Putting it together (draft and free agent targets for the Wolves 2012 off season)

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 09: Jae Crowder #32 of the Marquette Golden Eagles celebrates after learning he would be drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second round of the 2011 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament presented by American Eagle Outfitters at Madison Square Garden on March 9, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

OK folks, we have our overview of free agency. We have our post-NCAA (not quite final) draft board. The Wolves have a lot of holes to fill and dwindling time and resources to do so. What should they do?

Let's take a look-see at a rough outline to the future below the fold.

Need No. 1: Clear the decks.

The Windows of Opportunity clock has been kicked to the curb in favor of an ETO clock and that little ditty is ticking like crazy. In order for the Wolves to not only gain maximum roster flexibility, but to also gain future cap space to continue improving the roster, 2012/13 team options must be declined on Martell Webster (Brad Miller will file his retirement paperwork in June), and 2013/14 team options/contracts must not be extended/offered to Wes Johnson and Wayne Ellington.

Darko Milicic should be offered amnesty. These moves would get the team to roughly $42.1 million with 9 players under contract:

  1. Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, JJ Barea, Malcolm Lee
  2. Ridnour, Barea, Wayne Ellington, Lee
  3. Wes Johnson
  4. Kevin Love, Derrick Williams
  5. Nikola Pekovic, Love
At this point the Wolves will have an estimated $16-18 million in cap space.

Need No. 2: Offer up Wes Johnson for a late 1st round or 2nd round pick, or as additional filler in a Derrick Williams trade package.

This is where rebuild posts get tricky, as we have to introduce the possibilities of trades that open up rabbit holes nobody wants to crawl down, but let's assume that Wes is enough to get, at the very least, a 2nd round pick. If he could be offered up as an expiring contract for something more, great, but let's stick with the 2nd round pick bit for the sake of this post. The bottom line here is that they should be trying like hell to move him for a pick or a sign and trade with a player on the free agent list below. At the very minimum, he should in no way, shape, or form have his option picked up. That would be lighting money on fire at this point in time.

Updated roster:
  1. Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, JJ Barea, Malcolm Lee
  2. Ridnour, Barea, Wayne Ellington, Lee

  3. Kevin Love, Derrick Williams
  4. Nikola Pekovic, Love
Need No. 3: Ridnour, Barea, a free agent shooting guard, and a backup big.

Again, this is where posts like this get tricky. The Wolves need a real 2 guard. Once they get a guy who can play the 2 for 30 mpg, one of the Ridnour/Barea duo becomes immediately expendable, even with Rubio hurt. Here are the list of affordable 2 guards that could fill the spot: Danny Green, Courtney Lee, George Hill, and Jodie Meeks. The point here would be to find someone who can take 30 mpg at the 2 while backfilling, if necessary, at the 3. For the sake of argument/example, let's pencil in Danny Green for up to $3 mil and send away Luke and his shorter contract. (Ideally, you'd send away Barea, but I don't think that happens with his longer deal.)

For example, Ridnour could be used in a trade request to Dallas for Ian Mahinmi if they do not win the D-Will sweepstakes.

Updated roster:
  1. Ricky Rubio, JJ Barea, Malcolm Lee
  2. Danny Green, Barea, Wayne Ellington, Lee
  3. Green
  4. Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, Ian Mahinmi
  5. Nikola Pekovic, Love, Mahinmi
Again, this is where things get fuzzy with a post like this. The basic point I'm trying to make here is that the Wolves have to start turning some of their 1/2s into legit 2 guards (Jodie Meeks, Danny Green, Courtney Lee, or George Hill) while attempting to sign or trade for a low-cost backup big like Mahinmi, Omer Asik, or Aaron Gray. Ideally the 2 can play some 3 and the big can split time at the 4/5. Backup big gets offered $3-3.5 mil/year for 3 years.

Need No. 4: Make the call.

"Toronto, this is Minnesota. How is Jonas coming along? Good? Excellent, can we interest you in the Memphis pick and Derrick Williams for Jonas?"

Everything short of Love, Pek, and Rubio should be offered up in this call. Yes, they could have had him with last year's pick. They didn't do it. They should still try. Short of this sort of trade (for a clear starting wing or legit stud 4/5 counterpart for Love/Pek), Williams should be kept until the trade deadline (I'll explain later).

Let's take a quick look at where we stand, sans the call to Toronto:
  1. Ricky Rubio, JJ Barea, Malcolm Lee
  2. Danny Green, Barea, Wayne Ellington, Lee
  3. Green
  4. Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, Ian Mahinmi
  5. Nikola Pekovic, Love, Mahinmi

Need No. 5: Utah, Utah, Utah.

Jeremy Evans. Get him on the cheap. $3 mil tops.

Need No. 6: Get Jae Crowder.

Short of being able to move the Utah or Memphis picks in a D-Will trade, the Wolves should do everything in their power to move up in the draft to get Jae Crowder. Once again, posts like this are difficult to write in the sense that there are so many parts, but Crowder is the perfect player for the Wolves in this draft: a do-s**t kind of guy who can play the 3/4. If they can land a guy like Will Barton or Orlando Johnson in the 2nd round this would also be acceptable--the point here is that they can make a frugal move in this year's draft to get a player that should be able to, at the very least, produce like Wes for much less money.

Let's take a look at the updated roster with Crowder and Evans penciled in at the same spot (i.e. the Wolves just need 1 player like that).
  1. Ricky Rubio, JJ Barea, Malcolm Lee
  2. Danny Green, Barea, Wayne Ellington, Lee
  3. Jeremy Evans/(Crowder), Green
  4. Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, Ian Mahinmi
  5. Nikola Pekovic, Love, Mahinmi
10 contracts and roughly $42-43 million on the cap. 3 more roster spots to go for the minimum.

Need No. 7: Filling it out.

Keith Bogans, Joe Alexander, bringing over Paulao Prestes, signing Alexy Shved...there are lots of moves the team can make on the cheap and with short term impact. Keep the last 3 spots on 1 year deals. Think about guys who have been out of the league or who need a first shot.

Joe Alexander is a perfect candidate. He's a guy who can play the 3 and will be called upon for less than 20 mpg. Let him have a single-year tryout at the backup 3. He can't be worse than Wes and he will cost much less. Shannon Brown signed with the Suns for a $3.5 million one-year contract. Let's get 3 guys on $3 mil/year single-year deals to fill out the roster. Alexander, Bogans, and a D-Leaguer of your choice. Hell, call up Dallas and ask what it would take to get Nick Calathes. Give John Shurna a peak. There are lots of options here and there is no shortage of players who will take a 1 year deal to play less than 20 mpg.

Just for kicks and giggles, this is where this approach would leave the roster:
  1. Ricky Rubio, JJ Barea, Malcolm Lee
  2. Danny Green, Barea, Wayne Ellington, Lee, Keith Bogans
  3. Jeremy Evans/(Crowder), Green, Joe Alexander
  4. Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, Ian Mahinmi, Alexander
  5. Nikola Pekovic, Love, Mahinmi
We'll leave out the mystery D-Leaguer or 2nd round pick (preferably at the point or big--Damian Lillard, Scott Machado, or Jesse Sanders---Gourgi Dieng, a Plumlee brother, etc). All in all, the Wolves could take this approach (again, it doesn't have to be exact--I'm just trying to lay out a basic path that could be taken forward to a better team) and have 13 contracts with roughly $47-50 million against the cap. They would be at roughly $40 mil and 9 players in 13/14 with enough money to sign Pek and bring over Jonas (with D-Will trade), or sign Pek and go after one of the following 2013 free agents:
  1. Stephen Curry, R
  2. Rodrigue Beaubois, R
  3. Monta Ellis, ETO
  4. James Harden, R
  5. Evan Turner, TO
  6. Marshon Brooks, TO
  7. J.J. Redick, UFA
  8. Ronnie Brewer, UFA
  9. Avery Bradley, TO
Do they have enough to make a max offer to James Harden? Will they have enough left over for Pek?

I think the Wolves still have a chance to make this roster work. They can either try and splurge for, say, Nic Batum and Ray Allen this off season (which I think has less than zero chance of happening) or they can upgrade their bad bench minutes on the cheap while trying to turn Ridnour/Barea into a backup point and a real 2 and D-Thrill into either a key part of an RFA sign and trade or a deal to get them a 4/5.

I think in terms of realistic options (i.e. having Papa Glen owning the team), the Wolves will have to build on the cheap: get close to the playoffs next year and then hope like hell they can land a legit wing player in 2013 free agency or during the season in a trade. I'd really like for them to try and get Ray Allen or Landry Fields or Courtney Lee or Nic Batum right away, and if they can do that, great, but there still is a way this team can get good while living under the rules of Glen/picking up after Kahn. Swapping out Webster/Wes/Wayne minutes with productive ones from Green and (hopefully) Crowder would be enough to put a healthy Rubio/Love/Pek core into the playoffs. Moving the starting minutes of Ridnour/Barea to the bench would be an improvement. Cutting out the 4 for 4 Kahntracts for 3 roster spots would be an improvement. Cutting bait on Wes and Wayne as soon as possible would be another upgrade.

Short of trading D-Will for a Jonas V. like trade, the team should spend the 1st half of the 2012/13 season using Williams and the Memphis or Utah pick as trade bait for one of the 2013/14 restricted free agents. Ideally, this is what they would have done this year a'la Denver and JaVale McGee, but they didn't. This is and has been one of the best options available to a team like the Wolves. Outside of the draft, this is the best way for the team to acquire the Bird Rights of players that will matter. Big name guys are not coming here free agency and if they do they'll be massively overpaid. The draft, sub $4 mil/year players, and trades for Bird Rights. This is the holy trinity for Wolvesdom. Anything else misses the point of both the ownership and the historic nature of the franchise. They'll never proactively spend the cap space. When they do use the cap space, they spend it on Troy Hudsons and $4 mil bench players. No mas. They'd be better off buying 2nd round or late 1st round picks and playing/paying whoever they got.

The basic blueprint:
  • Avoid multi-year 4-for-4 Kahntracts for bench players.
  • Only splurge on your own draft picks (the good ones--cut bait as quickly as possible on the bad ones) and on players whose Bird Rights you have acquired via trade.
  • Fill out the sub 20 mpg part of the roster with foreign players, D-Leaguers, and 2nd round picks--preferably on 1 year contracts.
  • Derrick Williams and the Utah and/or Memphis picks are the best assets you have to make a move for a 2013 RFA with Bird Rights. Ideally this move would have been made this season (Batum or McGee) but that ship has sailed. In the meantime, the 2/3 should be addressed by targeting Green, Meeks, Lee, Hill (or similar .100wp48+ esque player) + some flier/filler: Evans or someone like Joe Alexander. The other wing spot will hopefully be filled via the Williams RFA trade.
  • Dump as many resources as possible into developing/maintaining a state of the art draft operation. I.e. go over to the U and find some PhD candidates who play pick up ball, count cards, and know how to use excel. This is, never has been, and never will be rocket science.
Well folks, that's about the long and short of it. In a perfect world I think they would have not picked up Wes or Wayne's options at the start of the year, traded D-Will for a legit wing player and then set about doing whatever they could do to get the defensive-minded 4/5 they need to backup Love (and now Pek). That didn't happen and now we're left hoping for the same wing players and the same defensive big as we were at the starting of the year...and the year before that.

The problems are obvious. They have been for a long time.
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