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Should the Wolves start making roster changes now?

Injuries and circumstance have painted the Wolves into a corner. Starting the trade machine early may be the smart way out.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It's never good when an NBA team starting talking trades in early December. But then again, the Wolves aren't exactly in a good place right now.

In fairness, it's not like the Wolves are the Pistons or Knicks or anything. Injuries have stripped our roster of 3 of it's 4 best players. Detroit is healthy. They're just bad.

It's not pretty. But it is what it is and the team has to move forward. The reality is yes, the Wolves are missing 3 of it's best players, including it's most important one in Ricky Rubio. And while it's certainly tiresome to try and pull a silver lining out of a loss to a winless team actively trying to lose...

The truth is, the Wolves are in need of a roster restructure, and if this is the impetus for it, then so be it.

First off, the Wolves obviously need point guard depth. This is (hopefully) more of a short term need, but worth addressing nonetheless because of the situation. Rubio is out for at least a month, and now it sounds like Mo Williams is having some back issues. At a certain point, a smart team starts hedging those bets.

Flip Saunders runs a notoriously thick playbook, and last night Jim Peterson talked extensively about how that was getting necessarily pared down in Rubio's absence. Mo Williams is a more...mmm...'typical' point guard, I guess you could say (and more of a scorer at that) so he runs the plays a typical point guard would run. And the jury's still out on whether Zach LaVine is a point guard at all, so as Jim noted, his time at point guard is spent running a skeleton playbook...a couple very basic pick-and-roll plays and a kickout.

This is compounded by the utter lack of secondary ballhandling across the rest of the Wolves' roster. Corey Brewer at shooting guard. Wiggins (let's be honest, his handles cause some anxiety) at small forward. LaVine's handles are sharp, but he doesn't really know what to do with them at this point. So without Martin, the Wolves' best secondary handles belong to their power forwards: Thad Young and Anthony Bennett. That's rough, especially for a team that's reliant on ball movement to generate good offense.

Second...and since we're on the subject of Brewer....both he and Chase Budinger are dragging the team down something fierce. For one, both are just not productive. They are not helping:

Corey Brewer On Court Off Court
Offense (per 100 poss) 102.9 107.4
Defense (per 100 poss) 119.2 109.5

Chase Budinger On Court Off Court
Offense (per 100 poss) 101.9 105.7
Defense (per 100 poss) 112.9 115.1

Budinger is a tough case because he's missed basically the last two season with injuries, but the stark reality is he's not the same player, and may never be. After the San Antonio loss presser, Hoopus alum Britt Robson questioned Flip about something I've been wondering myself: is there still something going on with Chase's knees? His shooting form is in bad shape right now: his release is slow, and he lifts by almost knocking his knees together in a reverse bowleg, the way Reggie Miller would. I didn't catch Flip's answer, but his tone was half concern, half resignation, so I'm guessing Britt nailed it. In any case, Chase is not making his shots, and he's never been a great defender.

And Corey. Hoo boy. I love the guy, you all know that. But we've reached a point where it's just not working. Without Love to outlet, Brewer's utility has plummeted: his TS% is down by 5%, and he's posting 1/3rd the Win Shares from last season (although his PER is marginally up, now that he's actually rebounding instead of leaking out) He's also handling the ball way more than he should be, resulting in a ton of turnovers. In you can see above...the Wolves are 14 points/100 possessions better when Brewer is on the bench. A huge margin.

And for what it's worth, not everyone has fallen off a cliff since Rubio went down. Thad Young and, surprisingly, Shabazz are both net positives, even post Rubio.

Shabazz Muhammad On Court Off Court
Offense (per 100 poss) 109.5 103.0
Defense (per 100 poss) 115.1 114.5

Which is the next point: Shabazz needs playing time. Against all statistically historical odds (and believe me, we were not down on him for nothing. His UCLA numbers were tragic) Bazz has earned himself a rotation spot, crashing the glass like his life is at stake and making an art form out of the left hand hook shot. Every minute that goes to Corey and Bud (who are net negatives) takes minutes away from Bazz (who is a net 5.9 positive).

It's a weird, ironic, tragic situation since Flip is both head coach and president, but it would do some good to have the false lure of Veteran Corey removed from the equation of the coaching staff. Flip likes Brewer because he's been in the league. But in truth, Bazz is better. And you might as well free up time for LaVine too, because well, the Wolves aren't winning with the vets anyway. So what's to lose?

And then there's the issue of just straight cost. We've talked about it a lot before: the way to build an NBA team under the salary cap is find 2 or 3 star players worth big deals, then fill out the rest of the roster with bargain players. The Wolves are doing the opposite right now, and Brewer and Bud are the two biggest offenders, costing about $10 million in salary a year. With the Wolves already obligated to four rookie deals, they can't afford to nickel and dime themselves with mid-level veteran contracts like this. Those $4-5 mil deals add up quickly when there four or five of them.

By dealing out two or three mid-level veteran deals, the Wolves can streamline the rotation, trim payroll, and open roster spots to address more pressing needs.

So in context, the trade value of Brewer and Chase isn't necessarily important (in Chase's case, it's not likely to be much anyway) It's a classic case of opportunity cost. It's costing Bazz opportunity to play. It's costing the Wolves opportunities to win, and possibly to make moves in free agency next summer.

Long term, yes, I'd recommend clearing the decks (meaning Pekovic, Martin, and signing Thad at a lower price) and making a run at a Jimmy Butler. Right now, that isn't tenable. Martin is far and away the team's best scorer, and very nearly it's only good three point shooter. And beyond Pekovic's social utility as walking human folklore, the the very least...simply have no one else ready to take his spot. But that's kind of end game dealing out a Corey Brewer starts, because one Jimmy Butler will help this team win more than 6 Coreys or Chases.

Short term, however, again...opportunity cost. Simply getting Shabazz on the court in regular minutes and signing a real backup point guard could go a long way towards righting the ship, or at least keeping it afloat...even if it's temporary. Find the right player, and it might not even have to be temporary (can the Wolves get to Gal Mekel before New Orleans?)

In any case, circumstance has pretty much dictated the Wolves have to make some changes, or they're likely going to have a lot more games ending the way the 76ers one did.