As the T’Pups go into the All-Star break I thought it would be a good idea to step back and analyze our overall standing, where we are and where we want to be. Especially since Bill Simmons, and everyone else of like on the national media, refuses to acknowledge the existence, or forecast the future, of the most perplexing team in the NBA (Unfortunately, like Bill Simmons, I got a little wordy). Obviously, we will come to a consensus through the comments of the loyal faithful.
To begin let me express my overall motive for all my Minnesota sports teams: I don’t play for second. "If you ain’t first, you’re last." –Ricky Bobby
The Timberwolves, Twins, and Vikings are not the Lakers, Yankees, and Cowboys; we don’t reload, we rebuild. I think we can all agree the opportunities for a Minnesota team to win a championship are few and far between – pour one out for our ’98 Cunningham/Moss Vikings, the ’06 "Cy Young form" Liriano/Santana Twins, and the ’03-’04 T’Wolves (and every Garnett season for that matter), plus that Viking wound that is still too fresh to mention. Personally, I’m sick of the Twins being eliminated in the first round, the Timberwolves previously only being able to get an 8th seed to consequently be eliminated immediately from the playoffs; it’s like going to an all you can eat buffet and finding out they only serve vegetables. I don’t want to be good, I want to be great. That being said, I think the Wolves have shed horrendous contracts and developed a core nucleus that can be a championship contender consistently. We have cap flexibility, money to spend, and a future All-NBA power forward with three other potential up and coming All Stars. However, I think the general consensus would be that, pending a 1-2 year development of D-Will and Rubio, we are one great player away from being the next Thunder. I think VooDoo summed up what we need best in the "What do you want in a baller" post. So what to do:
Let’s all agree that Minnesota’s so cold "that your ballsack has to burrow itself somewhere in between your chin and diaphragm just to stay to warm" weather isn’t going to attract any marquee free agent; sorry Dwight Howard and Deron Williams aren’t going to come here. That means we’re going to have to build our team as A team a la ’04-’08 Pistons. So, that leaves three options for the cold faithful to improve their team: 1. Draft 2. Trade 3. Be able to pay more than anybody else in free agency (i.e. give a guy that doesn’t deserve a max contract a max contract). Considering we don’t have a draft pick this year and it sure seems we’re heading for the same Garnett era NBA purgatory (aka being a 6th-8th seed every year), I think we can eliminate the draft as the way to find that extra All Star to put us over the top. To cut off one rebuttal before it’s said, I’m banking we don’t strike oil and get an All-Star with a sub 15 pick; in the NBA not top ten draft picks just don’t usually turn into huge impact players (yes, I know it can happen, no need to list the exceptions). Also, since we will be average for at least 3 years (duration of K-Love’s contract) and there are aging teams like San Antonio, Lakers, Mavericks, I think that makes our draft picks expendable in trades. So, that leaves the wild dogs with two options.
Trade. Lots of trade talk about about Kung Pau Chicken, Kevin Martin, and B-Easy. However, do we want to kill our cap space (~19 mil/3 yrs) with a player, Pau, on his playing career downswing. Also, he would take away minutes from the emerging Pek and would leave our 2 guard void to be filled with eccentric, to say the least, Martell Webster. Does that make our team better immediately? Most likely. Does it make us a title contender this year? Doubt it, not with an immature Williams and Rubio. Does it improve our long term title chances? Probably not, by the time Rubio and Williams are ready, Gasol will be 33-34 and on the serious decline. Now, there has also been talk about just shedding Michael Weedsley. I don’t see why - his 6.2 mil comes off the books next year anyway. Do we really want to inherit contracts just to unload someone? I don’t think that would be logical, even if it gets us another 3 wins this year. Furthermore, as we have seen in the last few games, Adelman is just pretending to not worry about Beasley’s minutes and focus on getting Williams his minutes; I have a hunch B-Easy might be gone after the March 1 deadline allows recently acquired players to be traded. Either way the best option for Beasley would be to ride it out this season and let him be a serviceable back up or package him with a Ridnour/Darko (they have longer term contracts) type to get an expiring contract from another team. Finally, there is the Kevin Martin option. While I agree that he is the scorer/player we need, I still think that is settling and not sure he is even good enough to put this team in championship form. The biggest problem I have is that we will be responsible for Martin’s 12.9 million contract next year, thus eliminating us from being able to make a competitive offer on Eric Gordon’s RFA contract. Furthermore, we would only be guaranteed Martin one more year. I don’t think Williams/Rubio will develop that fast to have us win a championship next year. Why even trade for Martin now and lose an opportunity to make a bid on Gordon this upcoming offseason? If we miss out on Gordon next offseason, we can just make a run at Martin the following year. Possible alternative trades to improve this year but not hinder us: 1. Ray Allen 2. Chris Kaman. Both have huge expiring contracts and shouldn’t cost a centerpiece to acquire (picks, young players: Wes, Randolph) but wouldn’t put us out of contention for the next year’s free agent market. Plus, both of their teams want to get younger. Or if we want to go the trade route… make a big time offer for a guy like Monta Ellis. Through the trade machine these all work for plausible scenarios, but clearly I'm not an insider so I have no idea what the offers would have to be in order to be accepted by both parties.
Money. By not bogging our cap with average players that cost money the T’Wolves will have options to make moves. The Timberwolves will potentially have around 18 million in cap space next year if we don’t make any qualifying offers or pick up a team option (players we lose: Beasley, Brad Miller, Randolph, Webster). They will be able to make an offer on Gordon (and most likely be able to outbid the market). They can offer to inherit bad contracts for a more valuable player (I.e. the team Monta Ellis is on is paying Andris Biedrins 9 million a year to score 2.3 ppg) plus we’d have draft picks to package it with. My final point being, we’re not a championship team, and we won’t be for at least another year, but we also have all our key pieces in place for at least another 3 years, so why not keep our salary cap open so when the next All-Star free agent becomes available we can overpay him and become a title contender?
So the parting question…
Do we settle, clog our cap flexibility, and pay average players to get better, or do we take a gamble on a big time player that can make us a title contender?
Is a Martin/Batum/Chandler type enough to make us a title contender, or do we need to overpay and gamble for a potentially rising, dynamic player like Eric Gordon or trade for a Monta Ellis type?
2012 Timberwolves starting lineup: Pekovic – Love – Williams – Gordon – Rubio