Have you ever seen the movie Sliding Doors?I haven't, but I hear it's decent (although Paltrow's shining performance was her breakout minor role as a teenage Wendy in 1992's Hook. Trust me, she is in the movie. I promise/Rufio.). From what I understand, the basic premise of the movie outlines the simple choices we make and how they affect the larger outcomes. The film is split into two parts, and shows us what would happen in the main character's life based on whether she catches a train or not, presenting both outcomes to the viewer. A great idea for a movie. I'd like to see a non-chick flick version. So, aside from tears, boredom and frustration, what does a forgotten chick flick possibly have to do with the Wolves?
February has arrived. For the past several years, this has been the outlier in the season-long "Fan Interest Bell Curve." For just a three week period we can hope the Wolves will make a significant splash in the trade market. A splash that would end our futile attempt to develop any more excuses for a team that, quite frankly, has little to no championship potential without significant and dramatic personnel changes. There is little to discuss from a game recap perspective. Instead, Wolvesdom starts dreaming up ludicrous trade scenarios, and starts the draft talk nearly 150 days before it transpires. Rinse.Wash. Repeat. Jump off a Bridge.
Over the next three weeks, which could be one of the most pivotal times in franchise history, Kahn and Kahmpany have a few choices to make. Their choices will set the tone for the next 5-7 years. Kahn can either A) Stand pat and keep our expiring contracts, maybe make a minor-to-moderate deal, and hope for the best in what could be an extremely disappointing NBA Free Agent class (more on this later) or B) Cash in on over $20 million in expirings and draft picks and shoot for the moon in mid-February. There are only two choices, and the decision is much more difficult and misleading than it seems. But first, we need to all come to terms with 9 "simple" realities. I'll break it down, along with why i think making a big trade may be a mistake, below the fold.
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1. The goal is to win a championship.
- In considering trade scenarios, ask yourself if the returns could put the Wolves at a championship level. Will we be saddled with a terrible contract that prevents us from making additional moves, and will the player perform beyond a high scoring average? Does a quality acquisition via trade have enough years of star play to actually be worthwhile long term?
2. Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, and Jonny Flynn are not franchise players
- Outlandish prediction (I am currently 0/10 on outlandish predictions this season, my first being a pre-season slam of Brandon Jennings): The three will combine for 3-4 All-Star appearances. Al Jefferson will make the team next year (on or off the Wolves), and maybe twice more. Flynn and Love might make it once each. This is not to discredit their impact at all, but I see Flynn as an Aaron Brooks-level PG, and Love as a Brad Miller-type player at his peak. This is not a bad thing. It is a-ok if Kahn can build a team around guys who provide enough intangibles to win games versus a monster scorer (an approach that fails 8 times out of 10 if we are talking championship-level here. LeBron and Kobe are exceptions, but they provide much more). The team has to be built carefully. Flynn and Love have the potential to be game-changing X-factors who can put up monster games once every few weeks. But neither are face-of-the-franchise players.
- Al is on the same level as Iggy (although Iggy is more of an all-around, athletic swingman), Kevin Martin and Monta Ellis as big-time scorers who do little in leading their respective teams in the win column. Consider Kobe Bryant. What makes Kobe, Kobe? Besides being named after an animal carcass and being a douchebag, is it his scoring average, or is it his ability to take over games in clutch situations and carry his team on his back? Can Al Jefferson or Kevin Martin do that? Can Kevin Love? No, but Martin can hit open jumpers and Al has excellent post moves when the opposing D is lacking intensity in the first 40 minutes. Love can grab key rebounds and spread the floor, and Flynn can flail into the lane and turn it over while failing to draw the foul. Again, intangibles.
3. The team isn't "young"
- Who here is sick of hearing the "we're still young" excuse? We get that Jonny Flynn and Kevin Love are young, but look at some of our key rotation players: Al Jefferson is 25 (and in his 6th season), Ryan Gomes is 27, Damien Wilkins is 30, Brian Cardinal is 32, Ryan Hollins is 25, Sasha Pavlovic is 26, Mark Blount is 34 and Sid Hartman is 263. That amounts to an average age of 58 years old. Is age really the issue here? Or does it come down to lack of talent? This is a great interlude to the next point:
- Look, in dissecting points 1 and 2, do you honestly see anyone on our roster as the leader of a championship team? If the goal here is to rise to a championship-level roster, we need to prepare ourselves for some risky moves. If the right deal comes along for anyone on the roster (with the exception of Rubio, who has the potential to be transformational, not to mention a global icon, another huge factor here) in which the Wolves receive quality, proven pieces without bad contracts who are also from winning environments, you do it. However, let's stop drooling over guys who average 15-20 points per game, yet their teams have a double-digit % chance of winning the draft lottery because:
- Common theme starting here. Just because a given player averages 20 points per game, that does not necessarily make him a leader on a championship-level team. Can this player: hit a big shot in crunch time? Exhibit positive leadership qualities? Demonstrate good shot selection? Put up equal effort on the defensive end? Share the ball and make his teammates better? Create his own shot if the offensive flow is off? Be willing to take a dip in scoring for the betterment of the team? Put up those numbers in a winning environment in a 5 man game? Not eat up 40% of a payroll? Put up wins no matter which team he plays for? Again, the importance of intangibles. We are warming up to the trade talk here:
- With the exception of the Celtics' offseason in 2007, I do not recall a team acquiring "stars" from losing teams and creating a championship contender. It simply doesn't work. There are too many factors involved here, and they start and end with the questions outlined in the last point. However, trading Jefferson for a comparable player such as Martin, Iggy, Granger etc. would be the definition of a lateral move. Any of those players likely produce the same number of wins in the end for the Wolves.
- It's Danny Granger's scoring average that, for whatever reason, leads us to believe he would score in wake of Jefferson and immediately make this team better. I fail to understand why that would happen. He has somewhat decent role players in Indy and his team is in the dreadful 10-12 draft range every year, which is the equivalent to NBA hell. Trust me, it's much better to be the Wolves than the Pacers. Consider this: what if Granger averaged 16.5 points per game versus 22, but grabbed 7.0 rebounds vs 5.6 per game, threw 4 assists versus 2.7, averaged 1.5 blocks as opposed to .9, shot 45% as opposed to a quite low 40%, and shot 39% from 3pt territory, a 5% improvement? I'll bet the favortisim of an Al for Granger trade drops through the floor. But, strangely, in the end, which overall stat line is actually more appealing when you really boil down to it? The more balanced version? Probably. And that is why scoring stats can be so misleading. It's just over a 5 point decrease in scoring that is quickly made up by a respectable shooting % and an increase in assists and rebounds. BTW, ironically, the "better" statline here is very smiilar to Iggy's. Would you trade Al for Iggy? Questions....
- Some could argue that a scoring wing is simply the final piece to the offense. Sure, fair point, but if the price is Jefferson, we once again have no player on the roster who can create their own shot in the post with consistency, something we all likely would take for granted. Thus, we would spend the next 10 years trying to find that "post scorer." The last piece. Haven't the Bulls been trying to do this since 2002? Fringe playoff team with a coach who looks like Jesus Christ? Yep, that's the Bulls!
- That is not to say you don't carefully consider a trade for Andre Iguodala if we only have to give up mediocre draft picks and expiring contracts. Not doing so would be silly. But the odds of that happening are as slim as Stojko Vrankovic having a highly-publicized affair with Lady GaGa. So we are looking at about 38% odds. Leading to the next point:
- Consider the Iguodala talk. No way would Philadelphia trade him to the Wolves for expiring contracts alone. Same goes for Sacramento, Golden State or Memphis. In order to acquire another team's first or second best player, you have to give up a little more than expiring contracts alone. Consider the other team's goal. If you are rebuilding, young talent and draft picks are a must. Even in the Pau Gasol trade, Memphis received underrated Marc Gasol, Javaris Crittenton (considered a worthwhile prospect at the time), a large expiring deal and 2 first round picks from the Lakers. It was considered one of the most lopsided trades of the last 20 years. With that said, I'm sure Philadelphia's GM is lying awake at night in heat, dreaming of these wonderful offers of Cardinal, Blount and Brewer for Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert.
- Also consider a hypothetical trade of Cardinal, Sessions and 2 first round picks for Kevin Martin. Does a lineup up Flynn, Martin, Brewer, Love, Jefferson win us a championship? Absolutely not. We would still have a chance to add John Wall and more free agents with cap space though, right? Oh wait, wrong:
- If it didn't, the player(s) acquired for expirings sure as hell were not worth trading for. I will admit the lineup suggested above would no doubt skyrocket us into the 24-win pantheon. We would be marginally better for the next 5 years, maybe scratching the playoffs here and there. But in doing so we could miss our chance at a truly transformational player in John Wall or Evan Turner. Oh we would get a nice player in the 6-9 range (remember we owe our pick to the Clippers, too!) and remain in contract/mediocrity hell for 3 years, but hey, it's 40-50 games of Kevin Martin per season.
- I do want to say I am NOT advocating doing things to "improve" our draft position (i.e tanking). But simply and boldly put, at this stage in the game the best possible thing to do for this franchise is secure a top choice in this draft. Consider every contending team, with the exception of Boston. All were built by scouting and drafting quality players. Of course, key players were added via free agency and trade, but the core guy came from the draft.
- Speaking of which, as of now the Wolves are a 5-game swing away from the 8th pick, and are currently playing good basketball. This could still happen without a trade! Isn't that a terrifying thought? Oh the trials and tribulations of following this team...
8b. Trading expirings means less cap space this summer and in the future.
- Any NBA GM honestly thinking they have a chance at signing LeBron James or Dwyane Wade away from their current teams is off their rocker (including Donnie "fossil" Walsh). 2010 Free Agency is the most overhyped pile of steaming, Northern Minnesota cow pie since the selection of Darko Milicic. So, should the Wolves be in a position to sign a free agent, we will likely get a couple solid role players such as Travis Outlaw, Joel Przybilla and Will Bynum at best. Rudy Gay is a distant maybe.
- I guess the concept is simple, but in case of retardation, if we acquire a vet by trading expiring money this month, we will have exhausted a significant amount of cap space by moving our expiring money for a longer term contract.
- Long term implications exist as well. Do we want to saddle ourselves with huge deals from guys like Ellis and Iggy in lieu of the Collective Bargaining Agreement becoming the next Hiroshima experiment? Nope. And why would a Dalembert/Iggy trade be good for the long term health of our franchise again? Oh wait, that would suck. Especially considering the team they lead is shocking the NBA with an eye-popping 16 wins.
- Let's shoot for the moon here and say Mark Blount, Ramon Sessions, the rights to Pekovic, and the Jazz first rounder for Monta Ellis. Ellis, coming from a losing team and being a me-first whiner like most of the guys at his level, brings us within the 6-8 draft range with his scoring.
- Come draft day we draft DeMarcus Cousins at 8 and Devin Ebanks with the Charlotte pick.
- Sign a backup PG such as Will Bynum or Luke Ridnour with our leftover cap space.
A nice team if you ask me, aside from the nightmarish locker room and lack of leadership. Does it compete for a championship? Absolutely not. Maybe an 8th seed or a bottom-half-of-the-bracket team for the next 5-7 years, after which the team is forced to rebuild once again comfortably in their new arena located in Boise, Idaho. You could apply this scenario to any available swing-man. Really.
Option B - No trade or minor trade
- Not wanting to jeopardize our draft position, Kahn declines a trade for Kevin "The Glass Menagerie" Martin, instead opting for a trade of Ryan Gomes, Pecherov and the Rights to Pekovic to Golden State for Anthony Morrow and Speedy Claxton (I know, kind of a lot for us to give up, but I just really like Morrow, ok? Shoot me.). Morrow provides best-in-class 3 point shooting as a role player off the bench (Martin's greatest strength might I add), which doesn't jeopardize our draft position. Claxton arrives as an additional expiring deal.
- Wolves finish 29th, win the #2 spot on the lottery and draft Evan Turner (you have to assume the Wolves won't win the lottery). The Wolves then pick up a mortified Greg Monroe who slips to 16, and Willie Warren at 21. Euros in the 2nd round. Warren is traded for a future pick to offset the loss of the Clipper pick in 2011. Wolves fans everywhere send a pre-Independence Day e-card to Marko Jaric in thanks.
- With our cap space we still have, the Wolves make an obscene offer sheet to Rudy Gay. Memphis most likely matches, sending the Grizzlies into financial ruin, but hey, maybe not.
- Assuming Memphis matches (thus saving the Wolves from what would likely be a nightmare, franchise-killing contract), we sign recently recovered Travis Outlaw to a very reasonable deal from Portland after every other top tier free agents re-signs with their current team. This causes what could potentially be one of the most lopsided seasons record-wise in 2010-2011 as rebuilding teams suffer with no talented personnel to add to the mix. Here is your lineup: