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Timberwolves Stand Pat at Deadline

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After a few stressful days, the Wolves end up doing nothing at the trade deadline.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Through one off-season and now one trade deadline, the front office brain trust of Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden have yet to make a trade. Despite heavy rumors swirling all week, mostly focused on Ricky Rubio, the Wolves did not make a deal today, and will go forward for the rest of the season with the current group.

Let’s take a look at what we think happened and what it means.

Ricky Rubio

Trade rumors have dogged Ricky Rubio since he was drafted in 2009, but have ratcheted up several notches since Thibs came aboard. Rumors swirled around him at draft time and through the summer, and once again this week. The thought is that Thibs doesn’t see him as a long term piece and, having spent a high draft pick on Kris Dunn, wants to clear the way for Dunn to take over sooner rather than later.

This week, the focus was on a deal with the New York Knicks to exchange point guards: Rubio for the expiring contract of former Thibs star Derrick Rose. There is no doubt they talked, but how close it actually got we don’t know. Several national reporters made it sound like they were hard at work on a deal, while the local guys, while acknowledging talks, were more skeptical. In the end a deal didn’t happen.

Either the Knicks or the Wolves (or both) wanted more than a straight exchange (which makes sense for the Wolves, not so much for the Knicks.) Reports suggest that in the end, the Knicks were willing to do it straight up, but the Wolves refused.

One thing I think we learned this week is that there are few if any leaks coming from the Wolves. As far as I can tell, nothing originated from here, which is a good thing, though it leaves us at the mercy of one-sided rumoring.

So how do we parse what’s going on here?

Thibs is willing to move Rubio, that much is clear. Discussions have absolutely happened. To this point, he has been unwilling to merely dump him for nothing or an expiring contract. The fact that he is so open to discussions, and that he has been heavily rumored to be on the move makes me believe that he doesn’t value Rubio as much as I think he should be valued, but then I’m the Mayor of Rubio Island.

The next question is what is the actual plan with Kris Dunn? While I have no doubt that Thibs thinks highly of him, in truth, he hasn’t been willing to let him take a lot of lumps with heavy minutes as a rookie. As I noted on Twitter a couple of days ago, for a guy he reportedly doesn’t like much as a player, Thibs has been awfully reliant on Rubio. And Dunn has not earned more. While his defensive chops are apparent, his inability to run the squad and his horrific shooting are major flaws at the moment.

So what happens next season, when the Wolves must take a major step forward in the standings? Is Thibs committed to Dunn as his starter on day one? And if not, does he still want to move Rubio and replace him with a place-holder?

These questions will re-emerge around the draft and in the summer, of course, as they do every year. One thing to watch is whether Thibs increases Dunn’s minutes down the stretch. While this might be on POBO Thibs’ mind, I’m not sure that Coach Thibs will be able to pull the trigger.

Rubio’s tenure with the Wolves will always be fraught with questions about his future. It’s not particularly fair, and I doubt it’s easy for him, but that’s the way it goes. At one point today I thought I just wanted him traded so this could end and we wouldn’t have to go through it again. But I’ll hang on to Ricky just as long as I can. He remains the team’s best point guard and one of their top players, and I will hold out (perhaps forlorn) hope that Thibs comes around to that thinking as well.

Nemanja Bjelica

It’s hard to know how much credence to put into this, but reports suggested that the Knicks wanted to include Bjelica in the deal, but that was a “non-starter” for the Wolves.

Perhaps they simply were unwilling to add value no matter what it was, or perhaps Thbis values Bjelica more than he seems to have earned with what has generally been a poor season. He’s certainly kept him in the rotation throughout, and seemed enamored of him during training camp. I just thought this was interesting.

Shabazz Muhammad

Muhammad was reported to be of interest to teams in need of bench scoring earlier in the week, and this morning David Aldridge tweeted that the Wolves were “determined” to move him today, presumably because they had little or no interest in re-signing him this summer and wanted to extract some value from him before he hit restricted free agency.

Once again, it didn’t happen. Presumably the Wolves weren’t that determined, or one imagines they could have found a home for him, even with little return.

I suspect, though, that it’s true that the Wolves don’t want to re-sign him. Cap space appears to be of interest to Thibs, and I doubt they want to tie up a lot in Muhammad, who struggled to earn playing time earlier this season and still isn’t getting the minutes he wants.

I enjoy Bazz, but I sense that the feeling is somewhat mutual: I think he’s ready to move on as well. I don’t think he’s happy with his role and sees the golden boys (Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine) ahead of him, getting the minutes, shots, attention, and likely big contracts, and wants to find a better situation.

If that’s true, moving him today would have been smart, but again, no dice.

In the end, I’m content the Wolves didn’t do anything. Of course I’m happy they didn’t move Rubio, and they really didn’t have much else to bargain with.

It does raise a question that was raised when Thibs got the job, however, which is that in Chicago, there was concern that he fell in love with his guys. That’s probably a good thing when you’re just the coach, but when you are the personnel guy also, it’s not ideal. You have to be able to make impersonal decisions that can be hard when you are also in the trenches with the players every day.

We’ll see how that plays out over the summer and in future seasons. For now, the Wolves have their team, and we have 25 more games to watch, starting tomorrow against a revamped Mavericks team.