My dear friends, perhaps it is fitting that I am writing this on Easter - the day of resurrection.
I myself am no stranger to resurrection, having undertaken it once before (in 1995). The circumstances then, as now, were very reminiscent of this current Minnesota spring - a long, hard winter that keeps threatening to linger like a bout of flu who's nausea just won't go away, a team flawed by miscast talent and an unending carousel of coaches... And yet a walk through my garden shows the buds of my tulips nearly bursting in beautiful bloom, the birds singing their serenading songs, the trees taking on the tantalizing tinge of verdant green - Spring, as irrepressable as dawn, is replacing the lingering malaise of winter.
By 1994 I had accumulated plenty of talented of players - Tom Gugliotta, Christian Laettner, Isaiah Rider, Micheal Williams - and yet the scars born of my creation yielded an awkward and disjointed abomination. Had I, at that point, simply consulted my mentor Dr. Frankenstein's records, I would have better understood the risks inherent to the pursuit of this endeavor and avoided a now hopelessly obviously pitfall: simply pursuing the best, most tantalizing and talented pieces for use as the raw stuff of NBA alchemy - irregardless of their fit within the whole - can create an abomination and a horror.
Moving any alchemical NBA creation from revolting basketball to riveting basketball, from damned to daring, from inept to ineffable, is most commonly promulgated by a single 'come to Jesus' moment every maker must face - the choice of a cornerstone. In 1995 that choice was Kevin Garnett. From KG's acorn grew a might oak of a team, the branches of which supported not only an eventual number one seed in the Western Conference but also the 'resurrected' careers of journeyman players such as Troy Hudson, Joe Smith, Trenton Hassell, and more. 'Coming to Jesus' is fundamentally a leap of faith, an execution in the conviction that one's beliefs are right, good, and of solid footing. When you are at the lowest of lows, all other concerns are secondary to whether or not you choose to plant the acorn you have found or move on to another.
It is the burden of those who choose to do this kind of work. We are fueled by the visions we can see so clearly in our mind's eye - of a beautifully synchronistic amalgam of players and talents, of passes and picks, of rapid rotations leading to rejections and runaway fast breaks the other way. All too often we are run out of town by locals with torches and pitchforks who fail to grasp our vision, fixated as they are on the monster terrorizing their cable broadcasts, instilling nightmares into the hearts of young basketballers everywhere. It is hard to accept that one's creation, one's vision, could be such a thing...
When starting the process, you need the best cornerstone piece you can find. Kevin Love, then, is not so dissimilar to this franchise as Kevin Garnett was. If a healthy franchise grows from an acorn player - a player who supports other players and provides the production and leadership to weather storms - instead of hanging precipitously like a mobile from single thread (aka the final KG year), then it is incumbent to select a good acorn.
Kevin Love is not fast, not tall, not athletic. He struggles with excelling at some of the fundamentals of his position (e.g. back to the basket scoring, shot blocking). He is a flawed player.
Yet, despite this, by conventional or advanced metrics or even the archaic eye-ball test, Kevin Love is a good player. A great player even. If the success or demise of a species depends on its ability to adapt and produce, then Darwin would love Love. Despite his limitations he produces. He is not the prettiest, the most ideal, or even the best - but he produces. Night in, night out. Consistently, (or as consistently as one can in the NBA where off nights happen with enough regularity to make one wonder if 'off-night' is the correct term to describe it).
Since the choice to entrust the franchise to Kevin Garnett, a skinny 18 year old from North Carolina via Chicago at the time, the choice to build around Kevin Love requires no less of a leap of faith.
To change the current monstrosity that is this team to something more sublime requires more than just the starting piece, it also requires pruning of the branches. Like we did with Isaiah, with Laettner, with Donyell Marshall, the right and proper course requires two things: pieces that fit and a clear hierarchy. It's hard to grow a tree with multiple trunks. Like branches need light and space in order to grow, players need a role and time on the floor in order to be their best. This does not mean that, like planting a single tree bereft of any competition for light and space and expecting perfection from it, simply giving a player a role and playing time guarantees the best possible result from that player. The strongest anything arrives through competition - not too little, but not too much so as to snuff it out before it even has a chance. Like a gifted gardener, a maker's role is also to ensure this right and proper mix of competition.
Sometimes this means making difficult choices about certain large branches within a tree. Sometimes one thinks one knows what is best for the tree, but sometimes one discovers that a formerly important branch must be sacrificed for the greater development of the whole. I am speaking, of course, about Michael Beasley.
At the time it seemed so perfect! My creation, based around Kevin Love, needing an equally talented player whose strengths and weaknesses mostly covered for Love's strengths and weaknesses. A strong potential for a symbiotic and productive relationship that would anchor this resurrection attempt. KG and Marbury, that what its potential reminded me of. Alas, I was mistaken, hopefully not gravely so.
I had failed to understand fully what I had in Kevin Love yet, and so I grafted on a major branch that was a mistake, a branch that is stealing light and space away from other promising branches and threatening to teeter the entire creation into an abomination of continued losing and apathy.
Of course Beasley is hardly the only branch needing pruning. Darko's time is limited, as is Jonny's. I have seen the light in this creation, and it is smart, high efficiency basketball, played with passion and heart by players who care about the game, each other, and their legacy to the league. Players who are willing to sacrifice personal accomplishment in order to facilitate the betterment of their peers and their team.
As much as it pains me, my creation cannot survive Beasley. Perhaps I could start another creation with Beasley and see where that goes? No, I haven't the time. Removing Beasley, Jonny, and one of Darko or Pek opens up a suitable amount of space and light - of roles and playing time - to allow the other potential to shine through. Wes Johnson at SF, for example, or Anthony Randolph. We must prune now in order to allow this creation to grow enough so that we can prune again (e.g. WJ vs. AR).
Pruning Beasley et al in this way also lines up well with the future pieces and opportunities coming our way. The draft will land us one of three useful players - Kyrie, Derrick Williams, or Jonas Valanciunas. Landing one of these three leaves us with ample trade assets to address the final gaping hole on the team - SG. But first, the draft pieces...
If we land #1 in the draft, then we must take Kyrie, don't even wait for the clock to start ticking. This team needs a point guard. Their are but two choices: Kyrie or Rubio. The fortunes of the next five years+ of this team will be determined by one of those two players. Kevin Love may be a great acorn, but the rest of this team is activated and energized by whoever is point guard. Next to the vision and leadership of a great point many of the talented players we have accumulated fall into place. It could even be argued that one of these two players is the real acorn this team is built around, but we must let this creation grow a bit more before such things will reveal themselves. Fortunately for us either of these two players has the potential to co-exist beautifully with Love as co-cornerstones. To extend the tree analogy a bit further, imagine if Love is the tree, then Kyrie/Rubio are the sap - the 'juice' that energizes the whole enterprise and gives nourishing vitality to the main branches and role players sprouting from Love's production and consistency. If we land the #1 pick, Irving is clearly the guy. If not, then La Pistola earns his chance to show what he can do in the NBA.
What happens if we don't land the #1 pick - if we land pick #2, 3, or 4? Such a decision shakes me to my core, as it is the kind of choice that determines whether or not this creation becomes something beautiful or something repugnant. There are many who may think that Derrick Williams is the logical answer at #2, perhaps even #1, and that may very well be the case. However great a player DW may and will be, though, it is my belief that he will be a very important player...for some other team. Drafting him for this team is akin to adding more color to a rainbow - at some point you have enough colors and it's the shape that becomes most important. Imagine a team with Rubio, Love, AR, Derrick Williams, Martell, Tolliver, and Wes.
Which three or four of those guys is your core? What's the hierarchy? How in the world are these guys supposed to know how to play with each other, let alone in what role or what position? Rubio playing point, passing to...six guys best suited for two positions, and all talented enough and worthy enough of 25+ minutes and 8 shots a night at minimum.
Instead of playing with such fire, my proposal is much riskier, and significantly more potentially genius. If we don't land the #1 pick, simply bring over Rubio and draft Jonas Valanciunas (we'll just call him 'Val'), using the rest of our expendable pieces (Beasley, Flynn, draft picks, cap space, even Rubio if we land Kyrie) to land the best under 30 SG we can get who can play within a system AND create his own shot. (Given the flux in Golden State, why not make a run for Steph Curry? Next to Love and a high level point, efficiency uber alles. One can at least still dream, right?).
Val over DW? I am either an evil genius or genius lunatic, and this choice will reveal in excruciating detail which of those it is. Val is long, athletic, aggressive, passionate, and an intense competitor. He is the next best thing to Joakim Noah since Joakim Noah, and who wouldn't love to see Noah as Love's frontcourt partner in a perfect world? Val is young, has upside, clearly fits incredibly well with a top level point, and adds much needed emotional energy and competitive passion to this team. Will he ever reach DMC's statistical productivity? Absolutely not, but he may combine with Love and Tolliver to raise the competitive focus of this team and synergistically receive a Dean Garrett-esque statistical bump from playing with Rubio. The point remains - if we can't draft Kyrie, then we need to draft the best big to play with Love, and that is Val, not Derrick Williams.
Do we leave some scoring punch on the table? Yes. But look around you in the West. Memphis is riding a rejuvenated Z-Bo (not my work, but I know the guy who did that one) into the second round. The Lakers still have Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Nene will not leave Denver, LMA will not leave Portland. Even the declining duo of Dirk and Duncan are enough to continue to pose a challenge for us. Big Al and Paul Milsap are still in Utah. Daryl Morey is working on his next reclamation project in Thabeet. Charlotte still has David West and Carl Landry. DMC is still out there. If we are serious about contending someday with these pieces, then we need a player like Val if for no other reason than matchups.
What happens to Darko, then? The writing is already on the wall - one of Darko or Pek is traded, the other is kept as mentor/capable backup fouling beef for other opposing bigs. Money/salary has nothing to do with this. Darko is paid fairly for a backup big as it is, so is Pek. Pick one to trade and move on.
All of the up and coming teams we must compete with pose matchup problems with us, and until we address those we are going to lose. The two biggest areas of concern are at center and point guard. Assuming we don't get the number one pick, Rubio defensively helps even the table versus the other high level points in the West (the Westbrooks, etc). Val helps level the field against mobile bigs. Wes Johnson helps level the field defensively against the Durants and Rudy Gays of the West (a point not to be overlooked, as it is a legitimate question as to which is more important - having a Michael Beasley/DW type at SF who can score 20 ppg on 18 shots or an efficient system shooter who actually gives a crap about defense and has the physical profile and ability to keep up with these guys). The pieces begin to line up.
The final hole is at shooting guard. Steph Curry would be ideal, but others would be acceptable as well. In short they need to be able to play within the system and have the ability to reliably create their own shot. High efficiency in shooting would be icing on the cake. Use any and all of our assets to land this player. Luol Deng, perhaps, or dare I say a Ben Gordon type?
What could this lineup do?:
Veteran 15+ ppg SG who can create own shot
Wes (with AR as backup)
Love (with AR as backup)
Val (with Darko/Tolliver as backup)
Young? Oh hell yes. Strong potential 30-40 game winning team? Oh hell yes. Consider:
Rubio/Irving - 19 to 20 years old.
SG - whatever (a creaky Iggy?)
Wes - 24 years old, legit three point range and high efficiency shot WITH defense
Love - 22 years old
Val - 20 years old
AR - 22 years old
Ridnour - 31 years old
Darko/Pek - 26 years old
Wayne - 24 years old?
Martell - 25 years old?
Tolliver - 25 years old?
Bjelly - 23 years old?
Young and primed to rock and roll...provided we have the right coach.
The right coach. Arguably the most important element to making all of this work. I don't believe that Rambis is that guy. This team needs a passionate and shrewd coach, a flexible, 'let's maximize our players' talents' type coach. The right coach could position this team to be the Bulls 2.0 (Bulls vintage 2011 that is), or the wrong coach could position this team to be the Wolves circa 2011. We have important pieces - it is now very quickly getting to the point of putting those pieces in clearly defined roles and responsibilities, offensively and defensively. Phrased differently, the potential is there - can we capitalize on it?
Building the team as I have outlined by no means yields a finished product. OKC had to deal Green for Perkins and adjust other players' roles as they became successful, and this team will be no different. A choice must be made this offseason what it means to build around Love and which draft choices and current players are the best for doing that. This is my vision for how to avoid the horror that has been Rambis-ball the last two years.