The NBA trade deadline is February 19th, and the Wolves are, once again, at the bottom of the league and finding themselves with veterans to sell. As we know, trades in the NBA can be very difficult to execute, and are usually as much about contracts as they are about talent evaluation.
Flip Saunders also has to decide just how much he's willing to strip things down to the studs. The Wolves could probably move several veterans if they so choose, but the truth is that going all young is not necessarily a recipe for success. You have to become OK before you can become good, and good before you can become great. Not everyone who is around to help you take that first step or two needs to be there when you hopefully make that final step. Players, especially veteran players, can be key cogs in moving your franchise forward, even if they aren't likely to be around when you reach the upper echelons of the league standings, if you ever do.
With that as background, what players might be on the move for the Wolves before the deadline?
Mo Williams. Mo is the most likely player to be traded in my estimation. He signed a one year, $3.75M contract in the summer, so he represents no long term commitment to an acquiring team. He has been miscast most of the season as a starting point guard often playing 35 minutes a night, but as we saw last night against Miami, he has his uses as a back up combo guard who can provide some scoring punch off the bench. He probably won't fetch much in return (I imagine a second round pick coming the Wolves way) but given that he would almost certainly not re-sign here in the off-season, something is better than nothing.
The downside to moving Mo is that it likely results in more minutes for Zach LaVine at the point guard spot. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that's not something I want to see. LaVine provided ample evidence that he is not a point guard, and frankly should probably not be playing at all.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Worst 3-man unit w>200 minutes together: Bazzy/Dieng/LaVine -21.5 pp100poss in 243 minutes. Best: Bazzy/Dieng/Mo +11.4 pp100 in 244 minutes</p>— brittrobson (@brittrobson) <a href="https://twitter.com/brittrobson/status/563399118517981186">February 5, 2015</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>LaVine on court absolutely razes any shot at successful outcome.</p>— brittrobson (@brittrobson) <a href="https://twitter.com/brittrobson/status/563399366007095299">February 5, 2015</a></blockquote>
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Of course if the Wolves sign Lorenzo Brown for the rest of the season, he is also an option, but anything that encourages Zach LaVine: point guard, is not a good thing.
It also raises a question for next season, though Mo Williams is not going to be the answer whether or not he's traded by the deadline. The Wolves need a quality back up point guard, and that might be harder to come by than it sounds. The best back up points in the league usually go somewhere they can start, or somewhere they can win, neither of which is Minneapolis. The alternative is outbidding everyone else, which is not advisable in the salary cap NBA.
Thaddeus Young. Thad has a player option for nearly $10M next season, and given his generally poor play this year, there is fear that he might exercise that option and stick around for another year, looking to cash in on the free agent summer of 2016. I do not share this fear. First of all, he's been playing significantly better lately, and there is no reason why he should not return to his career standard for the rest of the season. If that's the case, I have trouble imagining him choosing to exercise his option; players don't like playing on one year deals if they can help it, and a prime-age Thad Young can find a longer term contract somewhere.
Furthermore, I think it would be fine if he opts in. The Wolves are not going to have cap space this summer either way, and they aren't going to need it even if they could create it. Meanwhile, even a subpar Young is the best option currently on the squad at power forward. That is hopefully something that will be addressed, especially as it relates to rebounding and defending bigger fours, but at the moment, Thad leaving merely opens up another hole on a team with no shortage of holes.
Nonetheless, I doubt he'll be around next season, so it would behoove the Wolves to consider their trade options. I imagine there are teams that would take on Young, though his value is almost certainly lower than what the Wolves paid (a first round pick originally belonging to the Miami Heat, now looking to fall somewhere in the middle of the first round). It's always difficult to sell at a loss so soon, but that might be the only alternative the Wolves have at this point. If they can't generate something resembling a decent offer, however, I would be inclined to keep him around for the rest of the season and see what happens in the summer.
Chase Budinger. There is no question the Wolves would love to trade Bud, but it seems almost impossible without taking on long-term commitment in return. He is barely on the fringes of the rotation at this point, and it's on merit, as he simply has not been able to find his game after two seasons almost entirely lost to injury. What's really problematic is the $5M player option he has for next season, which he will almost certainly exercise since, unlike Young, he is unlikely to find a better deal out there this summer.
As much as I can feel bad for guys who play in the NBA for a living, I feel bad for Chase. His once promising career is in shambles now after his knee problems, and there is no sign that his outstanding athleticism is going to return. That seems to have fueled a loss in confidence and a game filled with hesitations and mistakes.
Kevin Martin. When I wrote above about keeping guys around to help you make the first step or two up the ladder, even if they aren't in the long-term vision, Martin is who I had in mind. He has some trouble staying healthy at this point, and his defense leaves a lot to be desired, but he remains an excellent scorer, the only true three point threat the Wolves have, and the only starting caliber wing player (depending on your current view of Andrew Wiggins) on the roster. To move him would truly be creating another hole that the Wolves have limited assets to fill.
Martin just turned 32, and has two seasons left on his contract (the 2nd is a player option) at over $7M per. While that isn't an outrageous amount, it is a commitment, and it might lower his value around the league if teams perceive him as likely to decline even further in the coming years. I suspect that there are teams in need of shooting that would take him on, but the Wolves would probably have to take a contract back, and likely we would not be thrilled with the return. My inclination is to keep him around; I think he provides something valuable that would be expensive to replace, and I suspect I value him more than the league does.
On the other hand, he probably would like to get moved to a contender at this point as it's clear the Wolves aren't going to win anytime soon. He's in the "I'd listen" category, but I doubt any of the offers the Wolves would get would be enough to satisfy me. Whether Flip and Co. feel the same, we'll have to see. If I had to guess, Martin remains on the team after the deadline.
Nikola Pekovic. There has been a lot of desire to trade Pekovic on my twitter feed, which is certainly understandable given his injuries, but that's why it's almost impossible to imagine. It's becoming clear that Pek just cannot stay healthy; big men with foot and ankle problems is not a great combination. As a result, his contract extension, which has four years and $48M left after this year, is likely not movable. Given that, it behooves the Wolves to get what they can out of the big man and do their best to keep him upright by limiting his minutes. He's still a valuable contributor when he's out there, providing post-scoring and positively affecting team rebounding; keeping him out there is obviously the problem.
Those are the veterans that the Wolves will be talking to other teams about over the next couple of weeks. My guess is that teams will inquire about Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad as well, and while the Wolves need to listen, it would be very difficult for them to trade 2nd year players who are showing a pulse given the circumstances of this season and the announced rebuilding the team is engaged in.
Also worth remembering is that the Wolves hold two trade exceptions: one from the Kevin Love trade, and one from the Corey Brewer trade. These usually go unused, and at any rate I wouldn't expect either of them to be used before the summer, but if a third team is needed to take on some salary in a deal, or if a decent player doesn't fit into someone else's plans, the Wolves do have those exceptions that would allow them to take on players without sending out commensurate salaries.
My guess is that the trade deadline for the Wolves will be an exercise in moving current players (and salary) for future assets that don't cost much now (draft picks). Given the state of the team (9-40), and the state of Target Center (empty), the Wolves are unlikely to be taking on salary at this point. They will likely use the summer for future roster building, including the potential use of one of their trade exceptions, while viewing the deadline as an opportunity to save a few dollars and clear out players who aren't part of the future.
What would you like to see happen on the trade front in the next two weeks?