FanPost

Jefferson, Laettner, and Rider

In 1996, the Wolves traded their two leading scorers, one at the trading deadline and the other in the offseason. One was far and away the most-productive player during the team's previous 3 1/2 seasons, but the team won 19, 20, and 21 games before he was shipped out with a productive backup center for a backup PG in the last year of his contract (Spud Webb) and a marginal starting C (Andrew Lang). The other averaged almost 19 ppg in his 3 seasons with the Wolves, but his teams won 20, 21, and 26 games, and he was shipped out for a mid-first-rounder (Paul Grant) and end-of-bench players (James Robinson and Bill Curley).

Why am I bringing this up?

Today, the Wolves traded away their leading scorer, a guy who, when healthy, was the most-productive player during the team's 3 seasons, but the team won 22, 24 (though he missed 32 games), and 15 games during his tenure. He was shipped out for 2 mid-late first round picks.

In '96, Christian Laettner was a productive player who was supposedly a "winner." However, he played the same position as another good player on the team, Tom Gugliotta, and his record with the Wolves speaks for itself. J.R. Rider won the slam dunk contest, had multiple 40+ point games, but also showed little success with the Wolves and took away some time that used to go to the team's former leading scorer, Doug West.

Neither Laettner nor Rider were solely responsible for the franchise's lack of success. They lacked talented teammates, a stable veteran presence, and good management. But after they were moved, the team was able to clear playing time for more-effective players. No one player completely made up for either guy's numbers, but the overall team made up for them by playing more efficiently and cohesively. And the bigger bonus: the team won more games. This is what might end up happening with Jefferson. As this stats comparison shows, these are similarly-productive players in their careers at Jefferson's age.

The obvious difference in the current iteration of the Wolves is that instead of KG and Steph, it's Wes and Jonny. Instead of Terry Porter and Sam Mitchell, it's Martell Webster and Darko Milicic. Instead of Stojko Vrankovic, it's Nikola Pek...actually, that one's in favor of the current group.

Overall, I'm not saying that this team will win 40 games like that group did (and I cannot stress this enough). I'm saying that sometimes, productive players on losing teams are productive because they're getting an opportunity as much as because they're good, and that sometimes, there are other players who can be just as productive with those opportunities, and maybe they end up being more productive. At the very least, the loss of the other player has little to no effect on the team's success. I understand that Jefferson doesn't bring the same chemistry problems those guys did, but he does bring the same opportunity cost they did. Playing him means not giving minutes to players who might (might) be more productive. Is it really a stretch to think that Kevin Love could be as good as Googs or that Webster could be as productive as Doug West? That maybe a bench with Brewer, Beasley, Sessions or Ridnour, and Pekovic could be as productive as Chris Carr, Porter, Mitchell, and Cherokee Parks?

Here's my point: getting rid of productive players and not receiving equal productivity in return doesn't mean the team can't improve, and it certainly doesn't mean that getting rid of that player has decreased their chance to improve.

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