Persistent rumor has it that the Wolves will execute a trade with the 76ers to acquire forward Thad Young after they complete the Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins deal with the Cavaliers. The Wolves absolutely need help at the power forward spot in the absence of Love, and Young appears to be their guy.
The question is whether it makes sense for the Wolves to expend resources to get a veteran player who has an ETO in the summer of 2015 given that they are unlikely to compete seriously in a loaded Western Conference this season after trading their superstar. Young will make $9.4M this season, and is guaranteed $9.9M in 2015-16 if he does not exercise his ETO. We'll assume the most prominent rumor is true and that the Wolves will trade the protected Miami first round pick that they are getting from the Cavs in addition to two of their expiring contracts (some combination of J.J. Barea, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Alexey Shved). This would leave them with Young and Anthony Bennett (coming off a disastrous rookie year) as their power forwards.
So What's the Plan?
It appears that Coach Flip Saunders and President Flip Saunders are in agreement that they are unwilling to punt this season despite trading Love for young players who cannot be expected to replace his production. Neither the coach nor the president has shown an inclination to move more veteran players like Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, or even Corey Brewer. Given that, acquiring an experienced and quality power forward makes sense.
The question is what Saunders and Saunders (OK, I'll stop this bit) hope to achieve this season. The ESPN forecasters recently predicted a last place finish in the Western Conference for the Wolves, calling for 26 wins. This prediction clearly incorporates the Love trade, and isn't a particularly shocking expectation. If that is in fact the quality of the team, how does adding Thad Young materially change their fortunes?
If they are that bad, it probably doesn't. It is clear, however, that Saunders expects to field a much stronger team than predicted. He is not a man without confidence in his own abilities as a coach, and was disappointed with last season's results, as he thought he had built a playoff team. Arguably, at least, he was right as the team clearly underachieved record-wise as compared to their point differential. I think he believes that with the right moves, including a veteran like Young, he can push this team to .500 or even better, all the while developing young talent like Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.
In order for that to happen, several things will have to fall into place, especially a major step forward from Ricky Rubio, and improved play from Gorgui Dieng, coming off a promising rookie year. A healthy Chase Budinger and a surprising contribution from one of the rookies would also be necessary to get this team back to a similar or better win total than they had last year with Love.
That awaits the event, but Saunders isn't going into this year planning to lose.
Just Who Is Thad Young?
We will have plenty of time if and when the trade is consummated to parse Young's game and numbers, but a few basics:
Young is only 26 years old despite preparing to begin his 8th season in the NBA, having spent the previous seven with the 76ers. His had a relatively poor season last season playing with an absolutely atrocious Sixers team that had no interest in winning, as he set a career high in usage rate and saw his efficiency plummet well below his career norms. In his better seasons, he's shown an above average ability to score around the basket off cuts, as the roll man in the pick and roll, and in transition.
In seasons not coached by Doug Collins, he also has taken his fair share of three pointers, though never with good efficiency. He is not a very strong rebounder as a power forward (and rebounding is going to be a major question mark for the Wolves this season). He is one of the top steal men in the league, and combined with Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer will give the Wolves three of the top 10 in steals from last season.
Defensively he has struggled against bigger post-up fours, but has had success in space guarding against the pick and roll. He generates a lot of turnovers in these situations, deflecting balls and getting in passing lanes.
The advanced plus/minus stats generally agree that he had an off-year last year, but still saw him as a slightly above average player. In other seasons, he's been significantly better than that, and is clearly a positive force on the court.
Young has also been quite durable, missing only 12 games over the last four seasons.
So Is This a Good Idea or Not?
As frequently, and I think justifiably, as I have criticized Flip Saunders, I think trading the Miami pick and contracts for Young is a good decision. I'm not sold that this team will be anything other than awful with or without him, but if I squint, I can see a way forward (which might not be helped along by Flip Saunders: The Coach, but that's another article).
Although it's difficult, I applaud the attempt to rebuild with youth while trying to stay as competitive as possible. It's a good thing to try to do as well as you reasonably can even in years when expectations are down. I have no interest in living through more 15 and 17 win seasons; if by some miraculous turn of events the Wolves wind up without a pick next summer because they trade the Heat pick and lose theirs to Phoenix (top 12 protected) I will rejoice. That, to me, will represent a major success.
Furthermore, how much youth can really be served? As it stands, the Wolves will have at least six players in their first or second seasons on their roster this year. (Wiggins, Bennett, LaVine, Hummel, Muhammad, and Dieng).Those guys need attention, development, and playing time. Missing out on a mid-first rounder next year, though not something to be thrilled about, is not a huge loss. By all accounts, Thad Young is a hard worker who gives maximum effort; something we hope our young talent learns to emulate. There are worse things than having one more guy who knows his way around the league and has had success around the squad.
The one real negative might be Young opting in to his final year, thus reducing cap flexibility next summer. But there are also worse things than having an above average player on the squad for one year and $10M.
I have never endorsed complete tank jobs, and I won't start now. I want the Wolves to put as good a team on the floor as they reasonably can every season. Love is gone; the contract mistake and subsequent on court failures saw to that. But that doesn't mean they should go into full tear-down and put us through several more seasons that look like the Rambis years.
Thad Young is a good basketball player in the prime of his career making a reasonable salary. I like players that fit that description, and I want such players on the Wolves. Trading for Thad Young is a good idea, no matter how this season turns out.