1. Hire a gm
- Too long this franchise has operated under a committee approach, which has thoroughly proven itself ineffective. A series of erratic personnel moves and fly-by-night changes in team philosophy support this. Differing opinions can be helpful but in the end you need one lead voice. Glen Taylor doesn’t know enough about modern day basketball to be that voice.
- Lead candidates include Spurs Assistant GM, Dennis Lindsey, Cavaliers Assistant GM, Lance Blanks, and in-house executive, Fred Hoiberg. My favored and semi-realistic scenario: Dennis Lindsey is the new Wolves GM. The Spurs front office track record is impeccable.
2. Fire a bunch of people
- Kevin McHale is the first to go. I don’t possess the venom for him that many fans do. I actually think he was a solid coach and made some pretty good draft picks and trades that are conveniently overlooked by the critics. I also respect him as a local and national basketball legend. That being said, he is the embodiment of the Wolves recent struggles and before this team can truly rebuild he must be purged. Some said the rebuild began with the Garnett trade. It may have begun then but it has been stalled ever since. How can you stage a coup but leave the King in charge? Mac’s firing can get the rebuild back on track. Plus, you’ve got to let the new GM choose the coach, even if it’s just a change for change’s sake.
- Front office cogs, Jim Stack and Rob Babcock, must also be let go. They’re too much on the inside and were probably instrumental in a lot of the team’s blunders, yet shielded from the criticism. They can thank McHale for that. Get rid of them and the cleansing of past sins continues.
- Fred Hoiberg can stay. He’s new enough that he probably hasn’t been corrupted by past dealings with the aforementioned. He also earned a lot of favor amongst the fanbase when it leaked out that he was heavily in favor of drafting and keeping OJ Mayo. He’s a stand up guy and an honorary mayor so I’d keep him on staff, but not as the GM. he’s not quite ready for that.
3. Hire a coach
- They need both a proven winner in the NBA and someone who has a history of successfully developing young talent. The latter need is obvious given the team’s youthful makeup. The need for a guy who they know can win is important beyond the obvious reasons. Choosing an up and coming assistant would be flashier and potentially have a higher ceiling, but it could also prove to be a disastrous setback to a rebuilding project that’s already a couple of years old if the up and comer turns out to be a bust.
- Commonly mentioned coaches include Sam Mitchell, Jeff Van Gundy and Avery Johnson. Boston assistant, Tom Thibodeau, who is credited with being the architect of the Celtic’s defensive transformation, and Spurs assistant, Mike Budenholzer, who is thought to be the Popovich-replacement in waiting, are also mentioned. Mitchell bores me. Van Gundy would be great but I think he’s too into TV. Avery Johnson got somewhat of a bad wrap in Dallas, I’d be cool with him as well. I know too little about Thibodeau and Budenholzer to comment, although I have a hard time being too enamored with any Boston coach given that Doc Rivers went from garbage to genius in the span of a week. My suspicion is that their turnaround had more to due with additions of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, James Posey and company.
4. Evaluate the roster…honestly
- The Wolves front office people often speak of reserve type talents as though they are integral pieces to the puzzle. I hope they’re just stroking egos and building trade value when they do so but with the current crew in charge, you never really know. Before this team can decide who to add, they need to decide who to get rid.
Al Jefferson - Star. There is no one in the NBA within 5 years of him that is as good as he is in the post. Early reports of rehab are good.
Kevin Love - Elite rebounder with potential for much, much more. His game cannot be generalized. A+ intangibles.
Probably Keep (but trade for the right price)
Mike Miller - Fans were frustrated with lack of shooting but he was a very solid all-around player this year. He’s the kind of guy winning teams have. No better than a #3 scoring option. Expiring contract + talent level may make him too valuable in a trade.
Corey Brewer - Showed major improvement before ACL tear this year. Great defender and athlete but must calm down on offense. Perpetual smile is infectiously stupid.
Wheel and Deal
Ryan Gomes - Good at everything, great at nothing. High character, can play the 2-4 in right situation. With low contract and solid game he’s probably the type of player they’ll need to include to make any kind of decent trade happen.
Craig Smith - Flashes of good play but that’s all they are, flashes. Too short to guard anyone over 6’9”+. Too offensively oriented. Expiring contract.
Sebastian Telfair - Nice player but best case role is as a push the tempo-type backup.
Brian Cardinal - Better than I thought but still ultimately pointless to the cause. Big expiring contract is very valuable.
Mark Madsen - Expiring contract. Get him to retire and immediately hire as a bench coach.
Bobby Brown - Expiring contract. No purpose. Salary so low they could just cut him and not really notice.
Current Free Agents
Rodney Carney - Played really well at times last year. Was the team’s best 3 point shooter. He’d be nice to have back for an affordable fee, but I wouldn’t overpay at all.
Shelden Williams - Peace out.
Jason Collins - Holla!
Kevin Ollie - Good bye, old friend.
5. For once, dominate the draft
- The Wolves have three 1st round draft picks (#5?, #18, #28) and two 2nd round picks. Combine that glut of picks with the six expiring contracts they have on roster, which are worth a ridiculous amount in today’s NBA economy, and they can be a serious force on draft day, should they so choose.
- They are currently seeded in the #5 draft slot but have about a 25% chance of landing a top 3 pick in the lottery. A top 2 pick will get them Blake Griffin or Ricky Rubio, which would be tremendous. Anything else will still net a solid player but less of a “sure thing” shot at a star. Regardless of the outcome of the lottery, Lindsey or whoever should do everything he can, including trading any combo picks and players not named Love or Jefferson, to move up and get Rubio.
- Ricky Rubio must be a Timberwolf for three reasons. 1) He’s got the star potential that a top 2 pick should deliver. 2) He fills the most dire need of the team, Point Guard, which is also the most important position in the NBA. 3) He’s got the high-energy game that would excite the fanbase into once again buying tickets. Al Jefferson and Kevin Love are/will be great players but a guy like Rubio is the dual threat that can be both great and make basketball really fun to watch. It is, after all, entertainment.
- On a side note, many friends and associates believe I am crazy for saying I would draft Rubio over Griffin, especially since I declared that Griffin, in my opinion, is a lock to be a star. My direct forecast is that he will have a Tim Duncan -esque career. Clearly then, to say that I like Rubio more implies some fairly grand things. I stand by it, despite the fact that I will surely hear about it if either part proves untrue. I accept that. Bold people make bold statements. No fence riding here. Rubio is that good.
6. Don’t be afraid to add talent via trades
- Say what you will about McHale but recognize that the one time in his tenure here that he had the green light to build a contender he did. That was the 2003-04 offseason, in which he acquired Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, Trenton Hassell , Fred Hoiberg, Mark Madsen, Ervin Johnson and Michael Olowokandi. Obviously, not all of those guys were stars (or close to it) but each of them was a key player in the Western Conference Finals run of that year. The Wolves had been clearing contracts for the better part of two seasons in order to make a legitimate impact that offseason. Like 03-04, the Wolves are in a similar position now.
- I could invent a hundred different trade scenarios, all of which I’d be able to justify from a roster stand point and make work under the salary cap. As fun as that’d be, it would also be exhausting and pointless, as 99.9% of rumored trades never end up happening. The team needs, however, that they should address via trade, draft or free agency are…
- A true point guard. Whether by trade or free agency, the available PG market is fairly ample this offseason. Kirk Hinrich , Ramon Sessions , Andre Miller , Raymond Felton, Mike Bibby , Jason Kidd , T.J. Ford and Kyle Lowry are all out there. I’m not saying all of them make sense, but they are at least out there bolstering the market. In addition to Rubio, Brandon Jennings (Europe) is another star-potential PG in the draft. Ty Lawson (UNC), Jonny Flynn (Syracuse) and Eric Maynor (VCU) are good secondary prospects.
- A prototypical shooting guard. Ben Gordon and Allen Iverson are free agents but neither of those seem to be likely acquisitions or fit the bill as prototypical. There are, however, several quality shooting guards in this years draft class. I’m a big fan of the upside in guys like James Harden (Arizona State), Tyreke Evans (Memphis) and DeMar DeRozan. (USC). Other players like Terrance Williams (Louisville), Stephen Curry (Davidson) and Gerald Henderson (Duke) would be solid back up options.
- A Shot Blocking/altering presence. The obvious guy in the draft is Hasheem Thabeet (UConn). He’s pretty much exactly what you’d want in a shot blocking, rim protecting center. However, I might shy away from him because he seems to be somewhat soft and more importantly, the Wolves have a beast of a defensive/shot blocking big in Europe right now by the name of Nikola Pekovic . There is a possibility he could be over as soon as next season. NBA vets Tyson Chandler and Sam Dalembert also make sense and seem to be annually mentioned in trade rumors.
- Ultimately, if the free agent class proves weak and overpaid or the lottery doesn't treat them well, the best option for the Wolves will be to take the players and picks they have and get aggressive through trades. Upgrading talent is what matters, and that needs to be done at almost any cost.
7. Players get better
The Wolves have eight players under contract that are 26 or younger. That means they should still be improving their respective games. The impatience of fans too often causes professional athletes are deemed stars or busts before they turn 25. The development of Foye and Brewer, in particular, will be essential. Love, at the ripe age of 20, needs to stay the course. Al Jefferson will be 24 at the start of next season. Some people forget that because he looks like he’s 45. He should continue to expand his game, as well.
This offseason should net no fewer than three key long-term members of the MinnesotaTimberwolves. Phoenix, Dallas and San Antonio are aging rapidly. New Orleans is mired in salary cap hell and prepared to give away talent for cap space. Utah is suddenly in disarray with a potential nine free agents this year. A good offseason and a healthy 2009-10 will have the Timberwolves reaching for a .500 record next year and potentially a playoff spot, depending on what other teams do. By 2010-11 they should be firmly entrenched in a Western Conference playoff group that also includes the Lakers , Blazers, Nuggets , Mavericks , Rockets and Thunder , with the Spurs and Hornets battling for the #8 seed.