Posted on: April 15, 2010 4:10 pm
Jonny Flynn had a productive rookie season. It was a good season. Yet listen to most Wolves fans describe it and you would probably walk away thinking it was a disaster. A flop. A total bust. Out of frustration of enduring the worst season in Wolves basketball, I, at times, have been guilty of this too. But alas, some perspective.
Below are the full season stat lines for various starting point guards in the league. To be more accurate, they are the stat lines from the player’s first season in which they averaged at least 28 minutes per game. I chose that number because it suggests it was the first season in which the player was given a starter’s type role.
See if you can predict who did what.
a) 7.9 points, 5.5 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 36 FG% in 31 minutes per game
b) 10.8 points, 4.5 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 42 FG% in 29 minutes per game
c) 10.6 points, 5.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 49 FG% in 29 minutes per game
d) 11.3 points, 3.3 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals 35 FG% in 32 minutes per game
e) 9.2 points, 4.3 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 42 FG% in 30 minutes per game
f) 13.5 points, 4.4 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 42 FG% in 29 minutes per game
a) Steve Nash - 3rd Season
b) Deron Williams - 1st Season
c) Rajon Rondo - 2nd Season
d) Chauncey Billups - 1st Season
e) Tony Parker - 1st Season
f) Jonny Flynn - 1st Season
So as you can see, Flynn’s rookie year compares favorably, if not flat out better, than many of the top point guards in the league. The three glaring exceptions are Jason Kidd, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul, who all had superior rookie seasons, but in the end that’s what those players are, exceptions. Otherwise, every other great point guard in the NBA clearly failed to experience a statistical breakthrough in their first, second or even third prominent season. The other thing to remember is that with Flynn’s outstanding quickness and athleticism, as well as the fact that’s he’s a mere 21 years old, he still has plenty of room to develop.
The next question that bears asking is why then is Flynn the subject of such harsh criticism? I can narrow it down to four primary causes.
1. The Systematic Maladaption of Timberwolves Fans
Very simply, the vast majority of Wolves fans believe they are cursed. They believe that no matter who they draft, who they acquire in trade or free agency, who they decide on as coach or GM or who they send to represent them at the draft lottery, they are so thoroughly cursed that it will positively end up a disaster. And so when a player, in this case Flynn, is taken the demoralized ranks of Wolves fans essentially start the countdown to when they can officially call the pick a failure without appearing completely irrational. Some skip the countdown all together and jump straight off the cliff. Note, I’m not saying some of the skittishness isn’t warranted. On the contrary, proof of an actual curse certainly would answer a lot of questions. But fans and critics alike need to calm down, step back and take a few deep breaths. Case in point: Brandon Roy. Yes, the Wolves traded Brandon Roy for Randy Foye. An epic debacle of a trade. In that same draft, the Raptors took Andreas Bargnani over Roy. The Bobcats opted for Adam Morrison. The Bulls took Tyrus Thomas and the Hawks thought Shelden Williams would be better. The truth is that several teams swung and missed big on Roy, but bitter, jaded, sky-is-perpetually-falling Wolves fans don’t see that. They just see the cliff.
2. That Darned Ricky Rubio
People, a lot of them, live an orderly life. They like things the way they do. Everything has to fit neatly in its place. In my highly unprofessional opinion, it is this characteristic that lies at root of the inability of Wolves fans and the draft clowns at ESPN to comprehend the logic behind the Flynn pick. The Wolves took a PG in Rubio and so the nice and neat, orderly folks of the world thought that naturally they would fill another position of need. Most, at the time, said they should have taken DeMar DeRozan because his draft card said “Shooting Guard”. That made orderly sense. Instead with Flynn, the Wolves took who they thought was the best player available (before you shout “Stephen Curry” at the computer screen please go reread the thing above about point guards in their first season). They drafted the best player available because at this stage in their progression overall talent is what matters, not filling out a roster sheet. The drafting of Rubio was the drafting of an asset more than it was a contributing player. They were drafting an incredible future possibility when they took Rubio, whereas with Flynn, they were drafting their starting point guard. Plus, there would have been an actual honest to goodness riot at Target Center if the Wolves had passed on Rubio with two consecutive picks. Things played out as they did and now, unfortunately, there is this mystical floating Rubio head that looms over Flynn every time he misses a shot or commits a silly turnover. The floating Rubio heads says things like “Flynn is garbage, luckily you have me waiting in the wings” and “Don’t get used to the smiley guy with the headband, when I get tired of Spain I’ll be over to claim my job”. Rubio, in a way, has prevented people from ever really supporting Flynn in the same way a fan base never really gets behind an interim head coach or in the way a kid never really embraces a mom’s boyfriend. They know the next one is right around the corner so why get attached?
3. A Bad Situation
Nothing about his rookie year was really ideal for Jonny Flynn. He was also cast onto a team that by design was supposed to fail…miserably. Known for his ability to fast break, he was surrounded with tree trunks the likes of Damien Wilkins, Sasha Pavlovic and Ryan Gomes. A master of the pick and roll at Syracuse, he was told to forget about the pick and roll and basically adopt a new philosophy and style of play in Minnesota, where on the flipside fellow rookie PGs, Brandon Jennings and Steph Curry, were placed in systems that perfectly suited their respective games. These contradictions were done in the name of making Flynn a better overall player. Flynn could have been allowed to play differently, more to his strengths, but in doing so he would have been sacrificing long-term potential and growth in favor of short-term results. Allowing Flynn to do what he does best on nightly basis, with little check or balance, would have resulted in better box scores and simultaneously put him on to the fast track to becoming the next Bobby Jackson, a serviceable and effective scoring backup point guard. Not a bad thing necessarily. However, by forcing him to harness his established talents and instead pain stakingly improve on his weaknesses the belief is that he will eventually develop into a legitimate upper tier starting point guard. This is the vision (and gamble) of David Kahn and Kurt Rambis. It sounds terrific in theory and if it works they will both look like geniuses some day. If it doesn’t pan out, see #1.
4. He Played Like A Rookie
I'm going to keep this one short because it's the most apparent and requires the least analysis. Possession killing shots in the first five or so seconds of the shot clock, completely avoidable turnovers at costly times in the game and occassional defense void of any awareness or teamwork were the main culprits. In other words, he played like a rookie. The problem is that the three points above combined with the state of the average Wolves fan being sick and tired of being sick and tired and it all led to the fact that there just wasn't the patience or tolerance of rookie-like play, even though there probably should have been. Flynn didn't play like a rookie of the year or even like he deserved top 5 consideration, but he also wasn't as bad as he was too often portrayed.
The point of this isn’t to make excuses for Jonny Flynn. I’m the first to admit he deserves a fair amount of criticism for some of his play this year. Really, I’m just trying to balance the overwhelming amount of criticism he has received with the credit he also deserves. A commonly held belief is that point guard is by far the toughest position to transition from college to the pros. Based on that and the past development of other guards in the league I tend to believe that maybe, given his respectable stat outputs, obvious intangibles and consistent leadership skills that just maybe, Flynn could make a lot of people eats their words and end up as the Wolves future floor general. Unless, of course, they land John Wall. In that event, ignore everything I just said.
Posted on: March 31, 2010 5:01 pm
In a few days the Timberwovles will play the final game of their 2009-10 campaign. It will officially mark the third consecutive season of virtually unwatchable Wolves basketball to anyone other than the hardest of core fans. This season holds the distinction as perhaps the worst full season performance by any Timberwolves squad in team history. Yes, this assemblage of “talent” could very well be worse than the early 90s teams that showcased Felton Spencer, Gerald Glass and Doug West. Of course, one could argue that this particular outcome was intentional. That in order to truly rebuild the team had to abandon the ‘one foot in, one foot out’ approach that McHale had attempted and instead fully hit rock bottom before they could rebuild the right way. To that I say mission accomplished, Mr. Kahn. Mission most definitely accomplished.
There is, fortunately, reason for hope. Optimism can be found in the team’s considerable assets. Three 1st round picks. Ample cap room. Youth. Blah. Blah. Blah. That may all be so, but when reviewing this god forsaken season there can be no sense of hope. No silver linings. No glimmering instances of good to hang your foam finger on. There’s no way around it, this was ugly in it's purest form. Turnovers upon turnovers. Ill advised pass after ill advised pass. Missed dunks and missed free throws. NBDL bench players masquerading as NBA athletes. More 15-0 runs than I ever care to remember. Yes it was so very, very ugly. On that note, I present my 2009-10 team grades.
(I should warn you, this is going to be a bit negative. I’ll probably even say some things I don’t really mean out of anger. Such, I feel, is my right, my allowance if you will, for enduring yet another year of basketball by the loosest of definitions and yet surely pulling myself off the mat to do it all again next year.)
The Roster: F
The worst team in the Western Conference deserves no better a grade. Honestly, there is no one on this team that played well enough to make me declare them vital to the team’s long term plans. The closest thing they have to that is Kevin Love but even he showed his flaws. Most notably, his tendency to become obviously shaken by a lack of minutes or cold shooting streak or some other slight that anyone with an appropriate level mental toughness would have overcome. Also, he was used in a reserve role most of the season and is yet to show that he can still put up the ridiculous rebounding numbers against frontline starters.
Al Jefferson, the most dominant player they have, actually had his most unselfish season but never seemed to fully recover from the torn ACL that ended his previous season early. As with pre-injury Jefferson, post-injury Jefferson continues to look a little lost when the offense isn’t running through him.
Jonny Flynn showed glimpses of both good and bad extremes. Regrettably, more bad than good. I can say that he might be the victim of being the most miscast player I’ve ever seen as far as style of play and type of offensive system go. In an up tempo offense I could see him thriving through a persistent fast break attack. In the triangle hybrid offense the Wolves run he was reduced to an undersized guard who cant shoot. His well advertised on ball lock down defense was either an outright lie or the result of criminally inept scouting.
Ramon Sessions had his moments but it was hard to appreciate his game when every minute he was on the court was a minute that Jonny Flynn wasn’t. And Jonny Flynn, as I have already highlighted, needed the minutes.
Corey Brewer was the most improved Timberwolf, probably one of the top five most improved players in the league, but he still can’t shoot well enough to warrant the lion’s share of the minutes at the two guard.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Ryan Gomes needs to be the 8th man on a contending team. Read into that however you like.
At any given time on any given day at any given YMCA in any given pick up game there are no fewer than three guys running full court that are more athletic than Damien Wilkins.
I actually felt disrespected as a fan every time Ryan Hollins, Sasha Pavlovic or Nathan Jawai were on the court.
Oleksiy Pecherov had two good games all season.
Wayne Ellington: a young guy with room to develop, who plays a position of need and unlike the rest of the guards on roster – can shoot. So naturally, he hardly ever plays. I’ll get back to this in the coaching section.
Darko Milicic. I like his game and think he could eventually be solid contributor to a winning team if given the chance. There has been a lot of talk about convincing him that he should stay in the NBA and specifically, with the Timberwolves. How about we flip that and ask ourselves the question, has he done enough to convince the Timberwolves to keep him? I'm not sure that he has.
And finally, the Wolves traded Brian Cardinal to the Knicks. The Knicks cut him. Then the Wolves resigned him. Kind of like when the Cavs traded Zydrunas Ilgauskus and then resigned him a month after he was cut by Washington, except for in the Cardinal instance the player is worthless and the team is irrelevant.
Your 2009-10 Minnesota Timberwolves, ladies and gentlemen!
The Coach: C
The hiring of Kurt Rambis was unusual because at the time he was the highest profile candidate out there. Whereas the Wolves previous few head coach hires had been straight from the bargain bin, Rambis was top shelf, and they paid for it. So far, they’re yet to get their money’s worth.
On the plus side, Rambis kept the team together. Over in an equally pathetic situation, New Jersey, there was all kinds of player drama. Guys were demanding trades or to be outright released. Signaling the onset of female puberty, some Nets players even Tweeted their disgruntled feelings. The Wolves didn’t have any of that and it showed Rambis has their ear. That’s a good thing and a positive sign to move forward with.
On the downside, Rambis failed to achieve what this season was about: player development. I didn’t sense or see that Jonny Flynn was ever getting consistently better. Wayne Ellington regularly and inexplicably took a back seat to the likes of Sasha Pavlovic. Kevin Love and Al Jefferson were given very little opportunity to play together before it was declared a failure. Similarly, Flynn and Ramon Sessions rarely took the court together. I realize these situations created mismatches for the Wolves but in the end, who cares? Instead of going with a non-traditional lineup and trying to create a mismatch for their opponents as well as themselves, Rambis quickly resorted to a safe and formulaic rotation which went on to produce an embarrassingly few amount of wins and a bountiful number of blowout losses. Could it have really been all that much worse had a lineup of Flynn-Sessions-Ellington-Love-Jeffe
rson took the court together? Would they have ended up with the worst record in the league instead of the second worst? Oh no, that would have sucked.
In fairness, Rambis needs more talent. Phil Jackson would have maybe squeezed twenty wins out this group. Beyond that, he needs to develop an identity as a coach. He’s attempting to run some sort of triangle-fast break cross breed offense. Typically, players that thrive within one of those aren’t really suited for the other. The thing is, and I really think Rambis needs to consider this, the only two successful triangle offenses in NBA history have included guys named Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, neither of which have anything to do with the current Timberwolves makeup.
The Front Office: C
David Kahn inherited a tricky situation. His predecessor, Kevin McHale, had acquired just enough talent to not be amongst the league's worst and to give the semblance of a team on the rise, but at its core, was limited in growth potential. So Kahn’s inevitable dilemma was that he was going to have to blow the whole thing up and start over. To a fanbase that had already felt like they were blowing things up when they traded Garnett, the notion of doing it all over again wasn’t in the slightest bit appealing.
The 2009-10 season is ultimately what it needed to be and at heart, what we all knew it would be: a disaster. This season was a series of painful losses followed up by a series of slightly less painful losses, sprinkled with the occasional win. This is what rock bottom is. Rock bottom is somewhat acceptable when you know that your stay on the bottom is merely a pit stop on your eventual way back up to the top. It is in this way that David Kahn will eventually be judged. A little lottery luck and a Ricky Rubio sighting in Target Center within the next year or so will dramatically help that cause.
Other than that, what Kahn does this offseason will be extremely vital. All those afore mentioned assets need to materialize into
positive growth. One thing Kahn said before this season that stuck with me was, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the Wolves wouldn’t
realistically win a lot of games this year but they would always play hard and with tireless effort. They would never lose for a lack of trying. They would be the gritty, gut it out sort of team that other veteran teams don’t like to play for the high level of effort they would need to exert in order to beat one of the league’s supposed bottom feeders. If the players didn’t do that, Kahn promised, he’d find ones who will. Unfortunately, this team rolled over far too many times this season. It led to the disgust I felt, which I’ve never had for this organization before. I hoped it would never come to this, but Kahn will need to live up to his promise on this one.
Up Next: my 2010 mock offseason, in which I speculate on things that will almost certainly not happen!
Posted on: October 28, 2009 4:41 pm
In a few short hours the Timberwolves will open the 2009-10 campaign against their mirror image in the Eastern Conference, the New Jersey Nets. In recent years both teams have completely deconstructed their core veteran team and have begun the lengthy process of rebuilding around a young and dynamic player. The Wolves with Al Jefferson, the Nets with Devin Harris. Both teams feature a promising 2nd year big man, who surpassed all expectations during their rookie seasons. The Wolves with Kevin Love, the Nets with Brook Lopez. Both teams are stock piled with young potential, which may someday amount to something special or something all together worthless. The Wolves with Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer and Ramon Sessions, the Nets with Yi Jianlin, Courtney Lee and Terrance Williams.
As for the Wolves, success this season will come in the form of effort, development and chemistry. Wins are ideal, but if that's the only barometer for measuring success then us Wolves fans might as well start planning for the 2010 draft now. They're simply too young, too inexperienced, too injured and and too unfamiliar with each other to realistically make a legitimate push this year. What I do realistically envision is a move like Oklahoma City made last year and Portland made several years ago just before becomming a playoff caliber team. That being a transformation to a scrappy, yet inconsistent team that will be on the losing end of their fair share of blow outs but from time to time will also flash their enormous potential and beat a few of the league's best, earning the reputation as a team better than their record and most definitely on the rise. Combine that with another high lottery pick, two additional 2010 1st round picks, Ricky Rubio's perceived value, enough cap space next offseason to offer a max contract and several expiring contracts that could aide in a deadline deal, and the Wolves could be back in the playoffs sooner rather than later. Or at least sooner than the Nets.
If pressed to put a number prediction on wins I'd say somewhere between 28 and 35, which is presumably where they would have ended up last year if not for losing Jefferson for nearly half their games. I think the additions of Jonny Flynn, Ramon Sessions, Wayne Ellington, Sasha Pavlovic, Ryan Hollins and Kurt Rambis easily offset, if not improve, the losses of Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Sebastian Telfair, Craig Smith, Mark Madsen and Kevin McHale. For the Wolves to end up on the higher end of that prediction or even exceed it, the following things will need to happen.
Al Jefferson - will need to be healthy. If his knee isn't right the Wolves are in big trouble. His well documented 30 lb. weight loss seems to suggest he'll be fleeter of foot on both defense and fast breaks but first he'll need to ease everyone's fears that his knee is going to give out every time he jumps for a rebound.
Jonny Flynn - will need to be wise beyond his years. Truthfully, he's probably the best true PG the Wolves have had since Terrell Brandon. If he can come in and be more Chris Paul than AC Law, then the Wolves will be better than anyone would have thought.
Kevin Love - will need to get healthy. A broken bone in his non-shooting hand should keep him out well short of the projected 6 weeks. When he's back he'll need to prove that his ridiculous rookie rebounding rate wasn't a fluke and that his conditioning has improved. After all, you can't average 12 rebs per game if you can only play 30 minutes a game.
Corey Brewer - will need to build on the preseason. This is the first time I have given Brewer a compliment without surrounding it with a ton of "buts" and "ifs" and "maybes". He was genuiniely good in the preseason, which can be inflated but can also be a sign of things to come. Shit, I said "but".
Ramon Sessions - will need to make Milwaukee regret letting him go. Right now, he could be Mike James (circa Raptors to Wolves, 2006) having just parlayed a bunch of empty stats on a losing team into a longterm contract. Or he could be Chauncey Billups (circa Wolves to Detroit, 2002) having just begun to show what he's capable of and on the verge of establishing himself as a force in the league. Most likely, he's somewhere in between.
Ryan Hollins - will need to block a lot of shots. They don't need him to do much. Just block shots. He should be watching every minute of Chris "Birdman" Anderson film he can get his hands on. Or rather video. The kids watch video these days.
Wayne Ellington, Sasha Pavolvic and/or Oleksiy Pecherov - will need to become reliable outside shooters. Right now the deep ball is this team's major weakness and if they can't hit shots Love and Jefferson will eat non-stop double teams.
Ryan Gomes, Damien Wilkins, Brian Cardinal - will need to be steady veterans. Outside of these three guys everyone else on the team is 25 or younger. No one is expecting much out of them production-wise, but they will need to be the on court teachers to do the little things that build a winning team.
Mark Blount - will need to sit on his couch, collect a paycheck and wait to be traded or cut. Nice career.
Kurt Rambis - will need to be as good and as patient as advertised. Hopefully, all those years sitting next to Phil Jackson pay off.
Enjoy the season.
Posted on: October 15, 2009 6:28 pm
On May 22nd of this year, after an exhaustive and seemingly blundered search for a new Head of Basketball Operations, the Timberwolves hired their apparent 3rd choice for the position in David Kahn. Typical fan reaction ranged from anger to disbelief to apathy, or some combination of the three. Today, I'd estimate that at least 8 out of 10 of those fans would take it all back.
Imagine, if you will, you went into a coma back on May 22nd and awoke from it today. Also imagine that by some strange twist of fate you were a demented Wolves fan whose rabid obsession and supposed first thought after coming out of a four month coma is “What happened with the Wolves this summer?” Your family would try to convince you to talk about your emotions or them or your life, but you’d be unstoppably obsessed with talking some T-Wolves. Well, you’d definitely be a sick S.O.B. but I’ll be damned if I wouldn’t respect you for it. I’d sit you down and fill you in on the details but you’d probably have a hard time believing all that had gone down in one short summer. Sure, you’d recognize a few of the names but for the most part you’d be waking up to a whole new team.
Wrath of Kahn
It all started with the hiring of David Kahn. Before him, however, was a flirtation with Spurs Assistant GM, Dennis Lindsey. He has the pedigree to make him a no brainer pick for GM but in a moderate dis to the Timberwolves organization he essentially said he'd rather be an assistant with the Spurs than the main man with the Wolves. In vain, I sit here unable to think of a more cordial way to say ‘fuck him’. It's worth noting that he did the same thing with the Atlanta Hawks last offseason. Then there was Blazers Assistant GM, Tom Penn. Kevin Pritchard's (Blazers super-GM) right hand man is largely credited with being instrumental to the Blazers impressive youth movement. Penn was apparently ready to sign but at the last minute Paul Allen (Blazers uber rich owner) swept in and offered him a ridiculous pay raise to stay in Portland. This plus other illuminating details that came out in the wake of everything suggest that Penn never intended to leave Portland and was instead merely using Minnesota as leverage to get a new contract. They're only rumors, but based on the credibility of the rumors I believe every one of them, which of course earns an even more impressive and emphatic ‘double fuck him’.
And then there was Kahn. All anyone knew was that he was some ex-Pacers guy under Donnie Walsh who hadn't been in the NBA since 2002 and spent the last few years fiddling around in the NBDL and heading up a grassroots movement to get a Major League Baseball team in Oregon, which obviously never happened. Even worse, his reputation was as a business-minded man as oppose to a basketball-minded man. The story went that in Indiana Walsh was the personnel guy who put the championship contending teams together. Kahn was the finance guy who worked the cap. The prevailing thought amongst jaded fans was that Glen Taylor had gone ahead and hired a guy with the savvy to save him a few more Bucks, which was a somewhat deserved reaction considering the plethora of painfully frugal moves the Wolves have made over the past few years.
Anyways, it happens. Kahn shows up for his press conference. He's pasty white and looks to be maybe 5'7" at most. He's seems way too articulate and dainty to be a real sports guy. But then he starts to talk about his vision of the Wolves future. He talks big. He promises change. A change in organizational philosophy. A change in personnel. A change in the way the Wolves are perceived around the league. He says no team will work harder. He says no front office will be more diligent and persistent. He says once again the Target Center with be full of rambunctious and howling fans. I've got to admit, it was convincing. Only talk, but somewhat convincing. Of course, Wolves fans have heard plenty of talk over the years, much of it hollow and void of follow through, most of it from the previous man in charge, Kevin McHale.
McHale was no longer in charge but he was still the head coach. His presence in the organization was quite literally likened to a cancer. A little dramatic, yes, but I agree with the general principle of the analogy. No matter how small or potentially insignificant, he had to be removed. The team could not begin to rebuild until it was cleansed of his toxic presence and allowed to build a new image of its own. Sure, Kahn talked a big game but if he wouldn't/couldn't get rid of McHale then it would be apparent to everyone who still cared to pay attention that he was, in the end, just a Taylor pawn.
Kahn and McHale had a number of lunches and dinners and probably even a few brunches in which they reportedly discussed the future direction of the team and McHale's roll within it. The longer events transpired, the more likely it appeared that McHale would be retained. But then the axe suddenly fell and McHale was for all intents and purposes, decapitated. I can now empathize with the citizens of Baghdad who saw the oversized statue of Saddam Hussein ripped down by chains and drug off to a scrap heap somewhere. We knew the day would eventually have to come, but it still didn't seem possible that it would come in our lifetimes.
For the sake of bringing some order to the personnel chaos that ensued after McHale’s firing, I’ve organized the various transactions into three categories: the draft, trades and free agency. Behold.
One thing you can credit McHale with his a late-tenure run in which he unloaded many of the terrible contracts he had previously signed players to for future assets. So even though David Kahn has done an impressive job in a short amount of time, you’ve also got to remember that much of the flexibility that allowed him to do so much was inherited. But, as they say, it is what it is.
Heading into the 2009 NBA Draft the Timberwolves had an impressive four 1st Round Picks and two 2nd Round Picks. Two of those picks, the #5 and #6 overall selections (I’ll get into how that #5 pick was acquired later on), would/will define this draft. Those two picks represented the organizations opportunity to add significant pieces to the core of this team moving forward.
Blake Griffin is taken #1 by the Clippers. No surprise there. Hasheem Thabeet went #2 overall. Thank you, Memphis. James Harden goes #3 to Oklahoma City. A somewhat surprising pick because, you know, this team should be in Seattle. Sacramento drops the bomb when they take Tyreke Evans at #4. Evans is a very talented player but for a team with virtually no identity it seems like Rubio would have been the ideal player to build a team around. But perhaps they saw the writing on the wall. The Wolves were then up with two straight picks and the guy who seemed like a total pipe dream is there for the taking.
The following is the approximate inner monologue of a Wolves fan in the moments leading up to the #5 pick in this year’s draft: Would he want play in Minnesota? Is he going to stay in Europe? Can he even play against us big, bad Americans? Screw it, draft him. He’s the BPA, no doubt. Shit, here comes Stern. Why does he always have that stupid grin? We took Ricky Rubio! We took Ricky Rubio! Fans everywhere erupt! We, yes “we”, got the 2nd most talented player in the draft with the #5 pick. A star caliber talent, something all NBA championship teams are built around, just fell into our laps. There are a lot of logistics still to be worked out, but who cares. We got Rubio!
What can I say, I’m a Rubeo. Get it? Rube + Rubio. I made that up.
Then came the #6 pick. Stephen Curry seemed like a logical choice, although a Curry/Rubio backcourt would have been perhaps the smallest in the league. DeMar DeRozan made sense. But taking him at #6 would be a stretch even though the Wolves needed a shooting guard to pair with their new point guard of the future. So naturally, they took Jonny Flynn, the point guard.
It didn’t make much sense at the time. Some think it still doesn’t. Why take two point guards? Well, let me answer that self-imposed question. It’s my belief that there are four types of NBA teams. 1) Legitimate contenders who are stockpiling veteran talent in order to have the deepest and most ready to win team possible. 2) Mediocre pretenders who add whatever talent they can with the goal of winning a lot, but never winning the big one. 3) Rebuilding teams whose primary goal should be acquiring as much young talent as possible, regardless of position. #4) The New York Knicks. The Wolves are that #3 type of team. Right now, taking two point guards can’t make a lot of sense from the appearance of things but if Kahn & Co. believed that Rubio and Flynn were the two best players available then taking them both is so much better than being short sighted and taking a worse player just because it fills out a roster sheet better than the alternative. Then and today, drafting Ricky Rubio was the absolute right thing to do.
Obviously, the Rubio situation has played out with the conclusion that he will be playing in Spain for at least two more years. Do yourself a favor and don’t believe any of the tabloid nonsense that the Chad Fords and Rick Buchers of the world love to spew. Rubio has no qualms about playing in Minnesota. He is not demanding to be traded to a major market. He is not afraid of snow or of playing with Jonny Flynn. If any of it were remotely true he would have played that card by now so as to increase his leverage. He, nor his agent, has ever said anything of the sort. This is all about money. When Rubio wasn’t selected in the first three picks he not only lost out on quite a bit of money on the NBA rookie salary scale but he also triggered a clause in his Nike contract that would have paid him substantially more had he gone in those first three picks. Rubio and his people made the decision that they would not come to the NBA if it would put him at a major financial loss, even in just the short term.
Finally, don’t sleep on Wayne Ellington. He was taken with the #29 overall pick (acquired via Boston in the KG trade). He’s not a huge upside guy but his game right now is very solid and he will get major minutes as a rookie.
The Timberwolves have made seven trades since Kahn arrived. Most have been financial chess moves in order to position themselves to be heavy free agent players in the 2010 offseason. A couple of the trades have actually been about acquiring talent. In chronological order they are…
1. Randy Foye and Mike Miller to Washington for Darius Songalia, Etan Thomas, Oleksiy Pecherov and the #5 pick in the 2009 draft. This was easily the most noteworthy of the trades made. I’ve already delved enough into the Rubio situation and the rest of the incoming assets can be summed up in the following statement: Etan Thomas was a salary chip, as was Darius Songalia, and Oleksiy Pecherov is a low-risk, low-salary Euro flier. The non-Rubio intriguing aspect of this trade was who the Wolves dealt: Randy Foye and Mike Miller. Foye, though not his fault, was the total embodiment of the McHale blunder years. People got over and even partially sympathized with the Joe Smith fiasco (thanks to Premier Stern and his resounding “FUCK YOU” to the people of Minnesota). Given the circumstances, no one could really blame McHale for letting Chauncey Billups go. Ndudi Ebi was a bust but he was also the 28th overall pick so it’s not like he passed on Michael Jordan or anything. But Foye, that was inexcusable. The Wolves had Brandon Roy in their possession. He was a Timberwolf for a few fleeting seconds and McHale let him go…for Randy Foye….and cash. Cheap and stupid. Double whammy. Roy goes on to become one of the top shooting guards in the league. Foye goes on to sustain a major injury, demonstrate the inability to play the position they drafted him to play, and struggles through unwatchable bouts of inconsistency. If Brandon Roy is on the Timberwolves, Kevin Garnett probably still is too. The Wolves are most likely legitimate contenders in the Western Conference. Target Center is undoubtedly packed with fans. But instead, the past plays out as it did, McHale goes into hiding, and the fans have no choice but to unleash their fury on the guy who represents what could have been, Randy Foye. Sad to say, trading him was trading more than a player. It was trading a scar. Mike Miller, to a lesser extent, was another McHale gem. Landing Miller when they did was the justification for trading OJ Mayo for Kevin Love. Sounded good at the time but Miller, like so many other skilled role players, failed to produce when a team actually needed him to be “the guy”. The difference here is that Kevin Love, unlike Foye, actually endeared himself to fans through hard work and definitive signs of potential. I would guess that up to 60-70% of Wolves fans today, if given the choice of Mayo or Love straight up, would go Love.
2. Ty Lawson to Denver for their 2010 1st Round Pick (via Charlotte, top 12 protected). He was the best player available on the board at the time of this pick but with Flynn and Rubio already selected he had no purpose in Minnesota. The national commentators erupted with laughter (3 point guards!) in response to this pick, but that’s mostly because they are irrational morons who either don’t know the facts or choose to ignore them in favor of sensationalism. Here’s hoping Charlotte just barely misses the playoffs this year.
3. Nick Calathes to Dallas for their 2010 2nd Pick. Solid player but he’ll be in Greece for as long as Rubio is in Spain.
4. Sebastian Telfair, Craig Smith and Mark Madsen to the Los Angeles Clippers for Quentin Richardson. Q-Rich is a very unlikeable player and so trading three likeable players for him seemed strange. But alas, this turned out to be one of those 2010 cap savers I mentioned before.
6. Quentin Richardson to Miami for Mark Blount. Whoa, did I say Q-Rich is unlikable? What does that make Blount? He’ll probably be cut or traded before you finish reading this sentence.
7. Darius Songalia and Bobby Brown to New Orleans for Antonio Daniels and a future 2nd Round Pick. This was a very savvy move to save five million dollars off next year’s cap. Daniels has a 0% chance of being on the roster come opening day.
The Wolves didn’t throw down any serious money on players but they did drop a fair amount on their next head coach. Unlike past hires, Dwayne Casey and Randy Wittman, who were given the job as much for their low salary demands as they were their skill and acumen, Kurt Rambis was the most high profile assistant on the market. When his name came up it didn’t seem like a real possibility because that’s just not what the Wolves do. They don’t go after the big names, they go after the big bargains. Right? Well, apparently not anymore. Hiring Rambis, who has two hands full of championship rings, both from his days as a coach and as a player, is sending a message that this thing is for real. He played the bulk of his career with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. He coached the better part of the last decade under Phil Jackson and for Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. When it comes to resume building, it doesn’t really get any better than that. And for those looking for the cosmic tie, he also famously clotheslined Kevin McHale in the 1984 NBA Finals.
Rambis continued the surprises by hiring an equally high profile team of assistants. Reggie Theus, Dave Wohl and Bill Laimbeer will join him on the bench this year and for the foreseeable future. Theus already has heading coaching experience from his short run with Sacramento. Wohl was with Boston when they drafted Al Jefferson and is credited with a lot of his development as a player. Laimbeer won three championships as head coach of the Detroit Shock (WNBA) and will be probably be good for humorous post game quotes.
As for the actual players, the Wolves added three guys that fit two criteria: 1) Young, talented and a healthy upside. 2) A financially low risk contract. Enter Ramon Sessions (23 years old, 4 year deal worth 16 million), Ryan Hollins (25 years old, 3 year deal worth 7 million) and Sasha Pavlovic (25 years old, 1 year contract worth 1.5 million).
Sessions is the most talented of the three and will see the most minutes on the court. Some people questioned why the Wolves would bring him in, even with the knowledge that Rubio won’t be here for a couple of years. I tend to believe that Sessions is part of the long-term plan, as oppose to the other theory which is that he’s merely keeping Rubio’s seat warm. He’s both insurance incase they trade Rubio or a trade asset in case Rubio actually shows up someday. Sessions also lends merit to David Kahn’s claim that he wants to build an up tempo team that utilizes a two point guard system. Detractors claimed that he invented that idea after drafting both Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynn in an attempt to answer critics who loudly and sarcastically questioned “Why would you draft two point guards in the 1st Round?!?!” Apparently, because he wants them to play together.
Hollins technically fits a major team need. He’s long, athletic, a true center and a great shot blocker. That’s all a technicality because he’s yet to put it together in a game that matters for any sustained amount of time. He’s been buried on Dallas’ depth chart but in very limited action has shown some big time potential. Ultimately, however, he’s completely unproven and still very raw despite two years in the league. He could easily boom or bust but for a guy they only need about 10 minutes a game out of he’s a solid prospect.
Sasha’s role on the team isn’t entirely clear but I do expect him to get a fair amount of playing time. The obvious reasons for that include he can play the 2 or the 3, he’s one of the few players on the team that can shoot from long range, they don’t have many other alternatives on roster and they need to showcase his talents. With only a one year contract he’s unlikely to be on this team beyond this one year. That means he’ll be a prime candidate for a deadline deal to some playoff bound team looking for an experienced shooter with the added bonus of being an expiring contract.
The Season Begins
That about sums it up. The season opener is less than two weeks away. Leading up to that, we all witnessed one of the two most eventful offseasons in Timberwolves history. The other being the 2003-04 season, in which they stockpiled talent for a championship run. This year is equally as momentous but for the opposite reason. This offseason was about building a core that will one day contend not just for one championship, but for several, year after year. The answer is yes, Wolves fans, you can say that with a straight face and not be embarrassed.
Posted on: September 1, 2009 10:27 pm
If given the option, I would have prefered a scenario in which Brett Favre stayed retired and Ricky Rubio ditched Europe to suit up for the Minnesota Timberwolves. But it went the other way and we're forced to put the Rubio dream on hold until an unimaginable time in the future called 2011. That's two full NBA seasons from now. All along this was a likely possibility but the apparent finality of the outcome still stings. Something that really needs to be acknowledged: the Wolves made an offer that was accepted by DKV Joventut, as did Barcelona. Rubio could have gone to either locale. He chose Barcelona. This decision was not at all a result of a lack of effort by David Kahn, Glen Taylor and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Let me also clear up the following...
Yes, absolutely, David Kahn did the right thing when he drafted Rubio with the 5th overall pick in June's draft. You'll hear from a lot of revisionists who don't actually know anything, but that won't stop them from saying how bad of a draft pick it was. First of all, Ricky Rubio is the undisputed #2 pick in the 2009 draft if he doesn't have the buyout situation hanging over him. When he was on the board at #5 the Wolves had to take him. If they would have passed on him with both of their picks they would have been signaling to the league and their fanbase that they weren't really serious about building a contender. They would have been signaling that deep down they, as an organization, don't feel entitled to acquire the top talent in the league and instead those players should be reserved for only the biggest of media markets. They would have been signaling to all the other punk ass kids across the Globe that if you pout and whine and make threats you can basically dictate to the NBA where you play. They would have been emphatically signaling that even though the guy running things was new, business was in fact business as usual for an organization with a built up reputation for letting top talent walk away on draft night. Who else should they have taken? DeMar DeRozan? DeRozan at #6 or Wayne Ellington at #29? I take Ellington as an enormous value ten out of ten times. Terrance Williams and Gerald Henderson would have been debacale picks. The only guy who makes any amount of sense is Stephen Curry but him and Jonny Flynn would have been an even worse defensive combo than Rubio and Flynn. Taking Rubio was a risk. No doubt about it. But it was a risk worth taking, regardless of the outcome.
Yes, trading Randy Foye and Mike Miller for the #5 pick, which became Ricky Rubio, was a good trade. Anyone who thinks Foye and Miller were anything more than roleplayers for the Timberwolves who contributed very little to team wins most likely isn't reading this blog. Trading those two marginal talents for a crack at a potential game changing star was a no brainer.
Jonny Flynn is the forgotten man in all of this. Flynn, the ultra charasmatic pure point guard with Chris Paul-like skills, is a Minnesota Timberwolf. He's the guy who grinned his ass off after getting drafted by the Timberwolves. He's the guy who showed up in Minneapolis the next day for the team press conference and spoke of wanting to be part of building a contender. He's the guy who said he was thrilled to be in Minnesota and looked forward to sharing the backcourt with Rubio. He's the guy who looked like an all-star veteran in the Vegas summer league. Yeah, that guy. Post draft there were just as many "experts" who claimed they would have taken Flynn ahead of Rubio as there were the opposite. All things considered, Flynn could very well turn out to be a much better player than the Spanish Golden Child. Rubio seemingly has all the potential and intangible star power in the world but as things are now, Flynn is faster, stronger, more athletic, more suited for the NBA game, a better defender and a better overall scorer. I'm not trying to blast Rubio now that he has scorned America, only highlight that Flynn is a hell of a player in his own right. He's a natural leader and from all accounts a really solid human being. I, honestly, sincerely, hope he takes the starting point guard spot and never even lets Rubio get a look at it.
Ricky Rubio is playing a very dangerous game. Of course, the game he's playing wouldn't be as dangerous if his primary motivation wasn't getting rich beyond his wildest dreams. If he was staying in Spain because he didn't feel like he wasn't ready for the NBA, that would be one thing. If he was staying in Spain because at the age of 18 he didn't feel mature enough to handle the leap to the US of A, that would be another. But this kid wants cash. Plain and simple, he wants to get paid and he followed the biggest pay check. That took him to Barcelona. He stood up before the draft and said it was his ultimate dream to play in the NBA and he would go to whatever team took him. But really, something was lost in translation. What he meant to say or should have said was that he wanted to play in the NBA so long as it was with New York or Los Angeles and he was able to rake in some serious bank by endorsing whatever slew of products offered the biggest pay off. The "for the love of the game" stuff was cute but regrettably turned out to be as transparent as it initially appeared. So the game he is playing is called dollars and cents, but it doesn't make all that much sense. He'll make a few more mil in the very short run but really he's just deferring the only true monster pay day he'll ever get by putting off his NBA career. Two more years until he signs his rookie contract. Four more years after that until he gets his assumed max contract. What could really happen in those six years, you ask? He could get injured playing against Euro trash hacks. He doesn't develop at a fast enough pace. He flat out sucks or is simply average. Jonny Flynn dominates. Out of sight, out of mind - people forget about him because he's toiling away in the middle of Spain somewhere. There's an NBA lock out and rookie salary scales are adjusted for the worse. Any of these factors, amongst many others, could damage or destroy whatever leverage he currently holds. The door to the NBA was wide open, as was the door to Barcelona. He chose his backyard over the big stage. Draw your own conclusions from that one.
If the offer was right, I would trade the rights to Ricky Rubio right now. If he isn't here for two more seasons that means the Wolves will go another two years without landing one of their franchise faces. Are they supposed to simply twiddle their thumbs in the meantime? The Spurs could maybe get away with that. This is a team, however, that hasn't been in the playoffs for four seasons. Two more without Rubio would make six seasons, and that's making the presumptious assumption that they'd make it during his first NBA season. I'm not saying this team needs to make a run immediately, but they do need to be on the upward swing by 2011, not still in full blown talent development. As I said above, Jonny Flynn needs to claim the PG job and make everyone forget about Rubio. Note that I wouldn't give Rubio away for scraps. The trade would have to yield another core player in return. One offer I would explore is dealing Rubio and some expiring contracts to the Clippers for Eric Gordon, one of their garbage contracts and the Wolves old 1st Round Pick back. To my understanding, Rubio has an affordable buyout in 2011 but can still be bought out at any point until then but for some unGodly fee in excess of 8 million dollars. Los Angeles is one of two cities that could make that happen. I know the Clippers like Gordon but I'm betting the allure of paring Rubio and Blake Griffin in the mold of Stockton-Malone would be too much to pass on. Not only would they be able to build around the promise of a future dynasty but they could also begin to challenge the Lakers monopoly on buzz in the city of Angels. The Wolves, on the other hand, get a young and underrated dynamic scorer. Gordon's lights out shooting would pair perfectly with Flynn's drive and dish game. Both Flynn and Gordon are slightly undersized for their positions but they easily make up for that with being abnormally strong and athletic for their positions. A core moving forward of Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, Jonny Flynn, Eric Gordon and 2010 Lottery Pick would be legitimate.
Peace out, ya'll.