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.