The Wolves new management structure is no more than a week old and we are already starting to see the team of the future. Ryan Saunders’ new coaching schemes are playing out at the game-to-game level. Injuries have partially forced his hand, but Tyus Jones is getting more run and the rotation has been more flexible. The team is playing at a faster pace and prioritizing threes. Long-twos are worth negative points in practice, music and happiness are allowed, and everyone gets their designated avocado toast for breakfast and participation trophy after each game.
Soon enough we will start seeing laudatory articles from the national press extolling the virtues of team-building on and off the court, with Karl-Anthony Towns at the center uttering platitudes that are in no way, shape, or form constructed to be critical of his former coach.
However, while we can see the rapid change in the game-planning, we have no real idea of how the values and planning of the future of this team will be enacted. Scott Layden remains in charge as the GM and he has an upcoming trade deadline fast approaching on February 7th.
This is going to be a particularly odd trade deadline as it seems that no one is sure who exactly is or is not competing for the playoffs. The Wolves are one of those teams, as Glen Taylor has essentially stated that his goal for this season is reaching the playoffs, which could cement Ryan Saunders as the coach of the future.
The only problem is that the Wolves simply might not be good enough to make the playoffs. Sure they have gone 2-1 since Saunders took over, with important wins of the Thunder and the Pelicans, but there still is no timetable for Robert Covington to return and the Wolves are 1.5 games behind the 8th seed, for which the Jazz and Lakers are tied. The Pelicans, Mavericks, Kings, and Grizzlies are all outside the playoff race, but at a similar place as the Wolves.
Not a single one of those teams has an incentive to tank. The Grizzlies pick goes to Boston if it is above the 8th slot and they want it to convey this year. The Pelicans are trying to retain Anthony Davis and the Jazz rightfully think they have a playoff team. The Kings pick is going to either the Celtic or 76ers and the Mavericks pick is protected 1-5, otherwise it goes to Atlanta. But Dallas does not tank and in Dirk’s last season they seem more likely to push for the playoffs than rest their stars.
So there goes any of the traditional sellers in the Western Conference outside of the Suns, who already moved Trevor Ariza.
Over in the Eastern Conference the picture is similarly muddled. The Pistons and the Wizards are on the outside of the playoff picture, but making any changes there implies a drastic remodeling which is more likely to take place in the summer. That leaves as sellers the Magic, Hawks, Cavs, Knicks, and Bulls. It’s hard to see a single player on any of those teams, Kevin Love aside, that would help the Wolves suddenly vault into a legitimate playoff contender.
This is the discord of this Wolves squad, as pointed out by Eric last week here, the Wolves have a solid core that they can imagine building into a contender, but they lack a second star. With a roster of quality role players, it is difficult to find true upgrades outside of marginal improvements.
So let’s pretend the Wolves stance of resolutely believing they have a playoff squad is just a facade and they are more realistic about their playoff chances this year. The team certainly cannot tank, as their baseline talent is just too good, but they can hover around the .500 line and avoid any major risks while helping plan for the future. In that case, the holdovers of the Thibs era, namely Jeff Teague, Anthony Tolliver, Taj Gibson, and Derrick Rose could be on the trading block.
However, it is hard to find a contending team that would be willing to part with much more than a 2nd round pick for any of these players. Almost as a rule, contending teams in today’s NBA are set at point guard and there are likely few takers for Teague’s $19 million player option. Tolliver, Gibson, and Rose could all provide certain skill sets for a team and are on expiring contracts, but Gibson could be seen as an important chemistry piece of this team and Rose’s future with the Wolves is complicated for many reasons, so I am a bit agnostic about trying to decipher those tea leaves.
That basically leaves a trade of Anthony Tolliver for what is likely a protected 2nd round pick. Not exactly the most exciting trade deadline in the world. But for a team without a real idea of its future in a league where no one is certain of their place, the chaos will likely produce timidness rather than boldness.