There is still time: What the Timberwolves should do to win at a high level

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 09: Greg Stiemsma #54 of the Boston Celtics attempts to block the shot of Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat in the first quarter in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 9, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Folks, they have the coach. They have the three man core. They have the Bird Rights. They have the cap space to keep them for a long, long time.

Long story short, Our Beloved Puppies have the basic guts of what is widely (and kind of ridiculously) referred to as the OKC Model. They don't necessarily have the talent (both on and off the court), but if you squint your eyes, and if the sun hits it jusssssst right, the Wolves have the fundamentals to win at a very high level. It's all the other stuff that causes the problems and keeps this core group from getting to where it needs to go.

Let's take a look at how this thing can still work...below the fold.

First, I have said this over and over and over and over again, but the things the Wolves need to do in order to field a winning organization in the NBA are not rocket science. They never have been and they never will be.

  1. Build via the draft. Develop and maintain a state-of-the-art draft operation that utilizes statistical analysis and best practices that embrace the best characteristics of eye-based scouting while reducing the variation that inevitably comes with asking one guy to put his ranking of somebody's athleticism in a score and then trying to figure out what that means compared to the other guy's ranking.
  2. If you draft or acquire an above average player, do not, for the love of all that is holy, let him go. We'll call this one the Al Jefferson rule. There simply aren't that many people on planet earth who are really good at professional basketball. If you get one, keep him and avoid the hamster wheel. These are the players you splurge on and save money for.
  3. Cut bait as quickly as possible on below average players. Go get your dictionary. Open it to "P". Find "potential". Rip that page out. That word no longer exists for you. The best values in the league are awesome rookies and super stars. The best assets in the league, in terms of selling, might be overvalued and underperforming rookies who look like they should be good but aren't. If you have one of these players, you should be trying your hardest to bamboozle someone instead of trying to teach said player to dribble the ball or play another position.
  4. Roster spots 1-7 are all that matters, the rest are paste. As mentioned above, the only players a team should splurge on are awesome players coming off their rookie deal and super stars (if you can get them in a trade/free agency). Do not overpay for anything else. The very best teams have 3 awesome players and 3-4 average ones. This is all it takes to win at a very, very high level. The Wolves have 3 awesome players. They have JJ Barea, Luke Ridnour, and Chase Budinger. That's, pardon my French, f**king awesome. While it would be completely amazing, getting a Nicolas Batum or Andre Igodala is not a necessity. Replacing the craptastic Wes Johnson-anchored wing minutes with competent production is. Getting competent minutes at the backup 4/5 is. Keeping Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic together as long as possible is. Again, in terms of priorities, the top 3 roster spots trump everything else. Keep. Those. Guys.
  5. Speaking of paste: Spend as little on roster spots 8-15 as humanly possible. In fact, spend as little on roster spots 4-7 as possible. Kahntracts are bad. $5 mil/year for 20 mpg backups are bad. $10-12 mil/year on RFA offer sheets are bad. 2nd rounders, undervalued free agents, D-Leaguers, and cheap Euros are good.
The Wolves (hopefully: fingers crossed with injuries) have their top 3 spots locked up in Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, and Ricky Rubio. Those are the three players they need to keep cap space for. They've already pulled a boner with the Love ETO bit, but that's water under the bridge. There is, however, much less time to let this core group grow together by surrounding it with as much average production as possible. Can Williams develop? Can he be moved for 2 average players? Will the team decline Wes Johnson's option and let Wayne Ellington walk next year? Is it a better strategy to wait for the trade deadline than it is to try and spend free agent money?

While my preferred plan for action is in shambles, there is still time to a) build a top-shelf wining team and b) save Papa Glen as much money as possible. There are a few ways forward.
  1. Target next year's Batum. Bird Rights matter. Being able to match matters. Getting a player with one year left on his rookie deal matters. Once that player hits free agency, his value drops and it is very likely that you will end up overpaying for his services. Next year the 2009 draft class hits restricted free agency. Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, Rodrigue Beaubois, and James Harden are all up for options with the possibility for extension. By targeting players via trade, you can acquire their Bird Rights while gathering additional assets up to (and over, with exceptions) the cap while still being able to resign your guy. Calls to Sacramento and Dallas are in order, especially Sacramento (they have Jason Thompson, too). By going this route, the Wolves can still add pieces to the mix while maintaining the Bird Rights of all their core players and they don't have to worry about monkeying with the RFA market. As long as Glen is willing to cut the luxury checks, the core + 1 can stay together.
  2. Bigs on discount. My favorite Wolves news this summer has been their pursuit of Greg Stiemsma. However, while his acquisition would be fantastic, Ian Mahinmi is still out and about.
  3. Wings on a budget. It can't be repeated enough: Cap space is great to keep your own picks, but everything else should be done on a budget. Matt Barnes, Willie Green, Danny Green, Jodie Meeks, Dominic McGuire, Brandon Rush, Tracy McGrady, Delonte West, and Courtney Lee--these are the types of players the Wolves should be targeting to put alongside Chase Budinger and whatever scrub minutes Wes Johnson is going to see.
  4. Wait for the trade deadline. Next year's off-season marks the start of salary cap hell. Some teams are going to want to avoid it. Badly. Of course this means that the Wolves will give up some of the cap space needed to sign their own core, so let's leave this as the least preferable option.
Anywho, the bottom line here is that this small window of time (the next week) is going to be very, very, very important for the next 5 or so years of this franchise. Will they take the money they need for keeping their core in tact and spend it on an overvalued (but still good) wing player? Will they end up giving $6-8 mil/year to someone like Lou Williams or Courtney Lee? Will they go the budget route and hand out small $1-3 mil/year deals to Stiemsma, McGuire, or Jodie Meeks? Maybe we'll all get lucky and the team will miss out on Batum, Lee, and Williams and end up with the budget route by default.

Whatever happens, it will be very interesting to see if the much-ballyhooed cap space and flexibility will be used on someone who will take away cap space and flexibility from the guys who deserve it most.

It should be an interesting week.

Until later.
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