David Kahn was hired to turn around this franchise because he had a plan. So far his plan has included sucking horribly on the court in year 1, cleaning house following the worst season in franchise history, and loading the roster with large amounts of untapped potential and as much cap space as league rules allow. He also remains committed to the notion that Ricky Rubio will opt out (or buy his way out) of his contract with FC Barcelona following the 2010-11 season and join the Timberwolves. Kahn has hinted at the possibility of using the cap space he has artfully created to buy low on a star talent at the trading deadline this February. There is plenty of speculation as far as who will be available and who will fit well with the rest of the young roster of the team. Will it be Andre Iguodala? Will it be Ben Gordon? Could it be Eric Gordon? Nobody knows at this point.
This season appears as though it will be another long lesson in losing for the Wolves. Sure, Kahn will find out what he really has in this group of young talent. Also he will probably use the trade deadline, or possibly next summer, to separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak. However, I would really like to get an idea about what his plan ultimately is. I don't want to speculate about what Kahn's plan is. All I can tell you is that I will be very disappointed if it relies upon any type of lottery luck. Hoping and praying for Harrison Barnes simply won't cut it for this fan.
For me it would be a dream come true to get a job running an NBA franchise. If I were offered Kahn's job today, the following is what I would do assuming that a new (but fairly similar) Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is in place before July 1, 2011:1. My first order of business would be to avoid filling up any more of that cap space at the trade deadline this year. This team has enough talented young players on it to learn how to win on its own. We don't need to bring in anybody's castoffs at the deadline. The Thunder took their lumps two years ago and learned how to win without bringing in anybody else. We can do the same. Some people will say they have Kevin Durant and that makes all the difference. We have Michael Beasley, and more talent at every other position except point guard (for now at least). I'm not saying that Beasley is going to turn out to be as good as Durant, but simply that they have a similar amount of raw talent.
2. After another losing season (I'm thinking 28-54 sounds reasonable), we should be slated to draft 4th or 5th before the Draft Lottery. Realistically this means that by the time the ping pong balls have landed we'll be drafting 5th, 6th, or 7th overall. We will not have a second round pick because of the Beasley trade. It's likely we will also have Memphis' and Utah's first round picks this year (approximately #18 and #22, respectively). I would trade all 3 of those picks and Martell Webster (and/or Jonny Flynn) for the #1 pick, and a bad contract with 2 years or fewer remaining on it (I'd be willing to take on Richard Hamilton, Elton Brand, Jose Calderon, Nene Hilario, Antawn Jamison, Maurice Williams, or even Beno Udrih and Francisco Garcia - which would cover 6 of the teams that could end up with the #1 pick instead of us). With the #1 pick I would select Harrison Barnes (assuming he declares for the NBA Draft after a freshman season at UNC in which he lived up to the hype). I may be overpaying for the right to select Barnes but if that's what it takes to draft the next superstar Shooting Guard, so be it.
3. I would make a qualifying offer to Corey Brewer. I would also offer him a 4-year contract worth approximately $13.5M. If he rejects that offer, I'll let the market set his value. If the market determines him to be worth more than $4M per season, I let him walk away. I would pick up the team option on Kevin Love, Beasley, Wayne Ellington, and Flynn (provided he wasn't part of the trade I set out above).
4. I would expect Rubio to stick to his plan and to facilitate that I would pay the maximum allowable ($500K) towards his buy out and give him the starting point guard spot from day one.
5. I would play out the 2011-12 season with a roster as follows:
C - Darko Milicic
PF - Love
SF - Wesley Johnson
SG - Barnes
PG - Rubio
Bench - Nikola Pekovic, Beasley, Lazar Hayward (assuming Brewer walks via FA), Ellington, Luke Ridnour (assuming Flynn is traded), Anthony Tolliver, and the bad contract(s) that came as part of the trade for the #1 pick.
All I'm interested in during this season is that Rubio and his teammates develop some chemistry together. I would estimate the win total for that team to be around 40-45 games, but expect the team to barely miss out on the playoffs. The dramatic improvement in our record would be primarily due to the additions of Rubio and Barnes to a solid supporting cast.
6. Following a season in which our young core showed promise, I would extend qualifying offers to Love and Beasley. Assuming that both of those guys produce roughly the same as they did last year (an ultra-conservative estimate given their potential and the typical improvement shown by players of their caliber), I would offer Love a contract worth $45M over 5 years and Beasley something along the lines of $40M over 5 years. Bear in mind that these offers do not reflect any possible change in the production of Love and Beasley - i.e: this is what I think their current production is actually worth under the current CBA. If both received offers in excess of that from other teams, I would keep them both regardless of cost. I would also pick up the team options on Hayward, Ellington, and Johnson - unless one of them had proven by that point to not be worth keeping.
8. I would play out the 2012-13 season with a roster as follows:
C - Milicic
PF - Love
SF - Johnson
SG - Barnes
PG - Rubio
Bench - Pekovic, Beasley, Hayward, Ellington, Ridnour, Nemanja Bjelica, and the bad contract(s) that came as part of the trade for the 2011 #1 pick (assuming the contract runs through the end of the 2012-13 season).
I suspect that team would make the playoffs after winning roughly 45-50 games during the regular season. I expect the increase in wins to come primarily from the development of Rubio, Barnes, and Johnson.
9. Following a season in which we made the playoffs and put up a fight against our first round opponent, we would be drafting in the 18-22 range in the first round and once again be without a second round pick. I would discreetly shop around for a buyer of either Love or Beasley. Hopefully I would be able to trade one of those two guys and our draft pick for cap space and a draft pick in the 10-14 range of the draft. With that pick I would select a front-court player with potential - I'm thinking something along the lines of the Ed Davis selection recently made by the Toronto Raptors or the Patrick Patterson selection recently made by the Houston Rockets.
10. Unless Pekovic becomes a defensive stalwart, I would let him leave via free agency. I would also shop around to see if there were any takers for the mostly non-guaranteed expiring contract of Darko Milicic - if I couldn't find a taker I would waive him to create more cap space. I would extend a qualifying offer to Ellington, but let him walk for nothing if he receives an offer that exceeds his value to this team. I would pick up the team options on Johnson, Barnes, and possibly Hayward if he still has value.
This would leave the Wolves with a payroll of roughly $47M at that time. Assuming the salary cap has risen to $60M by that point (a reasonable estimate considering it's 3 years out), we would have roughly $13M to offer a free agent.
With that money I would offer a contract to Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Tiago Splitter, or possibly Robin Lopez. Here's my reasoning as to why one of those guys might take less money to play with us:
Dwight Howard (28 during the 2013-14 season) will be finishing up his second contract with the Orlando Magic and have no rings to show for it. Pretty much the only player that will still be on the Magic roster on July 1, 2013 is Marcin Gortat. The Magic will be a team that wins roughly 50-60 games per season for the next 3 years and as a result they will not be in position to draft players that will make a difference during that stretch. The Magic also have committed to enough contracts for the next 3 years to keep them over the luxury tax the entire time, which means they will not be likely to add any significant pieces via free agency. This leaves only the mid-level exception for them to add pieces for a push at a ring - but the mid-level exception is likely to be eliminated in the new CBA, so they may have nothing to work with whatsoever. If they stumble on to a trade that pushes them into a championship, then Howard will play his entire career there and nobody will ever get a sniff at him. However, that seems somewhat unlikely. Howard could stay with the Magic, make a boatload of money, and see what kind of team they can build from scratch that summer. Or he could take a pay cut to come to the Wolves, and team with a point guard that makes the game more fun to play than just about anyone (Rubio), a shooting guard that is about to tap his Jordanesque potential (Barnes), a small forward that shoots the lights out from 3-point range (Johnson), and a power forward that can stroke it from behind the arc and, when paired with Howard, should make it so the opposition averages fewer than 1 offensive rebound per game (Love). Given those options, which would you choose?
Andrew Bynum (26 during the 2013-14 season) will be finishing up his contract extension with the L.A. Lakers. He will have won 3 rings by that point (2 he already has and I'm predicting another this year). The Lakers will have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, and Steve Blake under contract for the 2013-14 season - as well as Devin Ebanks and other various low-end draft picks. Bryant will be 35 years old, Gasol will be 33, Artest will be 34, and Blake will be 33. They will not have any cap room until 2014, which means if they want to remain competitive they will have to stick with the guys they already have to fill out the roster. Unless they wind up getting some steals at the bottom end of the draft, or another Gasol-type gift in trade, they are going to be too old and untalented to make another run at a title in 2013 and beyond. With that in mind, Bynum could stay, make a boatload of money, and hope for one more run in 2013 before suffering through the rebuilding process that will undoubtedly last through the remainder of his new contract. Or he could take a pay cut to come to the Wolves and make a run at winning more championships than Bill Russell - all of the benefits are listed above. Given those options, which would you choose?
Tiago Splitter (28 during the 2013-14 season) will be finishing up his contract with the San Antonio Spurs with no rings to show for it. The only current players that will be under contract for the Spurs by that point will be Richard Jefferson, George Hill, Matt Bonner, and James Anderson. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will be 37 and 36, respectively. If they are re-signed by the Spurs they will be mere shadows of their former selves. Tony Parker will be 31 at that point - not a good age for a point guard that relies on superior speed and quickness to be effective. The Spurs are well known for stashing picks overseas until they are ready to contribute in the NBA, so their talent pool might not be quite as dry as that of the Magic or the Lakers for the 2013-14 season. However, if Splitter really is a beast and the Spurs ship is sinking, the Wolves could do worse than to overpay the guy to anchor our defense.
Robin Lopez (25 during the 2013-14 season) would be coming off of a season in which he played for the qualifying offer from the Suns rather than signing an extension. This by itself makes it unlikely for him to be available, but not completely inconceivable. For instance, let's say the Suns ship is sinking in 2011-12 because Steve Nash is finally showing his age. After learning that they aren't going to be bringing Nash back, Lopez wants out of Phoenix - not altogether unlikely. But Lopez knows that he won't become an unrestricted free agent unless he plays out his one-year qualifying offer from the Suns. So rather than signing a long-term offer from another team and having it matched by the Suns, he plays out his one-year deal so he can go to whatever team he wants in the summer of 2013 - not altogether unlikely under the hypothetical circumstances (Ben Gordon did it - so others might as well). Enter the Wolves with a large contract offer and a solid roster that is missing a starting center.
11. Our roster for the 2013-14 season would look as follows:
C - Howard
PF - Love
SF - Johnson
SG - Barnes
PG - Rubio
Bench: Paulo Prestes, Rookie PF/C, Bjelica, Ellington, Ridnour, Hayward, and a PF/C that we sign for the veteran minimum.
This team should win roughly 60 games and compete for a championship. They may even be able to win the championship. In any event, this team would challenge for championships for the following 5 years.
That's my plan for bringing a championship to Minnesota. What's David Kahn's plan? Does anybody know? Does he even know?