On Saturday night, there was a game that slipped many people's attention, but may have a profound effect on the Timberwolves future. Milwaukee beat Charlotte 93-88, and it reduced the Bobcats lead for making the Eastern Conference play-off race to a single game.
Eastern Conference Standings February 21, 2010
1. Cleveland 43-14
2. Orlando 38-19
3. Boston 35-19
4. Atlanta 34-20
5. Toronto 31-24
6. Chicago 29-26
7. Miami 29-28
8. Charlotte 27-27
9. Milwaukee 26-28
10. Philadelphia 21-34
11. Detroit 20-35
12. Washington 19-34
13. New York 19-35
14. Indiana 19-36
15. New Jersey 5-51
At this point, it looks like four teams will be competing for five play-off spots, and with this win, Milwaukee closes to within one game of the final spot. The borderline play-off teams in the Western conference have better records, and it looks like whichever team Eastern Conference team misses the play-offs will end up with a lottery pick at #11 or #12. If that team ends up being the Bobcats, their pick will be protected this year, and be deferred to the future.
Charlotte Pick protections:
2010: Top 12 protected
2011: Top 10 protected
2012: Top 8 protected
2013: Top 3 protected
Is it likely we get the pick next year? Would it be better if it was delayed? You be the judge.
Is it likely we get the pick next year?
At the deadline, both Charlotte and Milwaukee both took on salary to improve their team, while Chicago may have slipped. Charlotte has a strong team, and a good coach in the mercurial Larry Brown. However, the Bobcats are one of the most inconsistent teams in the league. While they've beaten the best team in the league (CLE), they've lost twice to the worst team in the league (NJN), and in fact account for 2 of their 5 wins! Moreover, their star Gerald Wallace has been having a great year, but he is often injured, and in fact plays with a style that invites injury. The Bobcats are perhaps the hardest team in the league to predict.
With the clustering of the teams trying to make the Eastern Conference play-offs, maybe its a good time to go over the tie-breaker rules. For two-way ties, the 1st tie-breaker is head-to-head record. Charlotte breaks down this way:
CHA vs MIL 1-2
CHA vs MIA 2-0
CHA vs CHI 1-1
CHA vs TOR 1-1
(You can see Saturday night's loss to Milwaukee may be important.)
The next tie breaker is winning percentage within the division.
For three-way ties, the rules are similar. The first tie-breaker is the best record among all the head-to-head games among the three teams, and the second tie-breaker is, again, winning percentage within their own division. If a further tie-breaker is needed, they'll compare each team's conference record.
Would it be better if for the Wolves if the pick was delayed?
This is a tough question to answer, and I've heard great points on each side.
Fans that want the pick this summer mention that the Wolves could use a big improvement immediately. If we get the pick this year, it'll be a pick in the teens that barely misses this year's protection. There are several good players in this year's draft, particularly in the teens. It may be better to take a "bird in the hand" rather than add the risk that Charlotte improves and the pick devalues. In any event, waiting for the pick may reduce its value in trade. For us, we want to make a big impact next year, and getting a guy on the court can only help.
Those that wish to delay the pick point out that with its declining protection, the pick could climb higher in the lottery, and perhaps much higher if its delayed a few years. The Bobcats are likely to be sold in the next few weeks, either to an investment group led by Michael Jordan, or if he declines, to AOL's Ted Leonidas. In most cases, when a team changes hands, the team sheds long term salary (and talent) so the franchise is more marketable, and so the new owner can put his stamp on the team more quickly. It's quite possible the team could be headed for a few years of rebuilding, in which case the pick could become a high lottery pick in the future. Finally, delaying the pick would remove the $1.3 mil cap hold this summer, and save us $0.9 mil in additional cap space.
Regardless of whether you hope we get the pick, or that it's delayed, Wolves fans may want to keep an eye on the Bobcats and other Eastern Conference teams to see where that pick will end up. Games like Saturday's between two mediocre teams in the East may be important to our future.