30 teams in 56 or so days: Minnesota Timberwolves
November 9th, 2007
Players acquired via free agency or trade:
Greg Buckner (acquired from Dallas)
Michael Doleac (acquired from Miami)
Antoine Walker (acquired from Miami)
Theo Ratliff (acquired from Boston)
Ryan Gomes (acquired from Boston)
Al Jefferson (acquired from Boston)
Sebastian Telfair (acquired from Boston)
Gerald Green (acquired from Boston)
Players acquired via draft:
First round: Corey Brewer (7th overall)
Second round: Chris Richard (41st overall)
Mark Blount (traded to Miami)
Ricky Davis (traded to Miami)
Kevin Garnett (traded to Boston)
Trenton Hassell (traded to Dallas)
Troy Hudson (bought out)
Mike James (traded to Houston)
Justin Reed (traded to Houston)
Bracey Wright (left unrestricted, signed in Greece)
You probably want me, or expect me, to burn Kevin McHale in this space, as I have done in the past. But it’s not going to happen. I actually think he’s done a nice job this offseason, all things considering.
The reason I say “all things considering”, is that McHale has done a rather nice job of restructuring a team that, apart from New York, was about the hardest possible team to reconstruct. With multiple long and bad contracts, and also with first-round draft picks still owed to Boston and the Los Angeles Clippers, the Timberwolves were roundly screwed. With only a couple of young players worth a damn and with only superstar Kevin Garnett providing any value worth a damn, McHale had only one option – to trade Kevin Garnett and start again.
He could have gone the other way, signed a veteran, and made another playoff push, hoping that the impossible would occur and that the Timberwolves would suddenly have enough firepower to rival the West’s best teams. That would have been a stupid thing to do, though, It was also a stupid thing to do last year with the Mike James signing, and it was a pretty stupid thing to do the year before with the Mark Blount trade. So thankfully, they didn’t go this route again. If the Timberwolves had done so, euthanasia may have been justified.
Everyone seems to believe, though, that the Timberwolves did not get nearly enough in return for Garnett. KG’s value isn’t what it would have been had this move been made two years ago, but it was still very high. Critics, professional or otherwise, seem to believe that Minnesota did not get nearly enough in return for Garnett. They received Al Jefferson (one of the best young post players in the game, and incidentally, the upcoming winner of this season’s rebounding title), Gerald Green (wildly overhyped prospect whose option they did not then exercise, bringing the hype back down to Earth), Ryan Gomes (useful role player), Theo Ratliff (massive expiring contract), Sebastian Telfair (far smaller expiring contract with a very outside chance of being a Marcus Banks-type reclamation project), and two first-round picks, one of which was being returned to Minnesota after Boston got it in the Mark Blount/Wally Szczerbiak deal thing.
Let’s put that into context. In other recent superstar trades, here’s what transpired:
1) Miami trades Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler, first-round pick (used on Jordan Farmar) and a second-round pick (moved onto Dallas, turned into the insatiable Renaldas Seibutis) to the L.A. Lakers for Shaquille O’Neal (which would have been a decent return had the Lakers not then gifted Butler to the Wizards for Kwame Brown, a player who they didn’t need then nor now).
2) Houston trades Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato to Orlando for Tracy McGrady, Tyronn Lue, Reece Gaines and Juwan Howard (basically horrific for Orlando).
3) New Jersey trades Aaron Williams, Eric Williams, Alonzo Mourning and two first-round picks (one used on Joey Graham, the other dealt to New York and used on Renaldo Balkman) to Toronto for Vince Carter (unmitigated disaster regardless of circumstance).
4) Denver trades Joe Smith, Andre Miller and two first-round picks (one traded to Miami and used on Daequan Cook with Jason Smith going the other way, the other dealt to Portland and used on Petteri Koponen) to Philadelphia for Allen Iverson and Ivan McFarlin (um, OK).
Now you tell me what historical precedent tells us about superstar’s returning value in trades. It ranges from mediocre to awful.
And now tell me again why the package Minnesota got of a premium young player, big financial savings, two first-round picks and a couple of potentially useful peripheral parts is such a bad thing.
In addition to the big trade, Minnesota made several smaller ones. In trading Trenton Hassell for Greg Buckner, they traded a player who was reportedly a right moanarse in the locker room, who had a big contract and who wasn’t that good anyway, for a lesser player who doesn’t moan and who has a lot less guaranteed money coming his way for fewer years. Trading Mike James for Juwan Howard again got them a player with less guaranteed money over fewer years, and buying out Troy Hudson’s third partially guaranteed year again turned a three-year contract into a two-year one while losing no player of any significance (it’s been a theme). And in the Mark Blount and Ricky Davis to Miami trade, Minnesota managed to again trade a big contract with three years remaining (Blount) for one with only two left (Walker), while also getting a first-round draft pick in the deal.
It’s only a shame that they couldn’t swap Mark Madsen for Adrian Griffin or somebody. They could have then completed the set.
If you’re going to flounder and die, you might as well do so with some purpose to it. Nothing about the Timberwolves’ recent history offered up much in the way of hope. Since the Wolves began disbanding the 2003-2004 team (arguably the league’s best team that year) with such heroic ineptitude – using such tactical masterstrokes as trading Sam Cassell and a first-round pick for Marko Jaric, and the previously mentioned Wally Szczerbiak trade – Minnesota has witnessed one subsequent year of frustrating mediocrity, and two years of something worse than that. In those two years, complete tank jobs have had to be pulled just so that the franchise was able to keep the pick it had originally given up to the Clippers for Jaric in the first place, and they won 65 games combined over the last two years for this reason.
It wasn’t going anywhere, and with two first-rounders owing and only two young players (Chris Smith and Randy Foye) worth a damn, they weren’t getting out of the 35ish-win range any time soon.
So they finally blew it up. And I’m glad. You should be, too.
It’s just gone so wrong for so long basketball wise, that it’s just refreshing to see things go rather well for a change. The dream of Garnett playing his whole career in Minnesota was still held by some, which has led to fall out, but it should have been shot up a long time before now. If it had, maybe those last two years need not have happened. In one offseason, Minnesota transformed itself from a team in transition going from bad to worse, into a team that may one day go places, starting with backwards.
Of course, they might not. But if they can stave off their compulsion to destroy everything (by the way, Two For The Money starring Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey isn’t THAT bad of a film if you stop it at the hour mark), Minnesota might start headed places again some day soon.
There’s a good chance that this new look line-up tops out in a few years at the 40-win barrier that the franchise just traded Garnett to get away from. Still, they can but try.
I am continuously intrigued by the esoterica and minutiae of all the aspects of building a basketball team. I want to understand how to build the best basketball teams possible. No, I don’t know why, either.
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