When Flip Saunders said he would address the team's needs on the wings in free agency, he was not kidding.
Saunders not only targeted basically every wing player on the market with a halfway decent three point shot, he actually walked away with two already...a historically unprecedented result in Wolves free agency. There is more still to come (I would be on at least one more fairly notable signing or trade, likely two), but what the team has locked up in Chase Budinger and Kevin Martin is already more than most of us were hoping for.
Chase, I think, most of us expected back. He was made a priority in free agency months ago, and the team was waiting for him right at 12:01 July 1st. If anything, I think a lot of us were a little surprised when he started generating so much interest from other teams. But the combination of good money ($5.3mil/year....just $300,000 over EiM's line. Don't think he's losing sleep over it) and Adelman made us the most appealing choice for him.
Kevin Martin, on the other hand, kind of came out of nowhere. Not that he wasn't a possibility before...he just didn't seem a likely one. It seemed like most teams (and most fans) just assumed he'd remain in Oklahoma; it wasn't until after free agency started that people began realizing the Thunder didn't actually have the money. But Martin knew, and had it worked out heading into the summer.
"Minny was my first option outside OKC, so I've got to take it," Martin told USA TODAY Sports. "Especially being (with coach Rick) Adelman, and their starting lineup just needed a two-guard, so I feel like it's a perfect fit. I'm not one to play around. I know where my heart is."
So, like Chase, Martin was lured here by the idea of playing for Adelman again. This will now be the third time with three different teams that Martin and Adelman have worked together. Also factoring in: the chance to get back into the starting lineup, playing alongside Ricky Rubio (Martin quietly lobbied for Rubio ahead of Tyreke Evans when he was still with the Kings) and the number of years he could get (4, which was probably a year more than anyone else was willing to offer a 30 year-old)
Credit Saunders for getting the inside track here. He knew he could put an offer better than anyone else on the table, and he did.
The longstanding logic has been that the small market and cold would always keep the brightest stars away. We had a likeable coach in Saunders. We had a Hall of Famer in Kevin Garnett. And yet free agents avoided us like the plague. It had to be the location, right? Well, maybe not so much, it turns out. The combination of Rubio and Adelman has factored into a lot of free agents minds the last couple of summers...Nic Batum stated it, Alexey Shved stated it, Andrei Kirilenko stated it, now Kevin Martin...a great coach with a great system and a charismatic point guard who shares the basketball is something that sells.
And it does make me feel better to know it was important to Martin. I needed that after burning in the loss of JJ Redick to the Clippers because of Chris Paul and Doc Rivers.
(But seriously guys. We were this close to getting Redick.)
Anywho here's the real deal. While a lot of those media people are not-so-enthused about the deal...Martin is on the wrong side of 30, and has been in 'decline' for a couple of seasons now...I actually see this as a massive, massive shift for the Wolves future. Like, at a tectonic level. Whereas a week ago, the Wolves' fate was almost singularly tied to Pekovic returning (not a bad thing per se, but eggs in one basket and all that), now the team has the freedom to really go in any one of a dozen different directions.
This is because those media people have it wrong. Martin is not falling off the cliff.
First, let's look at Martin compared to the Wolves' past wing players' best year in 'Sota:
So other than Small Forward KG (and Fred Hoiberg, who I left off the list due to his extreme outlier Usg%), Martin, at 30 years old, still blew every other Wolf wing out of the gym. Even if he stays at this more limited level, he's easily the best 2/3 that has ever put on the uniform.
I think the AP guys look at his base stats the last two years and just assume he's declining because those number declined. But hey, guess what? He was injured one of those years, and put into a sixth man role the other. His usage% went from 30% in 10-11 to just 21% last season...he just had less opportunity to do stuff because he had to share with Durant and Westbrook.
Not only that, but he set a new mark for personal efficiency last year, with a career high in 3pt% (42%) and a career low in turnover% (10.2) The only real concern I see is his dropping FT rate, but even that could be attributed to a bad leg and Scott Brooks' tactical inflexibility (which went on full display in OKC's playoff bounce to the Grizzlies)
So it wasn't necessarily Kevin Martin's game that declined. It was his role. And given that he's back in the starting lineup, back in Adelman's system, and back to being at least the #2 option (maybe even #1) I don't see any reason why Martin can't go back to scoring 20+ points/game, getting to the line 5-6 times a night and generating Wins in the 6-8 range.
But even looking at just the season he had last year, Martin is a steal. Comparing wings in his Wins range, we get:
Martin statistically is almost an exact match with Gallinari, but Gallo is paid $10-11mil/year, while Martin will be paid just $7.5/year...a salary that more matches Ariza, even though Martin trumps him across the board.
Further, if you believe...as I do...that Martin will get back close to the form of his 10-11 campaign, then his WP jumps up to 7, which puts him closer to guys like Tyreke Evans and Luol Deng, who are getting paid $11mil and $13mil (FWIW, Pek's WP was just 0.2 higher than Martin's, and he'll get paid at least $3mil/year more. Says a lot about the lack of quality big men in the league)
And while there are shooters that statistically trumped Martin last year that are getting paid less....Kyle Korver, Jared Dudley, Ray Allen....none of them are guys who can carry an offense (at least anymore). The Wolves need a guy who can score 20ppg and be a go-to option. Korver can't do that. Martin can. Of the wings in free agency this summer, only Martin has proven he can carry the offense and keep his efficiency intact.
So all things considered, a good argument can be made that the Wolves got a $12mil discount on Martin because circumstance made him appear to be less-good than he really is, which is still a top-notch NBA shooting guard. Because only the 'experts' can make drafting Bazz a good thing and signing Martin a bad thing.
Where I'm going with this is I believe that the Wolves got a 'Big 3' player for a role player price, which opens up all sorts of possibilities the team did not have before. It makes overpaying Pekovic less troublesome and the possibility of losing him less scary. It makes the likelihood of losing Kirilenko less painful, and the need to rely on Bazz less imminent. It opens up more options in the debate between JJ and Luke. And builds a good bit of faith in the Saunders front office.
On the Pekovic front, you still bring him back if you can. But if there is a line in the sand financially that an offer sheet crosses (don't know if there is. Wouldn't surprise me either way at this point)....well, it would still be a cause for sadness, but not necessarily panic anymore. The team could trade him for another center. Or trade someone else for a center. Or test out Dieng (I do think he has legit Marc Gasol potential down the road) Or sign a one-year filler (Birdman?) then take a run at a 2014 class that includes Pau Gasol, Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins and Andrew Bogut. Or you could trade for Bogut now (wouldn't cost much. Warriors are looking to firesale for Dwight)
It's not as imperative anymore for the center spot to be at Pek's level because a Love-Rubio-Martin core can compete for the playoffs either way. This gives the team latitude to be more selective in shaping the team's future with players it doesn't feel like it has to pick.
As for the wing situation, I think one more good move should be enough, but Martin takes the pressure off that move needing to be a game-changer.
One good option is to make the Martin deal a sign-and-trade with the Thunder to free up enough space to bring back Kirilenko (at 32, he cares less about money and more about contract length. He opted out because he wants 3 year guaranteed) The other is to go to hell and back to sign Matt Barnes...a very good shooter and defender and another Adelman favorite. Those are the two things I would consider. Both would have the dual benefit of:
- Getting more bench firepower, as Chase would be the first wing off the pine instead of Bazz
- Getting any sort of defense into the starting 5, because a Rubio-Martin-Chase-Love-Pek lineup would give up like, 120 points/game (kidding. sorta....)
Both also have their advantages and disadvantages. Kirilenko is probably the better fit, both in terms of temperment and skillset. But Barnes is less injury-prone, and would preserve most of the trade assets that could be used later for a Pau Gasol deal or emergency trade for Bogut, etc.
And on the point guard front, I may be in the minority here, but I choose to keep Barea over Ridnour. I subscribe to the theory of sixth men shaking up the system, Ginobili style, and JJ is by far the better sparkplug for that. No one can game plan for the guy. Sometimes not even his own team. Sometimes not even himself. The stability in the wing situation means that Barea won't have to be singularly responsible for making shots from beyond 20 feet like he was at the end of last year. So when Good Barea is in the building, he can still gun us to a win. But when Bad Barea shows up, we won't have to just suffer his chucking because we'll actually have other options. And either way, the guy gives opposing defenses fits that Luke can't with quickness and creativity Luke doesn't have.
I mean, you just can't draw that up in a playbook! (but seriously. A 5'9" guy who can be a triple-double threat is a guy you keep)
The Wolves' destiny is again in their own hands, thanks to Martin putting on a team jersey. A hallway of necessary decisions has become an open field of options, and that's great. Saunders has had contact with both Kirilenko and Barnes. Pekovic is simply waiting for Dwight Howard to make a decision (I know I know...) But the Wolves' season is all but assured already. The rest is just stacking the odds even more at this point.