On July 31st, 2007 Kevin McHale did what no Wolves fan wanted him to do, though it was what many believed needed to be done. After multiple attempts to surround Kevin Garnett with champsionship caliber talent, the much derided (by me many times), sometimes hated General Manager traded the best individual basketball player Minnesota may ever see. To his former team. And they just won a championship
Although it was due to McHale's own mistakes, trading KG has led to a reformation of the team's roster. For all the criticism McHale and the management group took before and have taken since that fateful day, they've turned a tanking cap strategy consisting of a group of inadequate, often overpaid veterans and questionable potential that looked like this...
...and turned it into a roster full of youth, locked up cornerstones, a stash of picks and a shot at making a splash in free agency in the next few years. While the current state of the team is unproven, the last year's worth of transactions has left a McHale critic such as myself with less and less ammunition.
Whether it's a result of changing management styles, learning from one's mistakes or just plain dumb luck, there's more to be optimistic about in the Target Center than there has been in four years. What follows is a run-down of what transpired over the last 366 days.
Kevin Garnett traded to Boston for Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, two 1st round picks and cash. First things first. Al Jefferson is a franchise cornerstone. Whether he's a franchise player or not will ultimately be decided by how well and quickly this team comes together. But last year he was the lone beacon on an otherwise dark season, and Al shattered defenses in the low post with his precocious moves. What's more, when negotiating his extension in the preseason, Al declared that he would take less than max money because he "had more work to do." That's the kind of kid you're happy to pay for a long time.
Sebastian Telfair and Ryan Gomes were both re-signed this year. Telfair's deal is inarguably reasonable and he seems genuinely excited to be back and not have an air of entitlement about him. Gomes was signed for a five-year deal that provides the team flexibility up front and Gomes flexibility down the line. Both are players who lack star power but bring skills (floor leadership and high basketball IQ respectively) that are important to a young team.
Gerald Green was traded to Houston for Kirk Snyder, a 2nd round pick and cash (to make the deal dollar-neutral for the Wolves) midseason. While Minny fans had high hopes for Green, so at first did Boston fans who were generally indifferent with his departure. Snyder played some valuable minutes for the Wolves but didn't prove to be a building block and will sign elsewhere. So, it's essentially Green for the 2nd. He's been playing well this summer, but every report includes the caveat that if he doesn't get it together this year, teams may finally realize he never will.
Theo Ratliff was cut midway through the season so he could join a playoff team. I don't think it will prove to be of any consequence in the long run, but Stop-n-Pop disagreed at the time.
Trenton Hassell was traded to Dallas for Greg Buckner. By all accounts, Trenton Hassell was given his long-term contract as much for being well-liked by KG as for his perimeter defense. Make no mistake, I think it's management's fault for bowing to perceived (or real) star pressures, but moving him for the cheaper, less disgruntled Buckner was a good move. Especially when we were low on uninjured point guards and the veteran ball handler was able to initiate the offense.
Ricky Davis and Mark Blount were traded to Miami for Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien, a 1st round pick and cash. This move was an absolute masterstroke. Moving the sullen and seemingly unmovable locker room problems known as Get Buckets and Mark Blount for an expiring veteran center, a cheaply cut prospect with severe injury concerns, the Prancing Unicorn, a 1st round pick and dollars was both smart and serendipitous. Sure Davis can score and Blount can shoot, but each has severe faults in their game and in their head. Dumping them for less money in the end and a pick was a no-brainer.
Troy Hudson and Juwan Howard were both bought out. Like Hassell, Hudson is thought to have been another of KG's preferred teammates. Unfortunately for both Glen Taylor and T-Hud, the man was too injured to play even after being cut, signed by Golden State and sitting out a grip of games. Howard was excited to play next to KG, but I never saw how he fit. After the star was gone he wanted out. He had a great attitude, but 1.1ppg/1.6pg season in Dallas left little room for regret.
A conditional 2nd round pick (top 55 protected and therefore unleikely to ever be conveyed) was traded to San Antonio for Beno Udrih and cash. Immediately following the trade, Udrih was cut. Although the cash covered all expense to the Wolves and then some, cutting Udrih seemed questionable at the time. After all, the Wolves had only Sebastian Telfair and Randy Foye at the point, another one at about $1.5 million couldn't have hurt. Then, Udrih went on to have a career year in Sacramento, scoring buckets at will. At about midseason there were a good number of Wolves fans (myself included) taking McHale and Co. through the wringer for dumping a guy who could seriously play. That all changed, however, when the postseason rolled around and the Kings gave Udrih a full MLE deal for 5-years and $35 million. While it would've been nice to have him scoring in Minnesota, even if he walked or was traded, I am very glad that he's not making that $35 million in Minnesota.
Traded Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric, Greg Buckner and the rights to OJ Mayo to Memphis for Mike Miller, Jason Collins, Brian Cardinal and the rights to Kevin Love. So much has been written about this trade that I don't really have anything to add in this space. Suffice to say that I recognize the questions that remain to be answered, but like the deal overall. In fact, College Wolf asked me at the draft party (before the trade was announced) what I would've done and I said that I probably would've traded down for Love.
Picked Nikola Pekovic #31. To put on the "what if I had been in charge" hat for just another moment, I probably would've taken a more proven prospect at this point, given the quality of players that were passed over in the 1st round (specifically Chris Douglas-Roberts and Mario Chalmers). That didn't happen, but by all accounts Pekovic was every team's target at this pick, Minnesota just didn't relinquish it. Due to his contract status in Europe the bull of a center won't be in the States for a few years, but at age 22 he appears to be the goods and worth waiting for.
Traded the rights to Mario Chalmers to Miami for two future 2nd round picks and $2 million. Again, this move has been belabored, so I'll skip the diatribe. To summarize, I still liked the talent on the board and would've kept the pick, but the Wolves got great value in return for a valuable pick.
A conditional 2nd round pick was traded to Philadelphia for Rodney Carney, Calvin Booth, a conditional 1st round pick and cash. Another no-brainer for the Wolves. Philly was looking to get as much cap space as possible and the Wolves had the roster space and trade exception to make it happen. Both contracts could potentially be expiring at the end of this year and belong to a backup center and mid-potential prospect. Then we got the cash to cover the majority of both and a future 1st rounder (protected to be in the mid-20s). This is the Udrih trade on steroids: helping a competitor in need, for the right price.
Re-signed Craig Smith. Smith has made the Wolves front office look good since being picked #36 in the 2006 2nd round. Despite being about 6'5" in shoes, Craig's able to score in the post and grab boards against larger competitors with ease. What's more is that his ball handling in the open court is much better than the majority of players his size. Still, in an undersized front court starring Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, it was curious to see the Wolves lock Craig up for another two years. If they decide to trade him alone or in a package, his skill and contract combination should be attractive to a number of teams.
There are two minor moves that happened within the last year that I especially criticized: not exercising Gerald Green's team option and not extending Sebastian Telfair a qualifying offer. While they're both small moves, they exhibit why Kevin McHale, Rob Babcock, Jim Stack and Fred Hoiberg are running this team and I'm not. As mentioned above, Gerald is on his last chance in the L and when he was traded to Houston they ended up cutting him. If we had exercised the option as I'd said, perhaps Houston wouldn't have been willing to take on his contract. For Telfair, I was interested in re-signing him, just as the front office has proven to be. However, his qualifying offer would've been for $3.5 million and given his agent a place to start negotiations. As it turns out, the Wolves deftly managed the free agent point guard market by signing Telfair's first year of his new contract at $2.3 million.
So there you have it. Three draft picks, eight trades, five buyouts and 366 days later we have a mountain of hope and a roster with promise. After parsing through this entire series of events and given the amount of criticism I and many others have laid on the Wolves front office, I'm finally excited to see what they can do.