Looking Forward: Minnesota Timberwolves

It’s been a busy summer for the Timberwolves. New GM David Kahn put his stamp on the team right away, ensuring that next year’s Wolves look very different to the team Kevin McHale had assembled. This is a bit weird, considering how last year’s Wolves were playing before Al Jefferson’s injury.

It’s worth nothing that although the Wolves started out the season horribly (especially when Randy Wittman was still the coach), they were 11-8 in the 2009 calendar year when Al Jefferson went down with his season-ending ACL tear. Jefferson had become an elite post scorer, Randy Foye had flourished at the 2-guard spot, and Kevin Love had put a few monster-rebounding games together. If this team had done nothing but stand pat this summer and make use of their #6 draft pick, they’d have a roster that would be primed to make a significant improvement on their woeful 24-58 record based just on the return of Jefferson and improvement from within.

Does this mean Kahn’s screwed up with his overhaul, then? I say no. He’s used existing assets to improve the team in both the short-term and the long-term. The first and biggest deal he made was obviously the Foye and Mike Miller for the 5th pick swap. Miller dogged it in 2008-2009 and Foye, though capable of scoring, wasn’t in Kahn’s long-term plans for good reason. With no desire to extend Foye’s contract, and the stated goal of rebuilding to become a contender a few years down the road, trading these two for a high draft pick was a smart move. Heading into the draft, they had the fifth and sixth picks. Sure, it was a weak draft, but this was a chance to reshape the team.

They couldn’t have expected Ricky Rubio to be there, though. When it was their time to pick and the consensus 2nd-best player in the draft was still on the board, they couldn’t pass on him twice, even with questions about his buyout. So, the Wolves selected him with the #5 pick and followed it up with the confusing pick of Jonny Flynn, the point guard out of Syracuse at #6.

You know what’s happened since. Rubio’s elected to play in Barcelona instead of Minnesota for the next two, probably three years. Bill Simmons and Chad Ford have called Kahn out for screwing up this situation. It seems as if their argument is that the Wolves had a good chance to lure Rubio over next season, if only they hadn’t taken Jonny Flynn. I haven’t seen any evidence to support this claim, though. Financially, the motivation to stay in Europe is very clear – his new team, FC Barcelona, fully bought out his contract with DKV Joventut and, if he chooses to, he has the option to wait until he is no longer bound by the rookie salary scale to come to the NBA. Finances aside, he gets to live and play basketball at home in the great city of Barcelona. I haven’t actually been to Minnesota, but I can understand why a not-yet-19-year-old kid from Barcelona might prefer not to relocate there. I don’t think having the chance to play with Stephen Curry would have changed any of this.

The situation isn’t so bad for Minnesota. It kind of sucks for NBA fans, who are anxious to see Rubio compete against the best of the best, but the Wolves franchise still has a tremendous asset who will come over in a few years when he’s still very, very young in NBA terms. In the meantime, it opened the door for Kahn to ink promising guard Ramon Sessions to a four-year deal for $16 million. For a 23-year-old who has shown a lot of promise, this is a bargain. Of course, it duplicates the problem some saw in having Flynn and Rubio – they now have two point guards who will be competing for playing time. To me, this is a very positive problem to have, though, and one that will be mitigated a bit by giving Sessions some minutes at the 2 guard spot every night. Long-term, they aren’t going to keep Flynn, Sessions, and Rubio on the roster, but if they all develop like we hope they will, there should be plenty of takers for them on the trade market.

Flynn and Sessions aren’t the only newcomers to this squad. In fact, there are only four to five returning players who figure to have a chance to crack Minnesota’s rotation next season: Al Jefferson (duh), Kevin Love (double duh), Ryan Gomes, Corey Brewer, and Brian Cardinal. The other new faces are Wayne Ellington, Ryan Hollins, Antonio Daniels, Chucky Atkins, Damien Wilkins, and Mark Blount. These role players will fill the void left by departing players Sebastian Telfair, Rodney Carney, Mark Madsen, Kevin Ollie, Shelden Williams, and Bobby Brown. You probably don’t care much about any of the names mentioned in the past two sentences, but I thought they were worth mentioning. What you need to know: the names have been shuffled around, but ‘Sota is still weak at the wing positions.

I’m not going to tell you David Kahn is a genius, but his off-season hasn’t been nearly as bad as some have made it out to be. This team isn’t going to make the playoffs, but they’re not supposed to. They are rebuilding. This organization has four solid young guys suiting up next year in Jefferson, Love, Flynn, and Sessions. Plus, there’s that Rubio guy overseas. Their salary situation looks mighty fine to me, as the contracts of Blount, Cardinal, Wilkins, Daniels, Atkins, and Stewie Griffinall expire at the end of the season. None of this guarantees even eventual success, especially as it remains to be seen how the pieces are going to fit, but going forward the most important thing is that this organization has options. Sweet, sweet options.

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7 Comments

Filed under Free Agency, Looking Forward, Minnesota Timberwolves, Trades

7 responses to “Looking Forward: Minnesota Timberwolves

  1. Foye was emerging. Bad trade, IMO. I don’t think Rubio will ever wear a Wolves jersey.

    And in terms of Love and Big Al, they play the same position (PF) and neither one can protect the paint or stay in front of wing players. Teams will score on them at will.

    On the positive, I like Flynn and Sessions. Be interesting to see who gets the minutes there.

  2. Vittorio De Zen

    I agree – they’ll get killed this year on the inside. It’s just that this year doesn’t matter much for this franchise. Even if Rubio never plays for them and they end up having to deal one of Jefferson/Love (likely scenarios), they should get good players back in trades. I think that’s an okay position to be in.

    About Foye – yeah, he was getting better. Helped that McHale let him play the 2. Don’t think they’re going to miss him much in Minnesota, though. If they were going to keep him, they’d probably have to pay him way more than he’s worth. He can score, but that’s pretty much it.

    • You hit the nail on the head- they didn’t want to pay Foye.

      I’m not a huge Foye fan or anything but the dude averaged 16 ppg and 4.3 asst. He had individual games of 14 and 15 dimes. His month of February was ridiculous. He went to the line 272 times last year. He averaged over a steal a game. He’s more than just a shooter. He was their second best player and there’s a good chance they gave him (and Mike Miller, an expiring contract) away for nothing.

      • Vittorio De Zen

        I might have sold him short a little bit. He had some pretty good stretches last year, including the month of February. January, too, actually.

        Looking at stats only reaffirms my belief that they won’t miss him, though. His PER was only 13.7, his TS% was 51.7, and his AST% was 20.5 (for comparison – Carmelo Anthony’s was 18.1, Allen Iverson’s was 23.0, and… whoa. T.J. Ford’s AST% dropped from 44.4 to 27.6 last year. The things you learn while going through basketball-reference.)

        Anyway, I think he’s basically an average player who’s likely going to be asking for well-above-average money. I don’t blame them at all for shipping him and Miller out when they’re trying to rebuild. Was the Rubio trade a good one? I don’t know – if it turns into a Fran Vasquez situation and they literally did give away these guys for nothing, then yeah, it sucked. If Rubio eventually comes over, or they trade him for somebody else of value, then I think it’s fine. Losing Foye and Miller for the year probably means a better draft pick next summer, too. Good times.

        Also… Foye grabbed 16 boards in a game against the Spurs last year? Whaaa? http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/boxscore?gid=2008122324

  3. Brothersteve

    Every draft pick is a bit of a gamble. Lots of good looking young players never pan out. The T-wolves over the next 2-3 seasons should have an elite PG out of this move and getting an elite anything is a very good move.

    Watching Rubio play for his National team has to make one believe that this guy is going to be a star PG – there should be no question the Wolves will be able to acquire a very good player for him if Flynn and Sessions become the team’s leaders. The only part that hurts is having to wait.

    A very nice summary of the Wolves possible future.

  4. Yeah, I think Kahn did the right thing blowing up last year’s T’Wolves team too.

    That squad would have been a lot better than this new roster, but they would have been smacking their heads against their team’s ceiling in no time. They just didn’t have enough high end talent on the roster and there was no clear way for them to acquire it down the road. Even if they managed to make the playoffs, they would have been one and done with little to no chance of transforming into a title contender down the road.

    Overall, I think his offseason has been a mixed bag but fairly good overall. That he has the team on the right road long term is what is most important, and he’s done that. Plus he landed the rights to a very impressive young talent in Ricky Rubio. Those two things over-ride a lot of the questionable aspects to his summer.

  5. Augie Johnston

    This is a great blog, I am so glad I found it. Speaking of overseas basketball I recently came across a website that is selling a HOW-TO-GUIDE on how to go play professional basketball overseas. Check it out if you want to: http://www.overseasbasketballstore.com

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