The Timberwolves are poised for a big move that will make them a legitimate playoff contender beginning in 2011-12. For a team that was criticized for nearly every offseason move, the Timberwolves have shown a great deal of growth over the first month and a half of the regular season.
This growth has been spurred by the exact moves that were deemed inexplicably terrible by the national media. In his letter to season ticket holders at the onset of the season, David Kahn said that there would be “one singular move” to take the team to the next level. This move might be right around the corner.
While the growth the Timberwolves have seen has not translated into victories, it is clear that the missing piece of the puzzle is a player who will take over the game in crunch-time. A commanding player who can create his own shot or open looks for others would turn those six point loses into wins, immediately making the Wolves a .500 plus team.
On the back of the Wolves off-season moves and development of their young players, the team has a lot going in the right direction:
(1) Kevin Love (22-years-old)—Leading rebounder in the NBA: The Wolves were lambasted for trading Al Jefferson and only receiving cap room, two future first round picks and Kosta Koufas in return. However, trading Jefferson has lead to the Kevin Love Revolution and provided valuable assets to aid the team in their last “singular move.” How? Jefferson was the No. 1 obstacle to Kevin Love getting minutes (anyone who wants to recycle the same old “Love still isn’t getting minutes” argument, please check the last 20 box scores).
While Jefferson is currently experiencing career lows (as a starter) in FG percentage, RPG, PPG, and PER, Love’s season is a fairly well documented success, and I’ll get back to the cap room and future picks later.
(2) Darko Milicic (25-years-old)—Leading shot-blocker in the NBA: I do not know an adjective in the English language to describe how much David Kahn was ripped for this signing. Darko has responded to the Wolves confidence in him with career highs in PPG, BPG, APG and his second best year in RPG, and has shown steady improvement over the season, especially in FG percentage.
(3) Michael Beasley (21-years-old)—Currently No. 16 in PPG in the NBA: The deal to bring Beasley to the Wolves was a steal. Really this was the only move not widely criticized by the national media. He has developed not only as a scorer improving 7.0 points above his career average, but also as a team leader on the court.
(4) Martell Webster (24 years old) – This guy can play: In his first three games back from his pre-season injury, Webster has averaged 15.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG and has a PER of 17.96. Ripped for trading the 16th pick (Luke Babbitt) and Ryan Gomes for him, Webster was on a tear in the pre-season before being sidelined and has not missed a beat in his return to the lineup. Ryan Gomes? Now on the Clippers. Luke Babbitt? In the NBDL.
(5) Ricky Rubio (20-years-old): Even if he never plays for the Wolves, he is an “asset” to the team. His trade value will be at an all-time high once he indicates that he will come to the NBA. At that point, maybe he wears a Wolves jersey and maybe he doesn’t, but he will make our team better in one way or another.
(6) Two future first-round picks from the Al Jefferson trade: Do they have restrictions? Yes. Will they be lottery picks? Nope. Does that stop them from being valuable? No way. On Draft Day 2009, 14 non-lottery draft picks changed hands. On Draft Day 2010, sixteen non-lottery draft picks changed hands. Draft picks are cheap, and teams consistently overpay to get “their” diamond in the rough.
(7) $11M plus in cap room: The Al Jefferson deal left the team with some nice cap room. The Wolves can take on a bad contract if a team is willing to move young talent. Or the Wolves can take a star player from a team who is looking to cut payroll and re-build.
So, to David Kahn’s “one singular move” theory, all the Wolves need is some other team to make a rash move:
Scenario A: Say Donald Sterling wants to get Baron Davis off his team very badly. Maybe he is so offended by Baron’s play and the fact that he only signed Davis because Elton Brand asked him to, that he publicly makes fun of him during the game. I know it sounds outrageous, but suspend reality for a moment.
Now imagine that Donald Sterling is also an odd owner, who really doesn’t seem to care about the success of his team. Would it be possible for this man to part with a young talent in Eric Gordon if we were to take Baron Davis off his hands?
What would the Wolves give up? Telfair (sent from MN to LAC for the second time) to replace Baron Davis, Corey Brewer or Wes Johnson to replace Eric Gordon, and perhaps we remove the protection on the lottery pick we owe them or throw in a pick that the Jazz sent to us. At the end of the day, he is saving about $11M in payroll, and we now have a SG who can shoot from distance and create how own shot.
Scenario B: Now imagine a world where a bunch of millionaire owners have to take over a financially strapped team and—presumably—pay its salaries. We’ll call them the NBA Hornets. I’m a Western Conference owner; do I really want to pay the salary of a star player on a potential contender?
Ok, ok, you are thinking: “But the NBA wants to keep the value of the Hornets high so they can sell them, they would never trade Chris Paul.”
Well, what if the Hornets were re-stocked with two first round draft picks, a PG to hold them over (Flynn, Ridnour or Telfair) and “International Sensation Ricky Rubio.” And who has Rubio been compared to? Yep, Pistol Pete; the pride of LSU and the New Orleans Jazz.
And, is Paul likely to stay with a team whose ownership is in flux, especially after his comments about he and Carmelo meeting up with A’mare in NY?
The Hornets are 16-10 right now. Love is better than David West. Darko is equal to Okafor. Would anyone take another Hornet over Michael Beasley?
Scenario C: It seems apparent that Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala are not going to co-exist in Philadelphia. As a re-building team, it also seems clear that the odd man out is Iguodala.
The Timberwolves can pretty much absorb his entire contract with their cap space, so it just becomes a matter of what combination of players not named Beasley, Love, Milicic or Rubio and draft picks they want for him.
Iguodala is not perfect, but he would provide solid rebounding from the shooting guard position and a player who can drive and create. What he lacks is an outside shot, but with Wes Johnson, Beasley and Webster, the Wolves have a fair amount of outside shooting already.
In a Western Conference where the Suns, Nuggets, Rockets and potentially Hornets are about to move into rebuilding mode, and Portland is in pre-implosion mode, could you rule out the Wolves for the 2011-2012 playoffs in any of the above scenarios?
“One singular move” it is, Mr. Kahn.