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 13, 2009 10:57 pm
School Is In Sessions
Take this latest deal for example. It's hard to get too excited about adding Antonio Daniels or conversly, depressed about losing Darius Songalia or Bobby Brown. So why do this trade? First of all, Bobby Brown makes almost no money and from a talent standpoint is worthless to an NBA squad, but could probably carve out a serviceable niche in the NBDL if given the opportunity. So eliminate his perceived value from the equation. It comes down to Daniels for Songalia. Songalia makes 3 million dollars less than Daniels for this upcoming season, so in the short term it allows New Orleans to add a solid roleplayer and save a little cash. For the Wolves, taking on that extra money doesn't matter because they aren't competing this year anyways. Next year is when the Wolves "win" the trade. Daniels is a straight up expiring contract. They can either package him in a trade to some luxury taxed team at the deadline or simply let his contract expire at season's end. Songalia, on the other hand, has a player option built into his contract next year for 4.9 mil, which he will undoubtedly pick up regardless of where he is playing. The Wolves clear another 5 or so million for the vaunted 2010 NBA offseason. Like I said, yet another savy move for the Wolves while New Orleans, already hemorraghing money, sets itself up for one more run in 2009 and then a brutal firesale to follow.Looking ahead to next offseason, there's a number of past their prime vets like Ray Allen, Tracy McGrady, Richard Hamilon and Steve Nash that would probably serve no purpose to the young and building T-Wolves. Then there's the megastars like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudamire, Joe Johnson and Yao Ming. After that there's the second tier stars like Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, Josh Howard, Rajon Rondo, Michael Redd and Al Harrington. After that there's a ton of quality role players that will be available, but the Wolves are pretty set on roleplayers.
So who in that group can the Wolves seriously land? Is the whole desired location thing being overrated while straight cash, homey is being underrated? If the Wolves nip at some heels this year and give the appearance of a team on the rise will they be able to lure someone to Minnesota on that potential? I have my thoughts on the matter, but what do you think?
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.
Posted on: August 9, 2009 11:02 pm
Edited on: August 10, 2009 11:54 am
THE NEW GUY
Kurt Rambis is the new head coach of the Timberwolves and I really, sincerely, hope he still wears the thick black frame glasses. Given that he's never been a head coach on the NBA level, no one short of maybe recent Lakers' players or coaches really has any idea how good he is. David Kahn certainly believes he's the best candidate. Going off his pedigree alone, Rambis looks like a good with the potential to be great hire.
First and foremost, he was a player for several years on championship contending and winning Laker teams (four championships, to be exact). He wasn't the greatest player but was good enough to stay in the league for fourteen seasons and play on teams that featured Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabar and James Worthy. He went on to work for the Lakers in various front office roles. Most recently, he's been an assistant under Phil Jackson for the past several years. You could argue there aren't many better people to learn from.
Maybe it's the stark contrast of this move compared to anything McHale/Taylor would have done during their reign of terror, but like the other moves made since the Kahn Era began, I'm intrigued by this one. After firing Flipnosis, McTaylor (just made that up) went to the bargain bin for their coaches. First Dwayne Casey, a nice guy but pretty much the definition of career assistant. Then Randy Wittman, literally one of the most losingest coaches in NBA history. Then Kevin McHale, which requires no elaboration whatsoever. Rambis, on the other hand, is not a bargain. He's not anyone's leftovers. It would have been easy to go with a retread like Avery Johnson or Sam Mitchell. It would have been easy to go cheap with an unproven like Mark Jackson or Elston Turner. But they didn't. The Wolves went after the most high profile assistant out there and they ponied up 8 million over 4 years to land him. Like I said, I'm intrigued.
Rambis Fun Fact: During his first year of professional basketball he played in Greece under the name Kyriakos Rambidis.
Rambis Thinking Point: A couple of months ago he turned down the Sacramento Kings offer, which was rumored to be comparable to the one he just agreed to. Why'd he do that? Is it possibly saying that he sees more hope in the Wolves situation? Is he like me and thinks the Maloofs are giant douchebags? Does he actually likes Winter?
GLEN TAYLOR OBSERVATION
It's funny. When Kevin McHale and Glen Taylor were running things Taylor was always the one who came across like the more articulate and prepared of the two. Us fans turned to him for the vision of the Wolves future. Now, in the shadow of Kahn and his overhauling ways Taylor comes off like a bumbling old Grandpa who calls you by your Dad's name and makes reference to people who have been dead for ten years as though they were still living. Just another in a long line of indictments against McHale.
THE OTHER MUCH LESS IMPORTANT NEW GUY
The Wolves signed a young center by the name of Ryan Hollins to an offer sheet. I doubt Dallas will match given that they just signed Drew Gooden and are already over the cap. Hollins is an unproven and an unknown talent and so to make a big deal out of this would be a little premature. He is, however, the type of player they need to compliment Jefferson and Love. A true seven footer, a shotblocker, a leaper, a defender. Most importantly, he won't demand a lot of minutes. The flaw I always saw in the idea of bringing in a Tyson Chandler or Sam Dalembert or in drafting a guy like Hasheem Thabeet is that it would, in effect, delegate Love into a lesser role because those guys would need minutes. Word is that Kahn thinks this kid can be the Wolves' equivilent of Chris "Birdman" Anderson, which certainly puts his planned role into perspective. Youtube Hollins. He's got some nice highlights but he looks like a walking technical foul.
I like this quote from Hollins' ESPN scouting reports: “Hollins is 7 feet tall and a plus athlete who can run the floor and jump, the type of guy who would go 12th in the draft if he was a Serbian 19-year-old.”
NEW YORK SUCKS (and everyone knows it)
Do you get the feeling that the sports media whores are the only people who actually believe that the New York Knicks are the team everyone secretly wants to play for and in 2010 they're gonna sign LeBron AND Wade AND Bosh AND Jesus Himself? Take this offseason, for example. The mighty Knicks have now been scorned by Jason Kidd and Andre Miller. Trevor Ariza would rather play for the McGrady/Ming-less Rockets. David Lee was willing to sign with Memphis instead of return to New York (but in true Grizzly form they instead opted for Zach Randolph). Nate Robinson is giving serious thought to playing in Greece as an alternative to resigning with the Knicks. Ramon Sessions is stalling in hopes that some other team besides New York will offer him a deal, even though they're the only team willing to throw the entire mid-level exception at him. The one guy who is self-serving enough to want to play there is Carlos Boozer. The Knicks would no doubt pay him whatever he wants but of couse that reveals another problem, the Knicks have nothing to trade Utah for him. What? Wilson Chandler? Eddy Curry? How about Jared Jeffries and an autographed John Starks mini-basketball? Did I mention, they're currently working out Jason Williams. Yes, the retired White Chocolate Jason Williams. Good luck in 2010, Knickerbockers.
2009 ALL STAR
Al Jefferson, if healthy, should be a lock for the All-Star game next season. Yao Ming is permanently broken. Shaq is in the Eastern Conference. Carlos Boozer will either be traded to the East or relegated to backing up Paul Milisap. Three open big man spots, plus everyone knows he got screwed last year and if they want to redeem themselves they'll have to vote him in. First All-Star Wolf since KG. Lock it in. It should be a fun weekend with the possibility of Jonny Flynn, Ricky Rubio, Wayne Ellington and Kevin Love in the Rookie/Sophomore game.
Have a good day and thanks for reading.
Posted on: July 27, 2009 5:25 pm
Anthony Carter, Kevin Garnett, Wally Sczcerbiak, Sam Cassell, Eddie Griffin, Ndudi Ebi, Latrell Sprewell, Trenton Hassell, Fred Hoiberg, Ervin Johnson, Mark Madsen, Michael Olowokandi, John Thomas, Dwayne Jones, Flip Saunders
Marcus Banks, Mark Blount, Ricky Davis, Ronald Dupree, Richie Frahm, Marko Jaric, Rashad McCants, Justin Reed, Nikoli Tskitishvili, Bracey Wright, Lionel Chalmers, Dwayne Casey
Randy Foye, Mike James, Craig Smith, Brandon Roy, Bobby Jones, Loukas Mavrokafelidas
Corey Brewer, Greg Buckner, Michael Doleac, Chris Richard, Kirk Snyder, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Antoine Walker, Wayne Simian, Juwon Howard, Randy Wittman
Kevin Love, Mike Miller, OJ Mayo, Brian Cardinal, Jason Collins, Calvin Booth, Rodney Carney, Kevin Ollie, Shelden Williams, Bobby Brown Nikola Pekovic, Kevin McHale
2009 & counting
Etan Thomas, Darius Songalia, Oleksiy Pecherov, Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Nick Calathes, Henk Norel, Quentin Richardson, Chucky Atkins, Damien Wilkins
*** I included players who were never actually signed as long as their rights were at one point held by the Timberwolves. For example, OJ Mayo is listed even though he never actually played a game for the Wolves. Still, I feel it's relevant because it shows transaction frequency.
Posted on: July 27, 2009 5:17 pm
Edited on: July 27, 2009 5:41 pm
The Wolves continue to wheel and deal talent at a video game like pace. Today, they sent Etan Thomas, a 2010 2nd Round Pick and a conditional 2010 2nd Round Pick to Oklahoma City for Chucky Atkins and Damien Wilkins. At first, one sees the involved players and most likely yawns. But for a moment, consider the deeper implications. For the fanatics and capologists and capologist wanna-bes out there there's more to this trade than meets the eyes. Why else would either team do it?
For the Zombie Sonics I assume they felt that with their glut of guards and need for a big man the trade made sense. Everyone involved is playing in the final year of their contract so there's no financial obligation beyond this upcoming season. They also probably felt like they were able to condense their roster a bit. Plus, they got a couple of 2nd Round Picks. All valid reasons to make the trade. For the Wolves, they balance a roster short on guards. But that, I suspect, is merely a bi-product. My gut instinct, which is based on Kahn's short but spastic history, tells me this is just another piece to the puzzle. Sure, Chucky Atkins could provide veteran PG council to Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio without demanding many minutes. And sure, Damien Wilkins is a very solid all-around wing player, who on a side note, I've been a big fan of for years. Those things make sense but in the end this trade, just like the Q-Rich deal, will be exposed as another cog in the wheel, another link in the chain, another anal in the analogy.
Consider this, Etan Thomas is slated to make 7.9 mil in 2009-10. Chucky Atkins will make 3.48 mil and Damien Wilkins 3.4, together totaling 6.88 million. Also, only $748,00 of Atkins' salary is guaranteed. Bust a little math, round some stuff for simplicity sake, and you learn that the Wolves are only on the hook for 4.2 million between these two players next year. That means in this trade alone they saved 3.7 million. Given that every rational NBA mind won't try to justify Etan, Chucky or Dominique's Nephew as relevant, the Wolves essentially just sold one or maybe two 2nd Round Picks for 3.7 million buckarooss. The Zombies no doubt have their reasons, but I gotta appreciate the savy by David Kahn on this one.
Sure, the average fan will say "Who cares about Glen "Billionaire" Taylor saving a few dollars. Why don't they trade for some real talent instead of lining their pockets?" At any other point throughout the last ten seasons I probably would have agreed with them. But these are different times. The ill-conceived, penny pinching, blind leading the blind, mediocrity inducing ways of McHale/Taylor are officially dead. This is the Kahn/Taylor Era and we can all plainly see who wears the pants in this relationship. To his credit, Taylor recognized he had completely lost touch with modern day basketball and did what he had to do to fix that. Also to his credit, he went with the guy he liked and not who the fans were clamouring for (David Kahn never would have been hired had the fans had any say). A third and final credit to Taylor, he has stayed completely out of the way. Hardly a peep from the guy since Kahn was hired. Kahn still has a lot to prove as a talent evaluator, but as I've said over and over again, it's at the very least refreshing to be under leadership that you trust is making things happen and not just accepting what comes to them.
FUN FACT: Including the two most recent acquisitions today and the inevitable hiring of a new head coach, over the past 5 seasons (2004 - present) the Wolves have acquired the rights or hired 72 different players and head coaches. I repeat, 72 players/head coaches since 2004. Definitely not the trademark of a winning franchise, but amazing nonetheless. That's roughly the equivalent of six complete roster revolutions. Don't believe me, check this link:
(Seriously, check it out. It'll be a trip down memory lane, with unfortunately too many bad memories).
THE WOLVES WILL BE THE WORST TEAM IN THE LEAGUE NEXT YEAR AND IT WONT EVEN BE CLOSE
This is a common sentiment I've been hearing and reading lately and I'd like to take a brief moment to refute it. I've got no illusions of a playoff berth or even a +.500 record, but I see no reason why this team won't exceed last year's win total. Leaving Rubio and Rodney Carney out of the equation for the moment as their situations are currently unresolved, the only main contributors they lost are Randy Foye, Mike Miller and Sebastian Telfair. On the flip, they've added Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington and Quentin Richardson. Foye lost the team more games than he helped win. That's a fact. Miller was an enigma and I wouldn't at all be surprised if Wayne Ellington proves more valuable. At the very least, Q-Rich will match his production. I really believe that Jonny Flynn will be in the top three for Rookie of the Year if Rubio doesn't come over and substantially better than Telfair in every facet of the game. And most importantly, Al Jefferson missed half of last season. If he doesn't do that this year I see no reason why this team is not only way more entertaining, but also just flat out better.
David Kahn spent most of last week in Spain meeting with Rubio and his people. Everyone has been really quiet since then, which could either be a good thing or a bad thing. David Stern is sending a team of league salary cap officers over this week to iron some more stuff. Again, could be good, could be bad.
Down to three, according to most sources. There may be an announcement by the end of this week. The next Wolves head coach will most likely be Kurt Rambis (Lakers Assistant), Mark Jackson (Analyst) or Elston Turner (Rockets Assistant). All three have pros and I'd have a hard time criticizing any of them right off the bat, as I don't know enough about them. I have heard that Kahn's philosophy on head coaches is to get a guy the players like and will play for, which explains the Rambis and Jackson factors. Assistants can handle the technicalities but a head coach needs to get through to the players over the course of an 82 game schedule.
Posted on: July 21, 2009 12:05 am
Edited on: July 21, 2009 12:18 am
Mandatory Rubio Allotment
David Kahn is currently in Spain doing God knows what to convince DKV to free Rubio. For that to happen they'll need to lower their buyout demands. I continue to predict, as I have all along, that Ricky Rubio will play for the Timberwolves this season. I base this prediction on info I've pulled from various sources that has successfully passed my common sense filter. A week or so ago Chad Ford (ESPN toolbox/douche bag hybrid) had to swallow his pride and go back on all of his erroneous 'Rubio wants to play in New York' reporting and break the verified news that Rubio's camp has no problem whatsoever playing in Minnesota. In fact, they were very open to the idea. The problem from the beginning was that when Rubio fell to #5 he lost out on contract money that would have helped with the buyout.
The course of events over the past two weeks has made it look increasingly clear that Rubio is on his way. First, Dan Fegan, Rubio's agent, flew to Las Vegas to meet with Kahn and Glen Taylor. Then Kahn announced he was flying to Spain to meet with Rubio and his people. Then Rubio dropped his lawsuit against his Spainish team, DKV (this was a stipulation before they would agree to negotiate his buyout). You could even look at today's trade of Sebastian Telfair as further evidence the Timberwolves are clearing a path for the kid's arrival.
The word is Kahn went to Spain loaded with creative "solutions" in order to accelerate the process. One such solution is the Timberwolves organization becoming long term business affiliates with DKV. This would be in the form of publicity, annual scrimmages, off-season camps and other money generating arrangements. In theory, this partnership would effectively be worth a few million dollars and placate DKV enough to lower Rubio's buyout and at the same time get by the NBA's limit on buyout money, which is a measley $500,000. Now before visions of Joe Smith dance into your head, rest assured that this is totally legal and has been done before. The Houston Rockets, for example, poured all sorts of money into Yao Ming's Chinese team in a similar fashion.
One theory I like is centered around the drafting of 2nd round pick, Henk Norel. Who, you ask? Exactly. He's some marginal talent who shockingly no draft expert had going in the actual draft this year. Yet the Wolves mysteriously took him in the 2nd round. During the McHale era one could have simply shrugged this off as another McHale blunder but what we're coming to realize in the current era is that Kahn actually plots and schemes and plans stuff out in advance. A novel concept. Norel happens to also play for DKV and is a good friend of Rubio. Not only could the prospect of playing with a friend ease the transition to the NBA for an 18 year old kid but the Wolves could also buyout Norel for the max $500,000 although he's probably worth more like $500. That way DKV gets a cool million towards the buyout effort even though the money technically came from two different buyouts. Stay tuned.
Still ongoing. Rumors have the pool down to former point guard and current analyst, Mark Jackson (makes sense because of his connections to Kahn when they were both with Indiana and hiring a former PG to mentor Rubio and Flynn would be ideal), current Rockets assistant Elston Turner who is partially credited for Houston's potent offense, and current Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis (check it - http://thesportshernia.typepad.com/
Four relevant players partook in this year's Summer League for the Wolves, Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington, Corey Brewer and Oleksy Pecherov. Flynn was incredible. Faster than anyone on the court. Great vision. Under the Foye/Cassell years at PG I forgot how awesome a true point guard is. They put a mic on him one game and the rumors of his oncourt leadership appear to be completely true. Most impressively, he not only got to the rim at will but also displayed the strength to take contact and finish. His physical appearance and movement on the court reminds me of Chris Paul. Wayne Ellington was shakey to start but calmed down and did exactly what the Wolves need him to do: score. He can flat out shoot and I saw him getting a lot of praise from league execs in interviews. Brewer was a trainwreck in three of the games, didn't play in one and looked really good in the finale. It was his first basketball since tearing his ACL so you've got to cut him some slack, but he showed enougn to confirm my suspicions: the team won't be able to count on him for anything heading into this year. Anything they get from Brewer will be a bonus. Pecherov is a legit 7 footer with a legit 3 point shot. I don't know if he's much of a post player but he can definitely shoot and that should be a nice compliment to the down low games of Jefferson and Love.
Other Summer League news: Blake Griffin was a manchild. Simply dominant. Brandon Jennings was better than expected. Tyreke Evans was a mini-Blake Griffin. Stephen Curry averaged 33 minutes a game and shot 33% from the field. Yikes. Hasheem Thabeet was every bit as akward and weak as his detractors predicted he would be. James Harden was forgettable. Non rookie, Anthony Randolph (27 PPG, 9 REBS, 3 BLKS) was freakishly good. Calm yourself, Randy Foye won Vegas Summer League MVP one year.
By all reports he is well ahead of schedule and expected to be fully ready to go at the start of training camp.
As you've probably heard, the Wolves traded Craig Smith, Sebastian Telfair and Mark Madsen to the Clippers for Quentin Richardson. In terms of cap room, the Wolves won. In terms of likability, the Clippers won in a landslide. This move is all about money. The Wolves will shave another 3 million off their total salary next, making them a stronger player in free agency. Reports that the Wolve have found their future shooting guard with this trade are dead wrong. He'll get minutes because by default they only have one other 2 guard on roster but I'll be stunned if he survives on this team past the trade deadline. Q-Rich Fun Fact: Over the last month he has been traded three times (New York to Memphis, Memphis to LA, LA to Minnesota).
On the real, Smith, Telfair and Mad Dog are by all accounts cool guys. Telfair, in particular, seems like grounded person and I believe will have a long career in the NBA. I hope to see Madsen on the bench wearing a suit as an assistant the second he retires. As a fan, I appreciate their time on this team.