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Initial Thoughts on the Trade

First of all, let's state the obvious: there is literally no downside to what David Kahn and the Minnesota Timberwolves just pulled off.  None.  The team had sent numerous signals over the past year that they had little to no intention of resigning Corey Brewer (see Webster, Martell and Johnson, Wes) and they were able to move him a'la Randy Foye and Mike Miller for a usable asset.  These appear to be the (only) types of moves that Kahn excels at.  

What is remarkable about this deal is that it does two things that actually make sense in terms of actual basketball: Anthony Randolph has a track record of functional play (he even fits the awful term of "having potential") and the team has effectively rented out its cap space and still has enough flexibility to make additional moves with Eddie Curry's deal (and, for example, Sebastian Telfair or Jonny Flynn) before the trade deadline.  

Random thoughts:


  • It will be very tempting to play into the "long and athletic" angle with Randolph.  It is true that he is both.  He also showed some signs of improvement in his first two years playing in an up-tempo style and was good enough to get invited to Team USA's summer camp (where he caught the eye of Tony Ronzone).  He's missed a lot of games over his career for one reason or another and he seems best fitted to play at the 4, but he seems to have enough talent to post numbers that are above and beyond what any non-Love or non-Beasley Timberwolf is capable of. 
  • Randolph is 2 years younger than Wes Johnson.  This could be a very good and close-up example for those Wolves fans who still don't seem to get it of why age matters when picking college players.  It really, really, really matters.  
  • It could also be a good example of what types of players actually possess high-level (and here's that word again) potential.  Think of player development like evolution and natural selection.  Players at this level are only able to develop with the skills and tools they already have.  Wanting Wes Johnson to develop into a slashing, high-usage modern shooting guard is like wishing for a turtle to develop a 5th leg.  Sorry, he just doesn't have the existing systems to make that dream happen.  On the other hand, Anthony Randolph has the types of tools that could make for an extremely high level player.  Elite size, athleticism, handle, an ability to get to the line, rebounding, and shot blocking.  These are things that can evolve into the upper levels of the NBA while giving the Wolves a player type they don't currently have.  This evolution is highly dependent on two things: Randolph's head (he's had some drive/motivation/whatever issues over his 3 years in the league) and the Wolves' player development.  You know, his environment. 
  • With his awesome inability to make anything out of the draft, this is exactly the type of move that Wolves fans should be excited about with David Kahn.  Free agents aren't lining up to come here and this leaves trades and the draft as the main avenues for improvement.  So far, Kahn deserves an F- for his draft work and a B for his trades.  Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph are home runs.  Darko and Martell are average. 2 A's or B+'s and 2 C's.  Too bad the team couldn't have better capitalized on its 6 first round draft picks (with 3 more on the way) during Kahn's tenure.  
  • I know Corey Brewer isn't exactly the best player, but he was playing some solid ball this year (at least until Flynn started getting regular minutes again) and he was one of the few guys who tried to play defense and brought it to the arena each and every single night.  I think that counts for something and it will be missed. 
  • It will be very interesting to see how Randolph is utilized in this lineup.  Where and when are they going to play him?  There are only so many minutes/night for Beasley, Webster, Johnson, and now Randolph.  This might require some (gasp) creativity from Kurt Rambis. 
  • Eddie Curry is now the highest paid Timberwolf. 
  • Do the Wolves now lead the league in lefty combo forwards? 
  • The only two things that really get me about this trade are that a) it's not exactly the type of move anyone thought of when Kahn said "singular", and b) it looks as if the Wolves are going to not act upon the tail-end of the Al Jefferson trade's cap space.  That is kind of disappointing.  As mentioned above, this team needs to rely on the draft and trades to get players in the door.  They fail miserably in the draft and they do pretty well on the trade front.  They really need a high-usage perimeter player who can score.  There's still some time left before the trade deadline.  Here's hoping they can make the best of it. 
Before the trade went down, I was working on a pre trade deadline post about what the Wolves could do next.  I'll put it up below the fold, as I still think a large chunk of it applies.  

Regardless, it should not be lost on anyone that the Randolph trade is a fantastic move by the Wolves and it should be viewed as nothing but a feather in Kahn's cap.  He seems to have a knack for this sort of move and maybe the team can find a guard version of the Beasley/Randolph trade to round things out. 

1- Trade for a high-usage guard before the trade deadline

Kevin Love is a very unique type of player.  He's the type of guy who produces a lot while not  playing the role of a go-to guy.  He's not that guy.  Throw in his work on the boards, his ability to run the pick and roll, and his awesome three point shooting, and you have a top shelf player who is just screaming to be placed next to a high-usage perimeter player.  Could Beasley be that guy?  I'll address that in a bit, but Love needs to play next to a guy who can handle the ball as a go-to scorer with an insanely high usage rate.  Who could play this role?

  • Stephen Curry- The less said about this player, the better.  I don't think I need to go into why he'd be a good fit here.  It was obvious before the 2009 Draft and it's just as obvious now. Take a quick gander at what Kevin Love did during the last 1/2 of his rookie season.  I'm sure the team had access to what he was able to do in pick and pop and pick and roll situations.  These two players were meant to play with one another and it's sad that it never happened and probably never will.  
  • Kevin Martin-  Probably the next most perfect companion for Kevin Love.  Think of everything Wes Johnson is, imagine the opposite, and there you go.  OK, that's kind of harsh.  Martin is carrying close to a 30% usage rate right now while having a, wait for it, a .606% TS%.  He also carries a 10.2% TO%.  Everything the Wolves could possibly want in a Kevin Love sidekick lives down in Houston, TX and he's probably unattainable.  Still, guys who can handle the ball at a high clip, not turn it over, get to the line (he averages more per game than Wes Johnson attempted in December and, thus far, in February), and hits a high percentage of his shots are the type of player  you want to put next to Kevin Love.  
  • Monta Ellis-  A big contract and not quite as ideal for the job as Mr. Martin or Mr. Curry, but Ellis fits the mold of a perimeter player who can handle the ball with a huge usage rate while being able to score at a somewhat efficient rate.  Actually, that's not completely true.  He's a volume scorer who is averaging less than a point/play.  However, the type of players who fit the bill we're looking for don't grow on trees and he's one of the better ones.  The big concern about Ellis is the massive number of minutes he's logging after an injury in Golden State.  He led the league last year in mpg and he's at the top once again. He also has a fairly decent ast%/to% rate considering his high usage rate and the pace of play in the bay.  
  • Nick Young- OK, now we're getting into silly territory.  Young's price tag is probably much lower than any of the players listed so far but he also isn't nearly as good of a player as the players listed so far.  That being said, he does have some promise.  In a broad sense of what we're looking for with a Lovekick, Young has a .548 TS% from the perimeter, an ok usage rate (24.6%), very low turnover rate (7.7%), and he averages over a point/play.  He would be kind of a long shot for this role, as he would need to up his offensive load while maintaining his efficiency, but it's food for thought.  After all, this is a post trying to be realistic with what the Wolves can do and a player like Young is right in Kahn and Taylor's wheelhouse: cheap and with risk. Hooray!
  • Devin Harris- Do you know that Harris has played 64, 69, and 64 games over his last 3 years?  He's also 27. Did I mention we're in silly territory?  Anywho, Harris used to be a very nice player.  Then he got injured.  Still, if he could get back to the player he was (gigantic if), he's kind-of-sort-of-if-you-really-squint the player that would look nice next to Kevin Love.  Let's head off to complete gamble territory...
  • Rodrigue Beaubois- Currently injured, but he put up awesome, awesome, awesome numbers in his first year in the league and they were kind of the types of numbers we're looking for: usage rate near 25% (not high enough for our purposes, but we're in gamble territory), a TS over 60%....he also played 12 1/2 minutes a game.  Again, gambles and he probably can't maintain the huge usage rate while being a scorer, but...well, Stephen Curry was there for the taking.  Damn. 
Moving beyond these players, here are a few names to think about in the Basement Bargin Bin:
  • Chris Douglas-Roberts- His usage rate isn't over 20, he's not that great from outside, and he has underperformed thus far as a pro, but he could a) likely be had for cheap, and b) would immediately be the best guard on the Wolves.  CDR would also be the only Wolves' perimeter player who sees the value in a thing called "contact". 
  • Avery Bradley- This one is a super reach.  There is nothing at all in Bradley's NBA stat sheet to suggest that he would be able to handle the type of role the Wolves need at the lead guard.  However, he plays behind Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen and his college role is what we're looking at here.  Was he held back at Texas because of older players on the team and can he handle a large usage rate?  If the Wolves are looking for a cheap option on the perimeter and they are unable to land Kyrie Irving in the draft and Rubio does not come over for another year, Bradley might be a last-man-standing type of option. 
  • Jeff Teague- A usage rate near 20% with a TS% that has increased by a large amount in his 2nd year in the league.  He's basically everything I think David Kahn thinks Jonny Flynn is but...well, not Jonny Flynn.  In fact, he may be twice the player as Jonny Flynn, and that could be a good thing for the Wolves.  FWIW, did you know Flynn carries a 26.7% TO%?  Crazy, I know. 
2- Move Michael Beasley to the 2nd unit. 

One of the most interesting developments of the pre-ankle madness was watching the coaching staff set up the rotation in a way that either Kevin Love or Michael Beasley is always on the floor.  Unfortunately, they don't always follow through on what they set up, but that's another story for another day.   

This team lacks anything remotely approaching a scoring threat off the bench.  The problem it has is that its best player cannot create his own shot on a consistent basis.  He's simply not that type of performer, nor, to be honest, should he be.  

Should Our Beloved Puppies add a high-usage guard to the starting lineup, it would allow for two positives to be created in the aftermath: first, Michael Beasley could be handed the role of Manu Microwave and asked to carry the scoring off the bench.  Second, Wes Johnson gets to line up at the 3, where he appears to be a more comfortable performer and where the team can focus on his strengths (Yes, I know the 2 and 3 are somewhat indistinguishable in the Wolves' offense, but humor me on this point.  The guy is a small forward.  He can't handle the rock and eventually this team will no longer be running the Biangle.) 

Beasley's game is one of those things that could go in a few different directions.  He has clearly improved his ability to move the ball around this season but he is essentially an offensive player without conscience and without anappreciable affect one way or another on his team's overall play compared to whoever replaces him.  Despite how ugly the Wolves' offense may seem while Beasley is out with an injury, the fact of the matter is that the team scores pretty much at the same rate with him on the court as it does with him off of it.  Everything about Beasley's game screams 6th man.  He has a huge usage rate and he's at his level best when he has to think of nothing else but attacking the bucket all by his lonesome.  I say let him do it surrounded by the team's bench players that can't seem to score whatsoever.   

3- Slow down the pace. 

The Wolves are a fast paced turnover machine.  They are an iffy engine being run at impossible RPMs.  It defies logic to think that a young team who turns the ball over at a very high clip is asked to go faster, faster, faster. 

One of the most interesting NBA stories of the year has been the defensive transformation of the New Orleans Hornets under first year coach Monty Williams, who was a finalist for the Wolves' coaching spot.  The Hornets are amazingly well-prepared on defense, they play hard, and their coach holds players who do not play good defense accountable (see Thornton, Marcus).  

They also play at a Musselman-esque pace, 88.9, which is good for 28th in the league.  They carry a 103.6 DRtg, which is good for 7th in the league.  Last year they played at a pace of 92.6 and had a DRtg of over 110. 

The fastest top 10 defensive team in the league is the Memphis Grizzlies, who play at a 92.2 pace. 4 out of the 5 worst teams in the league play above a 93 pace.  The point here is that if you have a young team prone to turnovers, you want to limit possessions.  The Wolves don't seem to understand this basic concept and they like to give their mistake-magnet players as many chances to screw up as possible. Rambis is quite literally setting up his guys to fail in the most broadly systemic manner possible. 

4- Stop the Jonny Flynn nonsense.  

Jonny Flynn may be the nicest guy in the world but he is a terrible professional basketball player who has the annoying habit of dragging down everything around him.  Corey Brewer was playing some pretty competent basketball until the beginning of February when Jonny Flynn started receiving regular minutes.  Kevin Love's numbers take a downward turn when Flynn is entered into the lineup.  Name pretty much any player on the roster, add Jonny Flynn and you will see a downturn in production.  He is a stunningly bad pro ball player and while I don't actually think he's this bad if he were to have a different coach/system, he is this bad on the Wolves and he is the primary reason why they get absolutely torn apart at the point

Flynn is the classic case of a smallish guy being just athletic enough to dominate in High School and AAU while being The Man.  Upon getting to college his physical stature places him at the point (because there is nowhere else he can effectively play at the upper levels of the D1) and he is able to maintain some of his The Manness but does not really display any sort of game that would lead a competent observer to believe that he actually knows how to run an offense.  Why?  Because he never has had to. 

Upon reaching the pros it became blatantly obvious that he's a small shooting guard who has never had to run anything.  If he had played point throughout his career, there wouldn't be the 3-5 instances a night where he jumps in the air with nowhere to go or shoot.  There wouldn't be the single (and left) handed 10 foot passes.  There would be more than simply doing whatever he can to dribble into the lane and....well, there's no plan after that, as that's what he has always done.  

For an example of how to actually respond to a combo guard with potential, Davidson coach Bob McKillop tailored Stephen Curry's entire final year in college around him playing the point in a manner consistent with what he might see in the NBA.  Now, I realize that Syracuse probably couldn't (and, admittedly, shouldn't) cater an entire offense around a single player (they are lucky to have more than one good guy on the team), but it does highlight the importance of finding and drafting guys who actually have experience doing what you hired them for at the professional level.  If only there were a way to meld Andy Rautins and Flynn together into a single player. 

5- Defend the 3. 

Do I really need to explain that going 3-10 from beyond the arc is worth 4.5-10 from inside of it? When you have to explain basic math to someone, chances are they are not up to whatever task they are trying to do.  Yet, there they are. 

6- Throw a boatload of money at DeAndre Jordan

I have no idea if Jordan is going to pursue anything on the open market, but as a 2nd round pick, he's due a 2nd contract.  I don't know what the new CBA rules will allow for or if this will even be a possibility, but he is the type of player the Wolves need if Darko can't wrap his head around the fact that his sole purpose for being in the NBA is defense.  Jordan is exactly what the Wolves need at the 5: a low-usage, defensively-minded player who can shift to athletic 4s when Love is in a pinch.  

Can the Wolves find a way to grab Stephen Curry and DeAndre Jordan (or players who fit that bill at each position) while hanging on to Michael Beasley? Will fans be able to stop crying when they realize that this team (or one much like it) could have been realized in the draft?  How did I miss the boat on Jordan coming out of college?  

The best I think the Wolves could realistically end up with next year is this:
  1. Curry/Ridnour
  2. Brewer/Webster
  3. Johnson/Beasley/Brewer/Webster
  4. Love/Pekovic/Jordan
  5. Jordan/Milicic/Pekovic
Ideally, they'll find a coach who stresses defense, a slower pace, and who holds his players accountable for their defense. What other players do you think can fit the high-usage efficient role at the lead guard and the low-usage defensively minded and positionally flexible guy at the 4/5? 

The Wolves have been gifted an absolutely amazing and unique thing in Kevin Love. 

They have a player who is able to produce at superstar (yes, superstar) levels without having superstar-levels of action run for him. They essentially have a gimmie on the roster--a position where they do not have to set aside any out-of-the-norm resources for a guy who produces like nobody else in the league. In a very boiled-down and over-simplified sense, they have a guy who requires as many set offensive plays as Brian Cardinal but who produces like Dirk Nowitski.

The solution for Kevin Love is to surround him with an extremely high usage guard who can a) run the offense, b) hit from outside, and c) run the hell out of the pick and roll. This was as obvious as the nose on my face about 1/2 way through his first year in the league. They have a completely unique player and they don’t seem to know what to do with him.  

Kahn’s first thought was that he was a bench player. Rambis thought he was a 6th man and they both went about building around Ricky Rubio. Rambis and Kahn both do not seem to understand that they have a completely unique player who does not have to have anything run for him yet produces like a guy who has everything run for him. Where else are they going to find a player like that? What more could they possibly want? Yet, they continue to build the team in a way that does nothing to play to the fact they have this type of player. They run a gimmick offense and are building for someone who is not even with the team.  They're trying to pull a Reverse-Rummy by going to war with an army they don't have.  Even if/when Rubio gets here, he is a poor shooting passing-specialist who will do very little to alleviate the current problem that Love has in the offense: a complete lack of scoring (or threat of scoring) from the perimeter with a guy who can run the show; in other words, they need B-Easy's game with Luke Ridnour's body, handle, and passing ability.  They should be scouring the league for a guard who fits the bill and then surround them with as many defensive players as possible while doing everything they can to have Beasley anchor the 2nd unit. Anything along those lines is what they should be looking for. Instead, they’ll add an untested point guard who can’t shoot to the mix.

Maybe they never really understood what Love was/is (highlights are mine):

The media got fooled into thinking the Timberwolves rated Southern California guard O.J. Mayo and UCLA center Kevin Love even in ability, and that it was going to be tough to pick between them with the third overall choice in Thursday's NBA draft.

Well, there never was any doubt. Wolves assistant general manager Fred Hoiberg verified Thursday night that Mayo was their choice all along.

Hoiberg said the Wolves never came close to making a trade. The truth of the matter is they think so much of Mayo that they wanted him on the team.

"Our people thought that Mayo had far more upside than Love," Wolves owner Glen Taylor said. "And very important was the fact that Fred played for Tim Floyd at Iowa State, and we knew Floyd [who coached Mayo at Southern California] was going to give an honest scouting report on Mayo."

Amazingly, as I was preparing this post, Kahn dropped this nugget:

I defy anybody to tell me a year ago that they saw this kind of season coming with Kevin. Nobody saw it coming. Who could have seen it coming? Are we ready to make final determinations and judgements on everything that has occurred here in the last 19 months? I think Kevin is the poster child for that.

This follows on the heels of the early-season minutes nonsense that proceeded 31/31:

"Who's arguing that?" Rambis said afterward when asked a question about why arguably his best player watched most of the fourth quarter and didn't have a point or rebound in the second half after reaching a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) by halftime.

A reporter replied that he was.

"That's your opinion," he said. "I thought Anthony was doing the things defensively that we need. It was nothing against Kevin. I thought A.T. was doing a good job. I thought that he was moving his feet well. He challenged shots. He blocked shots.

They absolutely don’t get what they have and they need to figure it out in a hurry before he decides to leave and they're left standing with absolutely nothing.