Friday, June 3, 2011

T-Wolves 2012 (pre-draft edition)

Update 6/7: This idea may be starting to gain some steam as a number of sources are now reporting talk of a deal with the Raptors that would include the #2 pick and Flynn for DeMar DeRozen and their #5 selection.  DeRozen would provide more size and defense at the SG spot than Ellis, and getting back the #5 pick would allow us to select either Enes Kanter or Jonas Valanciunas as a potential upgrade at center.  While not as explosive or unique a player as Ellis, DeRozen is under team control through 2013/2014 at a very reasonable price, which would upgrade the talent level at SG while maintaining most of our current salary cap flexibility.  Because of that, however, I have my doubts that the Raptors would consider this trade.  It is possible, however, as Flynn is almost a Toronto native (born and raised in Niagra Falls, NY) and the Raptors have been linked to him in trade rumors since the Rubio signing. 

After a longer than planned hiatus from blogging, I think it is only appropriate to get back on the horse with another analysis of our hometown NBA team.  For those of you who are not familiar, that would be the Timberwolves.  When I decided to kick this blog off with a season preview of the 2010 Wolves, I got more comments on that one posting than all the others combined.  The comments were mostly from readers who couldn’t figure out why I would waste my time blogging about the Wolves, but confused feedback is better than none at all.  In any case, why mess with a winning formula?

While winning 32 games in two years should be enough to push a team to the back of the line for blogging priority, recent events have managed to keep them relevant for now.  Even after finishing with the worst record in basketball this year, the Wolves managed to keep their perfect record in the NBA draft lottery.  That record is, of course, having never improved their draft position in the history of the lottery format.  The optimistic view in this case is that it could have been much worse.  In what is considered to be (and certainly isn’t) a two player draft, the Wolves managed to avoid getting “Laetnered” by falling to #3.    Combined with a second 1st rounder (#20 via the Al Jefferson trade) and the recent signing of Spanish enigma Ricky Rubio, this creates some interesting possibilities for the upcoming season and beyond.

Scenario #1: Stick at #2 and select Derrick Williams.
By selecting Williams, David Kahn takes the consensus best player available on the board and gets a young, intriguing prospect with a ton of upside.  This would allow us to trade a completely redundant talent in Michael Beasley for either a solid shooting guard or a 2012 1st rounder.  After our second first round selection and the inevitable departure of Jonny Flynn, our starting lineup would look like this:
K-Love          Darko          Williams
Rubio     Wes Johnson

Bench:  Webster, Ridnour, Randolph, Tolliver, Pekovic, Ellington, 3rd (veteran) PG, and the #20 draft pick (Chris Singleton, Florida State?)

Why this just might work: 
If Love is going to be the cornerstone of the franchise, the Wolves are going to have to sign him to a near max extension soon.  By drafting Williams and trading Beasley (who should have some legitimate value), we get a younger, less expensive version of the same player, and avoid the temptation to sign both Love and B-easy to big deals in consecutive years.  By rolling with Rubio, we can take advantage of a pass-first point guard that should make his teammates better, especially a very talented Wes Johnson.  If Darko, after posting career numbers last year, can become a more consistent presence inside, this team might start to win a few games next year. Though I am still a Jonny Flynn fan, I’m not sure what he would fetch in a trade at this point.

Why this may fail:
As Delmon Young seems intent on proving, having a breakout season one year does not necessarily guarantee success the following year.  Kevin Love simply must continue improving in order to justify this approach.  I’m fairly confident that both Johnson and Darko will be more consistent next year, so the wild card is really Rubio.  Though I’m not counting on him to score much next year, he can’t be effective unless he can keep the defense honest by hitting a jumper now and then. 

Scenario #2: Use assets to acquire an impact veteran player   
With Rubio now as the (current) point guard of the future, the obvious target should be a proven, explosive scorer in the backcourt to compliment his pass-first mentality.  One very interesting option would be trading the second pick and Flynn for Monta Ellis of Golden State.  Regardless of the details of the trade, our starting lineup immediately looks better:
Love         Milicic          Beasley
Rubio     Ellis

Bench: Johnson, Webster, Randolph, Ridnour, Ellington, Pekovic…

Trade analysis:
First of all, the Warriors need to trade Ellis now, as his value will never be higher and there is no room to keep both he and Steph Curry long term.  At $11M/year, they will have limited options unless they are willing to take back a lot of salary in return.  The Wolves are one of a few teams that can absorb Ellis’ salary in return for young players and draft picks.  By selecting Williams with the #2 pick, they fill a huge need on their roster and get a talented PG in Flynn.  Not only is he a full year removed from major hip surgery, but he should also be much better in an offensive scheme that better fits his talents.  They could then use the cost savings to sign a mid-level free agent, likely at shooting guard. 

From the Wolves point of view, they get an explosive scorer to compliment Rubio in the backcourt who also draws attention away from Michael Beasley on the offensive end. The team can then move Wes Johnson to a 6th man role, where he could continue to adjust to the NBA game in season number two.  From a financial standpoint, Ellis immediately becomes the highest paid player on the roster and makes it more difficult to sign both Love and Beasley to extensions in the next couple years.  As Johnson profiles as more of a small forward than a shooting guard, his continued improvement could allow the Wolves to trade Beasley if he becomes too expensive. 

With my GM hat on, I would start negotiations by asking for Ellis and Golden State’s pick (#11) for the #2 (Williams) and Flynn, especially since we’d be taking back so much salary in the deal.  At #11, we could afford to take a flyer on someone like Jimmer Ferdette, Klay Thompson, or Alec Burke to further strengthen our bench.  I’d keep our #20 pick in my back pocket just in case we needed to sweeten the deal a bit.  If not, I’d look to flip that pick for a first rounder in 2012 (since the Clippers will get ours due to the failed Marko Jaric experiment).    

The good news is that both of these scenarios keep the Wolves moving in the right direction by building around a young core of solid players.  Scenario #1 takes a bit of a longer term view as we actually get younger in the short term and retain much of our financial flexibility for a future move.  It would be the quality of that future move that would determine the success of this strategy.  Scenario #2 makes a move now by cashing in some of that flexibility and locks us into a larger (and more expensive) core of players.  Success in either scenario depends on continued development of our young talent, much improved defensive execution, and most importantly, solid floor leadership from a 20 year old Spanish point guard. 

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