I've been fairly quiet on the blog lately, because I have some crazy stuff going on, but with the end of the playoffs, a storm of speculation around Kevin Love has started, and this feels like a good time to resurrect the GeekGM series to talk about a team that will likely undergo some big changes soon: The Minnesota Timberwolves.
In a shocking turn of events, I think the Wolves are in an enviable spot right now. If I had my choice of teams to take over (and beleive me, the phones are ringing OFF. THE. HOOK.), they'd be in the top 5.There are real and tangible improvements an effective manager could make to get this team over the hump, even in the worst case scenario of Kevin Love leaving.
Of course, I think Flip's country club gentleman's attitude is going to screw it up badly. Let me explain. Flip runs the Timberwolves the way Tony Soprano ran his "legitimate" businesses. Tony's primary goal in running "Bada Bing" isn't the Bing's profit, it's washing money, having an office to fence goods, etc. Similarly, Flip doesn't run the Wolves to win games. He runs it for the pleasure/profit it brings him and his club members.
Furthermore, say it with me, the entire team's lack of process leads to disastrous decisions. This is an organizational flaw that predates Flip, but he has certainly perpetuated it. A lack of process can be a good thing when the person in charge is a genius. Process can slow that person down. In the long run, firms should be interested in establishing healthy processes because long term success cannot be dependent on any one particular performer.
To pick an example from the business world, Steve Jobs did not build a company that would die with him.
Anyway, let's ignore process, because instilling a corporate culture and good processes is a) time consuming, b) hard, and c) really boring to read and write about. Lectures from my MBA are flashing before my mind's eye right now, and I can already envision my readers falling asleep. Instead, let's just talk about the types of moves I would make.
1) Trade Love (maybe?)
In a perfect world, I would never want to trade Love. The reality of the matter is that he's leaving after this year. The CBA incentives do not really help the Wolves to keep him (at his age, he isn't worried about getting an extra year, and that constitutes almost the entirety of the Wolves' advantage vs. offers from other teams). The real danger here is making a trade that brings "toxic assets". Toxic assets aren't valuable (Editor's Note: Why do I see seven foot italians in my mind's eye when I read this). There are times when "nothing" is, in fact, a hell of a lot better than "something". The proposed Lee-Thompson-Barnes deal is exactly such an albatross. A horrible deal. They get stuck with an overrated shooting guard who will demand a near-max deal, a power forward who has two more expensive years left on his deal, and an underachiveing small forward that might also get expensive soon. Even giving up Kevin Martin's bad contract is not worth this.
Were I in charge, I'd make two rules known around the league, through "sources": 1) anyone that wants Love has to take back Corey Brewer or Kevin Martin. That's the service charge of doing business. If you don't like that, don't pick up your phone. 2) I don't want any old guys with non-expiring contracts unless you are bribing me to do it. You want to give me David Lee or Jeff Green or Jarret Jack or some other nonsense, there better be some sweetener in that coffee.
What I would look for is something like either the rumored Faried/Afflalo + pick deal (two underrated good players) or the rumored Chicago deal of Butler, Mirotic, Gibson and the #16. That's a pretty good sounding deal.
2a) Trade Nikola Pekovic
This depends largely on how #1 pans out, but the Wolves have a bit of a logjam at Center. Gorgui Dieng looks like the real deal, and he brings a lot of the things to the center position that the Wolves would desparately need if they got a player like Taj Gibson or Kenneth Faried (or if they kept Kevin Love): shot blocking and defense. A front court with Faried and Pekovic would have insane offensive rebounding rates but would have a ton of trouble defending the paint. The frontcourt of Love and Pekovic has already demonstrated that it cannot protect the rim.
2b) Move Nikola Pekovic to the power forward position
This solves many of the problem of getting Dieng on the floor more, but it can result in a crazy waste of talent, where Kenneth Faried only plays 20-25 minutes a game because you don't have the minutes. Furthermore, especially if a Love trade involves Butler, the Wolves have a serious floor stretch problem: they'd have at most one player in the starting lineup that can reliably hit a 3.
So I'd prefer 2a). In fact, I would be sorely tempted to trade Pek first, to give me more leverage if I have to trade Love, and even toy with the idea of rolling the dice on Love staying, because I think Dieng + Love has so much more synergy than Pek + Love, and trading Pek for, say, a great 3 and D guy and a good backup PG would probably add 10 wins to this roster. Perhaps a strong taste of winning convinces Love to stay. Let's throw out some "Who says no?" ideas, just to keep Arturo awake (Editor's note: HEY!!!!):
- Pek for Thabo Sefalosha + Nick Collison: Pek is big upgrade over Perk, OKC can move Russ to the 2 and start Reggie. Thabo is a huge upgrade, is a great shooter if you have a setup man, and Collison is perfectly happy with a backup role.
- Pek + Kevin Martin for Carlos Boozer + Mike Dunleavy (unfortunately I suspect Thibs realizes Dunleavy > Martin but the Bulls just might want to dump Boozer bad enough. Obviously depends on any Kevin Love trade timing, and whether Chicago will play Pek or Noah at the 4)
- Pek for Danillo Gallinari and Mozgov/Hickson (I'd prefer Hickson, obviously). How McGee factors in to Denver's plans is the big issue here.
- Pek for Steve Nash + a future lottery-protected 1st round pick. I obviously want Nash to play. If he's retiring, or wont take a job backing up Rubio, no thanks. Remember that Rubio's backup doesn't have to be great to have a big impact, he just has to be better than Barea; this is a very low bar.
- Pek for Tayshawn Prince + Courtney Lee. Pek becomes the next Z-bo. Wolves get solid-not-great wings. Big upgrades over Corey Brewer. I would only do this trade in the "roll dice and keep Love" scenario.
- Pek for Ryan Anderson + Austin Rivers. This assumes that N.O. is aware of how awful Rivers is so doesn't mind throwing him in to make salaries work. It also assumes that it's possible to exercise the 14/15 team option but not the 15/16 option; if I have to take both, I don't want him, because I'm just going to waive him as soon as I get him. NOTE: Ryan is, actually, an ideal fit next to a defensive stalwart like Dieng, so I'd sweeten this deal if that makes it happen. This is also only attractive in the "trade Love" scenario.
- Pek for Aaron Aflalo and Jameer Nelson. Magic have to exercise the option on Nelson first. Nelson is overpaid, but Aflalo is not. And Nelson would be taking Barea's minutes, so he's worth every penny! This assumes that the Magic want to try to win sooner rather than later, and that Embiid does not fall to them.
- Pek for Amir Johnson and Landry Fields. Hmmm, trying to win a trade against Masai...I dunno if I trust myself to pull a trigger.
As you can see, playing with trades is fun!
3) For the love of Naismith, get JJ Barea away from the basketball
The Wolves need a backup point guard to take minutes away from JJ. Desparately. Next to Corey Brewer, he is their biggest problem. This, by the way, might also help a lot with the "convince Love to stay" plan. I don't think the two get along, in the locker room or on the court (and why anyone wouldn't want to play with a shoot-first, kamikaze point guard who never makes the simple pass is beyond me).
There are many possibilities here. My favorite one would involve somehow prying Shawn Livingston away from the Nets. But honestly, simply waiving him and signing a rookie or D-leaguer to back up Rubio would be a win.
4) Eliminate Corey Brewer
Corey Brewer is a serious problem. He's a 3-and-D guy who a) can't really hit a three (insert dozens of twitter followers who tell me about how that one season from that one corner he looked sorta ok) and b) sucks at defense. I've beaten this topic to death but waving your arms energetically and hopping around like the damn energizer bunny does not make you a lockdown defender. If I had 2 tenths of a nickel for every time he left the corner wing on the baseline to help when he wasn't needed, or committed a stupid foul after he whiffed on a steal, or let a player get to the basket too easily because he was too aggressive in the passing lanes...well, I'd be writing this article from a more comfortable chair.
5) Kevin Martin. Chase Budinger. Pick one.
They both serve exactly the same role. Both shoot well from 3 but couldn't stop Flip Saunders from getting to the hole if he laced up. Pick one. I'd pick Chase, because he's cheaper and younger, but then...knees.
6) It's all about the 3-and-D. That's the process.
Thabo Sefalosha. Danny Green. Kyle Korver. Mike Dunleavy. Matt Barnes. I could go on. The league is full of guys who are cheap or moderately priced who shoot the longball and defend. That is all you need from your wing positions to win. The formula is: great passer + great rebounder(s) + great shooters + solid defenders is fairly simple. Guys who shoot threes and defend are the cheapest, most accessible, and most replacable guys to plug into such a system.
And I guess I didn't keep my promise because here's where process comes in. I'd hire guys who live and breath this. I'd fire the guys who want me to change the draft ladder we've had for 8 months at the last second because he didn't like the player's workout, or because the player didn't have a high enough vertical, or because the player's girlfriend was too ugly. Break up the country club.