Jefferson to Jazz, rebuilding can finally begin

In 2008, the Timberwolves franchise was throwing its weight behind … wait for it …

PG: Sebastian Telfair, Bobby Brown, Kevin Ollie
SG: Randy Foye, Rashad McCants
SF: Corey Brewer, Rodney Carney, Ryan Gomes, Mike Miller
PF: Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, Craig Smith, Mark Madsen, Shelden Williams, Brian Cardinal
C: Calvin Booth, Jason Collins

Now, with the trade of Al Jefferson, only two of these players remain: Corey Brewer and Kevin Love.

As the Star Tribune's Michael Rand points out, the following is the precise quote from GM Kevin McHale about THIS squad, just two months before he was canned.

"I think we have a good, young group of guys. I think these kids can play. I think they can do a lot of good stuff together. And I thought we were on the verge of moving up. When you’re on a rebuilding program
like that, it takes a little bit of time. It’s disappointing not to be able to see that through."

That’s not even sort of true. That is so far beyond the realm of absurdity that it’s within reach of the certifiably deranged. It’s delusional. It’s no-holds-barred insanity. Which is why, finally, 14 years too late, McHale was fired. His "good, young group of guys" went 27-55, and had two legitimate starting players on a team of 17 guys, and they play the same position.

Now, whether you agree with some of the moves David Kahn has made — and you should — the opportunity to start over has finally arrived. It’s commonly known that a rebuilding process takes seven years to finish. We’ve just drafted for year three.

In two years, David Kahn has blown up this joke of a franchise, the Detroit Lions of the NBA, the laughingstock of professional sports.

The current roster stands:

PG: Jonny Flynn, (Ramon Sessions), Luke Ridnour
SG: Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington, Corey Brewer
SF: Wesley Johnson, Lazar Hayward
PF: Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Nikola Pekovic
C: Darko Milicic, Ryan Hollins

Longer, faster, better shooters, better defenders, better rebounders.

Add Ricky Rubio to that list, and it looks even better.

The oldest player on this team is now 29-year-old Luke Ridnour. Next? 25-year-old Ryan Hollins.

This is how you rebuild. You reinvent. You redefine. You develop a philosophy. You get younger. You find players who fit. You trade players who don’t fit. You evaluate. You make tough decisions. You don’t overpay. You stockpile assets for the future.

You start over.

Only the most well-run teams (read: the Spurs and Lakers), can rebuild from simple mediocrity. Most, including our Wolves, need to categorically start from scratch.

And kudos to David Kahn for recognizing this 15 years before his predecessor.

The list of bad decisions and even worse draft picks made by the previous administration is staggering. Staggering.

I challenge you to name one decision made in the last two years that will haunt the Wolves franchise more than illegally signing Joe Smith to a nine-year, $90 million contract. Or trading Sam Cassell and a first-round pick to the Clippers for Marko Jaric, a deal the team still, to this moment, has hanging over its head. Or drafting Ndudi Ebi before Josh Howard. Or signing Mike James to a $20 million deal. Or signing Wally Szczerbiak to a $66 million deal. Or signing resident hand-slapper Mark Madsen to a five-year deal. Or signing Troy Hudson and Trenton Hassell to multi-year deals.

You can’t. Because there aren’t any.

What needed to be done, and what hadn’t been done in franchise history, was an honest evaluation of talent.

When Kahn and Kurt Rambis came across the conglomeration of talentless clowns McHale had assembled, they rightly determined that a blow-up was necessary.

With the trade of Al Jefferson to the Jazz, consider the fire out.

Al Jefferson is the last piece that needed to go, and it was obvious. Jefferson is a brilliant interior tactician, with moves not seen since Kevin McHale’s days in the late 1980s.

But that’s where he’ll stay. Jefferson’s slow, prodding post game is simply irrelevant in today’s fast-paced, full-court game. The old-fashioned game, the back-to-the-basket, drop step, up-and-under died two decades ago, and it shows McHale’s unbelievable lack of understanding when he "fell in love" with Jefferson three years ago.

Perhaps Jefferson’s game reminded McHale of a simpler time. Of a time when a sweet up-and-under move wouldn’t be swatted by a high-flying, juiced up power forward. Or of a time when a double or triple team wouldn’t arrive immediately after a certain player gets a touch.

Times have changed. The game has changed. McHale never understood it. Jefferson never adjusted to it.

Name one PF in basketball who plays like that now. Tim Duncan, maybe. But with Duncan, you’re talking about a top-five power forward in history, whose dazzling post moves are only rivaled by brilliant defense and rebounding.

Jefferson isn’t close to that.

You can say "20-10" all you want. Say Jefferson’s the best post-up player in basketball. Say he’ll be a perennial all-star. Say Kahn choosing Love and Beasley over Jefferson will haunt the franchise. Say that the team didn’t get enough. Say he could’ve been the biggest piece to the puzzle.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. On all counts.

This was the right move. At the right time. For the right amount.

1) Love and Beasley > Jefferson.

Love has improved in almost every major statistical category in his sophomore campaign. Per 36 minutes, he upped his shooting percentage to 48%, a particularly impressive feat considering he shot from the perimeter over seven times more this year, including a solid 33% from the three-point line. He improved his interior passing, doubling his assist total to three per game; He doubled his steal total per game; and he decreased his personal fouls per game.

And we know Kevin Love is top five rebounder in basketball.

Offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%): (an estimate of the percentage of available offensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor) = 100 * (Offensive rebounds * (Team minutes played / 5)) / (minutes played * (Team offensive rebounds + Opponent defensive rebounds)).

a) Love’s ORB% was 14.5%. Incredible for a 21-year-old. What this means is that Love grabbed almost 15% of all available offensive rebounds when he’s on the floor. There are nine other players on the floor, five of whom are attempting to grab a defensive rebound, and Love snatched 15% of the available missed shots. For comparison, Dwight Howard’s ORB% was 12%. Jefferson? 8%.

Defensive rebounding percentage (DRB%): (an estimate of the percentage of available defensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor) = 100 * (DRB * (Team minutes played / 5)) / (minutes played * (Team defensive rebounds + Opponent offensive rebounds)).

a) Love’s DRB% was 28.6%, up from 27.3% last season. One of the best rates in basketball. What this means is that Love instinctively got defensive positioning and, almost 29% of the time, grabbed the rebound before any of the nine other players. Dwight Howard’s DRB% was 31.3%. Jefferson’s was 24.2%.

Total rebounding percentage (TRB%): (an estimate of the percentage of available rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor) = 100 * (Total rebounds * (Team minutes played / 5)) / (Minutes played * (Team total rebounds + Opponent total rebounds)).

a) Love’s TRB%, the percentage of total available rebounds grabbed while on the floor: 21.5%, up from 21%.

b) Jefferson’s TRB% was 16%, the lowest of his career.

Total assist percentage (AST%): (an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor) = 100 * Assists / (((Minutes played / (Team minutes played / 5)) * Team FG) – FG).

This is particularly important in a triangle style, as interior passing completes the offense.

a) Love’s AST% was 12.9%, up from 6.8%.

b) Jefferson’s was 10%, the highest of his career.

Per 36 minutes, Love was and will continue to be, far more productive than Al Jefferson. Per 36 minutes, at 21 years old, Love’s line was 18/14/3. That’s incredible. Jefferson, at the same age, had a line of 15/10/1. At 25 years old, after six professional seasons, Jefferson was still not as productive as Love was in his second season, with a line of 19/10/2.

Love shoots 82% from the line. Jefferson shoots 68%. Love’s had a wrist injury. Jefferson’s had a serious knee injury. Jefferson and Love are both atrociously poor defenders, but Love’s offensive rating –an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions on the floor – is 113, a full seven points higher than Jefferson, the supposed offensive wizard.

Everything points to Love.

Beasley, on the other hand, is a wild card. But there is no reason not to take a chance on an unquestionably talented 21-year-old with maturity issues. Beasley can score. He can rebound. Let Rambis teach him fundamentals, throw him in for 20-25 minutes per game, and see what comes. For $5 million, you take that chance.

2) This was the right time to trade Jefferson. During the season, Jefferson’s value continued to plummet due to lingering questions about his knee and recurring – and justified – questions about his conditioning and defensive play. His value was never lower. (For reference of just how poor Jefferson is defensively, just look to 2007-2009. He had, statistically, the single worst on court/off court defensive differential in the league at a +12.1., meaning that for each 48 minutes Jefferson played, the Wolves gave up 12.1 more points than when he’s not on the floor. Eddy Curry’s defensively differential was 6.2.

3) So Kahn waited. Jefferson got healthier, started producing more, and his value began to hover around where it was in 2008.

  1. But we offered Jefferson + for Danny Granger. Denied.
  2. We offered Jefferson + for the No. 7 and Tayshaun Prince. Rejected.
  3. We offered him to Chicago. No thanks.
  4. We offered him to Golden State in a three-team deal with the Knicks that would’ve landed Anthony Randolph. Not interested.
  5. We offered him to the Mavericks for Erick Dampier’s expiring contract. No. Unless the Wolves took back Matt Carroll and DeShawn Stevenson’s ridiculous contracts.

The interest for Al Jefferson was dramatically lighter than his proponents are claiming. NBA execs aren’t stupid. They know Jefferson’s not a number one piece. They know he’s not interested in playing defense. And they know about his knees. The market wasn’t there.

Kahn recognized it early, waited for the situation to improve, and ended up with two first-round picks and a huge trade-level exception. Remarkable. Terrific deal.

So now, not only does the team get rid of $42 million in salary on a player who’ll never be a number one piece, but they gain very valuable, very tradable assets in the future. Rebuilding while continuing to stockpile assets is vital in sustaining relevance, something the Wolves haven’t been a part of in franchise history.

Say what you want. Believe what you want.

But nothing short of a complete and utter overhaul was necessary. With Jefferson gone, the overhaul, the blow-up, the reinvention is finally complete.

Some building blocks are in place and more are coming.

All we, as fans, have to do now is wait.

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