OK, we've all heard the rumors. The bad economy and current NBA climate are going to make for some interesting situations this off-season (and the next) as teams clamor to reduce salary--creating trades and fire sales that were unthinkable only 10-12 months ago.
The Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in a very interesting situation. On one hand they have nice young core of developing upper-level players (Al Jefferson and Kevin Love), a decent group of role players (Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, and hopefully Corey Brewer), a cache of draft picks, a stashed Euro center, tons of future cap space, and reasonable contract after reasonable contract after reasonable contract. This is a collection of assets that could, in the right hands, be transformed rather quickly--should the rumors of sweetheart trades be only half true--into a contending team.
On the other hand, with 3 first rounders this year, two likely first rounders next year, expiring contracts, and very movable players like the aforementioned Foye and Craig Smith, the Wolves are also in a position to stockpile talent in hopes of significantly upgrading their roster with low-cost rookie-scaled contracts while still maintaining future cap space in 2010 and beyond. Do they cash out in a year with a relatively weak draft to take advantage of being a relatively decent sized fish in a small pond, or do they hold the course for a year in which more teams will be active and with a draft that is shaping up to be as good as the one we saw last season? Is there a way to find a middle ground between these two approaches?
Let's start with the idea that some teams are going to unload players in an attempt to cut salary. What are these teams and what sorts of players are we talking about? If the main motive for moving a player is an economic one, let's take a look at teams with low revenue, declining revenue, and poor attendance. According to Forbes, here are the 10 least valuable teams in the league:
Here are the teams who saw an estimated decline in value between 07 and 08:
- Nets (-13%)
- Pacers (-9%)
- Kings (--9%)
- Sixers (-5%)
- Griz (-3%)
- Wolves (-2%)
Here are the bottom dwellers in attendance:
- New Jersey
Here are the teams that make our list 2 or more times:
- Milwaukee (low attendance, value)
- Charlotte (low attendance, value)
- Indiana (low attendance, value, declining value)
- Memphis (low attendance, value, declining value)
- Nets (low attendance, value, declining value)
- Wolves (low attendance, value, declining value)
- Atlanta (low attendance, value)
- Sacramento (declining value, attendance)
- Sixers (declining value, attendance)
- NOLA (value, attendance)
Now lets look at performance. Here are some of the teams that fell the most from 07-08 (in games below prior season's record):
- Detroit (-20)
- GSW (-19)
- Phoenix (-9)
- Toronto (-8)
- NOLA (-7)
- Utah (-6)
- Clippers (-4)
I left Washington out of the picture because they are giving signals that they want to contend with their current roster. They are also a special trade case that we will deal with later. There are a few things to take note of here. First, the teams with 2-3 of our categories are mostly young and up-and-coming. Atlanta, Philly, and NOLA are the only winning teams in the bunch.
Performance-wise, 5 of the 7 declining teams are from the Western Conference. This should definitely play into the Wolves' plans. If they can make a deal with a Western Conference team they do two things at once: improve their roster while reducing the talent on a conference competetor.
Money wise, the most likely candidates for salary reduction are Milwaukee and NOLA. Not only do these teams have attendance and value issues, they are both over the cap, with NOLA being over the luxury mark. Let's take a look at what these two teams have to offer on the personnel front with salary numbers listed after the name for each coming year:
- Michael Redd (17/18.3 ETO)
- Richard Jefferson (14.2/15.2 ETO)
- Andrew Bogut (10/11/12/13/14)
- Dan Gadzuric (6.7/7.2)
- Charlie Villanueva (4.6 QO)
- Ramon Sessions FA
- Joe Alexander (2.5/2.7/3.5)
Milwaukee has a few interesting options. First, Redd was injured and will not play. Both he and Jefferson have ETOs in 2010. Say the Wolves could take Redd or Jefferson off the Bucks' hands with Joe Alexander and a future 1st round pick. They would do so knowing full well they would only get Jefferson or Redd for about a year, but they could pick up a pick for their troubles. Not exactly a long term solution but it's a thought. Joe Alexander hasn't really shown that he will be a player in this league. The player who is really interesting is Ramon Sessions and he could be had on the open market.
NOLA is a bit more interesting.
- Chris Paul (13/15/16/18)
- Tyson Chandler (12.2/13 ETO)
- Peja Stojakovic (13.3/14.2 ETO)
- James Posey (6/6.4/6.9)
That's a boat load of money and if they keep the status quo, regardless of any new draft picks, they are over the cap until at least 2011. That's absurd for a franchise that is bleeding money. What is also absurd is the idea that NOLA could cut the roster with a superstar in his prime being the only man left standing. If any group of fans know how this sort of thing plays out, it is us Wolves fans. The writing is already on the wall for CP3 and the Hornets. They have locked themselves into their own versions of Sam and Spree and they will have to deal with diminishing results until it comes time to blow the whole thing up and start all over.
I know it seems weird to talk about Chris Paul being traded. It also seems weird to think that NOLA could surround him with anything remotely approaching a decent team if they start to trade away players for salary dumps. No one is going to take a guy like Peja or Chandler without something else in return at this point. If they attach additional draft assets, that further depletes their future potential to surround Paul with players that matter.
What are the toughest and hardest-to-move assets on the Hornets? Without a doubt, this has to be Peja and James Posey. Chandler, despite his silly contract and declined trade, could be packaged during the season. Posey has rough contract and Peja has hardly any remaining upside. By packaging these 3 players, NOLA can save upwards of $30 million a year for at least the next two years. What could the Wolves offer for these players?
First of all, CP3 has a poison pill provision that resets his contract on July 1st. Any trade would have to take place after the draft. The best the Wolves could offer is this:
- Mike Miller
- Brian Cardinal
- Corey Brewer
- Mark Madsen
- Craig Smith
- Randy Foye
- 6th pick
- 28th pick
- Rights to Nikola Pekovic
That's a pretty damn big trade and it would pretty much end any other wheeling and dealing the team could do in the off season. It would preserve the 18th pick as well as next year's Utah pick, although, both of those assets should be in play for a player of Paul's caliber.
If such a deal went through, NOLA would gain roughly $20 million in contracts that they could wipe off the books in 2010 while gathering the 6th pick in this year's draft, a legit EL center, a late-round pick that could be used on an additional EL player, and young players with decent rotation potential in Foye, Brewer, and Smith. On the other hand, the Wolves end up with this:
- Ryan Gomes/James Posey/Peja
- Kevin Love/Gomes
- Al Jefferson/bag-o-donuts
Now, this option would take some creativity in terms of using the MLE for a shooting guard or front court backup, as well as getting a player with the 18th pick, but I put it here on the site to show the sort of package the Wolves could bring back if they put all their chips into a single trade. Paul would take a haul or a NOLA fleecing.
What are some other big name players with big contracts on teams with attendance, ownership, declining performance, or value problems?
Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Brandan Wright, and Chris Bosh are the players that first come to mind. Other teams like Utah are in a precarious situation and Andrei Kirilenko could probably be had for the right price.
Moving down the ladder, the Wolves should also be on the look out for teams that may be looking to make dramatic changes. Your Dallases, and San Antonios of the world. I still maintain that the Spurs will eventually have to move Tony Parker either this year or the next. It likely won't be to the Wolves, but they are a franchise at the crossroads and he is their most valuable player. Another option is the oft-mentioned Kirk Hinrich deal with Chicago.
Putting some of this together, and mixing in our take on the draft, here are a few scenarios we would like to see the team pursue:
A- Zombie Piranha Ball:
- Coordinate trade with Washington for the #5 pick. Package one: Mike Miller, Randy Foye, and the rights to Nikola Pekovic for Etan Thomas, JaVale McGee, O. Pecherov, and the 5th pick. Less complicated option is Miller for Thomas and the rights to the #5 pick (to be completed after draft day).
- Use 5th and 6th picks in the draft to select 2 of the following: James Harden, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, or Demar DeRozan. Ideally, Harden and Curry.
- Coordinate trade with Utah involving AK-47 and Minnesota expiring contracts. Exact package would depend on remaining assets from first deal.
This route would hopefully give the Wolves the backcourt equivalent of Love and Jefferson with Curry and Harden; 2 fantastically efficient players who rely more on smarts and skill to get things done than pure athleticism. The hope here is that Harden could develop into a dribble-drive threat with all-around skills while Curry could run the point and provide long distance shooting. The duo would actually be bigger than what the Wolves would run out with Bassy/Foye or Foye/(insert player here). With 2 pairs of efficient players who have complimentary skills, a long, athletic, defending 3 is a must. AK-47 is a perfect fit. His contract is huge but there are only two years left and he could be, at the very least, a place filler until (hopefully) Brewer is able to become the player we all hope he can be. The wild card here would be trying to work a deal with Washington to pry away McGee. If the Wolves offer Miller and Foye, two players that could step in right away to provide the type of right-now help the Wizards need, and if the Wolves could add in Pekovic (a guy who could save them money now while adding talent down the road), I think it's an attractive enough package where the Wolves should give it a shot. The ultimate goal of this plan is this:
Philosophy-wise, it would be balls-to-the-wall up tempo basketball with a dribble drive threat who can shoot, 2 mid range shooters, an inside bruiser, and an athletic jack-of-all-trades to tie it all together. Off the bench would be an athletic 2/3, an athletic 4/5 and a pure point. This comes out to arround $55.1 mil over 10 deals with an MLE, minimum exception, and 2 slotted picks at 18 and 28 to round out the roster.
B- Slightly altered Zombie Piranha Ball:
- Trade Miller, Foye, and Pekovic to the Wizards for McGee, Darius Songalia, Mike James, and the 5th pick.
- Trade the 6th pick, Mark Madsen, Craig Smith, and Brian Cardinal to the Bulls for Kirk Hinrich.
- Draft Stephen Curry or James Harden with the 6th pick.
Wrapping this thing up, the main point of this post is to show that the Wolves' best trade option likely involves a trade with Washington or a trade that allows a team outside of the lotto to move to #6 (or 5, depending on Washington) in addition to a player of need. You can make up your own trades but the bottom line is this: guys like Parker and Paul will come at an astronomical cost while the team can likely pull some good bargain deals with teams like the Wiz and Bulls. The targets of this trade should be a backup 4/5, a 2, a 3, and a 1; basically all non-power forwards and whoever they don't pick up with the #6 pick.
They should also not be afraid to move anyone short of Love and Big Al; and, if a situation arose where Parker, Paul, D-Will, or Dirk could be had, that rule gets thrown out the window.
I have really grown to like the idea of adding Kirk Hinrich to this squad. He's a slightly above average player with a troublesome contract, but his perimeter defense would be an absolute revelation on this squad. He can guard all 3 spots on the perimeter while being able to handle the ball. He's a bit hit or miss on offense, but with a draft (hopefully) involving Curry or Harden, and with a squad already consisting of Love and Jefferson, they don't need the guy to score.
I also really like the idea of working out a deal with Washington involving Miller, Foye, and Pekovic. The Wolves could even throw in Gomes if it would allow them to walk away with the 5th pick and McGee. Foye is a problematic player. He's good but he's limited and limiting. He's a 6th man on a team that bought him as a 1b starter. It's time for a new start and a backup to Gilbert Arenas seems like a good place for that to happen.
Philosophy-wise, the point I've made here is that it will be either hard or incredibly expensive for the Wolves to go out and bring in an established player that can fit in with their style and age group. The big fish will require them to go all-in and while they have a lot of assets, they don't have that much. At the end of the day, the best trading strategy for the Wolves is to focus on trading for an average or slightly above average player that can fill a gap not filled by their #6 pick. They need to bank on the hope that Big Al can be option 1a while Love can be an upper-level #3 guy. They also need to hope that James Harden or Stephen Curry can be a legit #2 guy to help fill out the roster. If they are able to land one of these two players, while getting a point or backup 4/5 via trade, then they can fill in the remaining gaps in free agency or next year's draft.
Well, that about does it for now. We'll be back with a post about free agents before we wrap this all up with a post detailing our ultimate off season. We'd love to hear from you about what trades you would like to see and what players you think should be on the block.