 30 minutes a game. But he's only 21, and I have to think that even if increased minutes resulted in decreased play for this season, he'd figure it out in fairly short order.
Now people might think I'm crazy, but I'm fairly positive that Luol Deng is on the move this summer. There are several interlocking reasons why. First, this Chicago team needs to be blown up. Everyone on it is underperforming, and they have dont' have a truly top guy like the the Celtics, Cavaliers, Magic, Lakers, or ever the Wolves have. This is a team that needs a change. Also, in 2010 we're going to be having the summer of LeBron/Bosh/Wade. Now, one of the big players is going to be New York. Despite being an awful team, they get respect for being a massive sports market. But why would you sign with New York, when you can sign with Chicago and get almost as much press on a much better team, as well as inherit the land of Jordan? The reason would be money. Right now the Bulls are way over the cap, but that is a lot easier to remedy than it looks. If they can move Hinrich (probable), Nocioni (maybe), and Deng (definite if they want to try), and combine that with the Larry Hughes expiration date, they will have around $30 million on the books in 2010, which gives them more than enough room to sign a max free agent. It probably a pipe dream, and couldn't happen until the BYC is removed from Deng (which should happen this offseaon), but I wouldn't be suprised to see Deng on the move within a year.
In any case, those are the trades I would like the Wolves to pursue. What do people think of them? And who else should they look at?