History and Hypotheticals
Although there were reasons for many to express optimism in reference to the 2013-2014 Minnesota Timberwolves, an obvious, proverbial elephant reflected the upcoming doom and gloom of how what is now being called 'The Summer of Love' would alter the state of the franchise. Lo and behold the Kevin Love saga is, allegedly, ten days from completion. From what has been reported, a deal between the Wolves and Cleveland Cavaliers is to be consummated sometime between August 23rd and the end of the month. Fundamentally, Love will be exchanged for number one overall draft selections Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett-- as well as an additional first round draft selection.
Bennett, although his rookie campaign was arguably the worst year for any number one draft pick in NBA history, might be talented enough to become a competent role player someday. However, he also might carry the label draft-bust for the remainder of his career. Moreover, there is speculation that Flip Saunders, Wolves' head coach and President of Basketball Operations, covets Thaddeus Young-- a 26 year old left-hander who has spent the last seven years playing for the Philadelphia 76ers.
It wasn't until a few months ago that Saunders appointed himself as the Wolves head coach. Team owner Glen Taylor allowed Saunders to do this, albeit he did so begrudgingly, publicly remarking that he prefers having different people for those roles. Those more well versed in matters as they pertain to the Timberwolves would construe this as nepotism within the front-office. Saunders has done an above-average job in his role as an executive, but there are warranted concerns as to how he will perform as a head coach.
The subsequent roster changes after trading Love to Cavaliers may potentially illuminate Saunders' long-term, and short-term plans as head coach.
If the Sixers elect to part with Young they will send over a proven, established forward who averaged 18 points, six rebounds and two assists per game in 79 appearances. Young was playing for what was arguably the NBA's worst team during the '13-'14 season. No, he will not replace Love's production, but Young does have the ability to step outside the arc and knockdown the three-point shot. He isn't a slouch on the defensive end, either. Essentially, if Saunders goes out and finds a way to get Young from the Sixers, the Wolves will begin the season in a position similar to where they started last season; competitive, but a long shot to qualify for the postseason.
Many would consider the postseason as an unobtainable goal that will be impossible for the Timberwolves to achieve next year. Some would consider this a reason to tank, which means the Wolves would set themselves up to fail throughout the year, but come October that strategy may become obsolete. Lottery-reform measures were introduced earlier this summer at league meetings in Las Vegas, and the NBA Board of Governors could vote changes into place at its preseason meeting in October. Although there are several facets and the proposals haven't been finalized, the goal of commissioner Adam Silver is to balance out the lottery odds so the worst team or teams wouldn't have the highest chances of landing the top pick, according to sources cited by ESPN.
Losses and a Foundation for Restructure
For the purpose of staying sane as I write this piece, let's assume Anthony Bennett is flipped to the Sixers in exchange for Thaddeus Young with J.J. Barea and Glenn Robinson III. This has been speculated as a possible outcome, as Robinson III has yet to sign a contract with the Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves will not be as constricted in terms of cap space, next summer. The contracts of Luc Mbah a Moute and Mo Williams will expire following the '14-'15 season. It is unlikely Minnesota extends its team-option to Alexey Shved, subsequently making the Russian international a free agent. Shabazz Muhammad will also face a similar fate unless he shows drastic improvement during the year (the Wolves may choose to offer him a team option, though) Assuming the the departure of the aforementioned players; Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Gorgui Dieng and Thaddeus Young on the roster.
Rubio will become a restricted free-agent if electing to forgo a team-option, something that's expected to happen as he will pursue a max-contract according to what has been reported over the recent months. The Wolves could enter a similar situation with Young --pending performance-- as his contract features an early-termination option that would allow Young to become a free agent next summer. So, as another assumption, say this happens after the Wolves win 30 games during the '14-'15 campaign and Saunders wishes to keep most of the team in-tact.
An estimated $25 million is committed to LaVine, Wiggins, Pekovic, Martin, Brewer, and Dieng. The estimated cap maximum and luxury tax threshold for the '15-'16 season is $66.5 million and $81.0 million, respectively, leaving Saunders with a significant budget to; sign Rubio and Young to new contracts, or go out and acquire free agents that will hit the market next summer. Rudy Gay, Tristan Thompson, Marc Gasol, Omer Asik, Wesley Matthews and Paul Millsap are just some of the names that will likely be available free agents on the market next summer. The Wolves will also have two, first round selections in the 2015 draft.
So, What Happens Then?
The Wolves have entered yet another state of rebuilding, and there's some excitement brewing amidst the fanbase as it seems Wiggins will join LaVine and Rubio for what will be an exciting '14-'15 season. Minnesota ranked 27th in the NBA in attendance last year, which hopefully will go up as the Kevin Love saga is over and it has been a decade since Kevin Garnett's departure. The younger generation may be optimistic about the future and potential this team possesses. The elder fans (you know, the ones who are still bitter about the Garnett thing) have little reason to remain in a pit of self-loathing as it's been nearly 10 seasons since the best player in franchise history went to Boston and became a champion.
Flip Saunders often speaks about implementing a culture change. By collecting Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins -- two, talented youngsters eager to become prolific NBA players despite landing on a franchise that has endured undeniable, unfortunate circumstances and very little success -- Saunders is en route to creating a positive atmosphere around the organization. Earlier this summer the Wolves held an open scrimmage, where an estimated 6,000 fans gathered at Target Center to see LaVine and the rest of the Las Vegas Summer League roster having fun simply playing a game they love. It's little things such as these that hint there is a creative mind behind the incense burning President of Basketball Operations.
What we do know is that the Timberwolves have a ton of flexibility moving forward, not only at the head coaching position but also the foundation of their roster. Perhaps the '14-'15 season is a chance for Coach Saunders to showcase the aforementioned, freakishly athletic core of Wiggins, LaVine, and Rubio hoping to entice Fred Hoiberg, Billy Donovan, or Tom Izzo into becoming the Wolves' coach. Or, maybe, Saunders will enjoy his time on the sidelines so much that he'll continue coaching beyond next season-- that is until he gets sick of the job or is fired by Glen Taylor.
The process has only begun. At the very least, fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves can use this new era as opportunity to be optimistic in regards to how the team will look 12 months from today.