I’ve asked for one thing throughout this… just don’t get David Lee

Zach Harper —  June 19, 2014 — 20 Comments

LoveLee

Kevin Garnett got traded.

Not like, recently, but he got traded back in 2007 when the dream of the Minnesota Timberwolves putting something significant around one of the greatest all around players ever to lace up the kicks had been taken off of life support. Because of the soul-sucking numbness that trade caused 25-year old Zach Harper (YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT! THIRD PERSON TALK, SON!), the eventual trade of Kevin Love hasn’t left me devastated or annoyed or angry. It’s just been something that we all knew was a possibility when David Kahn put the Wolves in the situation of three years with an opt out.

I won’t pretend I was outraged at the time. I wrote that it put pressure on the organization and it was something that would force them to become good or risk losing him. I’m a big fan of forcing the cream to rise to the top because it weeds out who belongs and who doesn’t belong. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for the Wolves. Their two best chances at making the playoffs came the last two seasons. In 2012-13, they were decimated by injuries and couldn’t field decent teams. In 2013-14, the Wolves simply weren’t good enough and the clock was ticking on Kevin Love’s free agency.

Love will be traded. He’s not going to stay. And it’s on the Wolves’ management/owner/coach to bring back the best return in a deal that will almost always be a losing cause. Therein lies the problem of the entire situation. 

The rumor coming out of Klay Thompson’s dad’s radio mouth today, which ended up coming from a source from ESPN apparently, was Thompson and David Lee possibly being dealt to the Wolves in exchange for Love and Kevin Martin. There may be a first round pick from the Golden State Warriors involved. Maybe Harrison Barnes could be involved in the deal too? We’re not quite sure what the exact specifics are right now and it probably won’t matter what they are right now anyway. Trade rumors and negotiations are going to change hourly as teams leak out certain things to drum up interest or cause panic for other teams involved. That’s just the game.

What bothers me here is Flip Saunders and his role in the negotiations with a trade like this. I had very little problems with Flip Saunders the part-owner and president of basketball operations. I didn’t blindly believe in him, but I understood what he was trying to do with the roster last summer and I think it was a solid attempt at making the playoffs. It just didn’t work out for a few reasons we don’t need to get into here. Throw the coaching title onto Saunders and I wonder what the motivation of a trade like the Lee and Thompson for Love and Martin truly is.

The Wolves were just good enough to be in the playoff hunt for the majority of the season but they weren’t good enough to actually be close by the end of the season. If you move Martin for Thompson, you’re getting a nice upgrade at the shooting guard position. Thompson is a great outside shooter (although Martin was pretty good too) and he’s a solid defender (Martin is clearly not). But bringing in David Lee to replace Kevin Love, even if it’s not the long-term plan, is a horrendous idea. To me, this feels like the Wolves are trying to remain competitive and pretending this is a team that can make the playoffs.

I’m of the belief that if you’re going to move Love — and they kind of have to unless they want to risk losing him for next to nothing or nothing — then you should be doing a proper rebuild. You should get cap relief and young, cheap assets to go with a couple of first round picks. That’s how you trade away your star. You don’t grab a worse player at the same position for the same money, which is what $30 million to David Lee over the next two seasons would be. The idea that Lee being a 20-10 guy makes him an acceptable replacement or placeholder for the position is asinine. He’s not even close to the passer Love is and he can’t stretch the floor at all. He’s also a worse scorer and a worse rebounder.

But he puts up pretty fantasy basketball stats while actually providing a downgrade on defense when replacing Love. Let all of that soak in.

The contract situation this deal brings is also quite troublesome. The Wolves make this move and it means they’re trying to compete for the 8-seed in 2014-15. This means the team is hoping to keep Ricky Rubio (not a bad thing) and they’re going to keep Nikola Pekovic around (not necessarily a bad thing). Klay Thompson doesn’t want to be on the Wolves. He doesn’t want to go from one of the better teams in the West to a team that isn’t going to make the playoffs. To keep a guy like that, you have to spend.

Thompson is due an extension this offseason or he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Here’s the rub with that kind of situation for the Wolves. If you want to get him to sign the extension, you’re maxing him out for four years. If he goes to restricted free agency, a team will overbid to wrestle him away. That means you’re either matching a big contract at the max or close to it, or you’re letting him walk after having him as the key player you get back when you traded Love.

While the cap is projected to be a bit higher, the best example of what that trade will look like is the same trade Eric Gordon got with the Pelicans. Gordon received four years and $58 million. That would put Thompson’s first year around $13.6 million in 2015-16. That will also be the first year of a Rubio extension, which for argument’s sake we’ll pretend is around $11 million per season.

So in 2015-16, the Wolves will be paying $52.3 million to a core of Rubio, Pekovic, Thompson, and Lee. That core is unlikely to be good enough to make the playoffs, unless we see a mass exodus of talent heading toward the Eastern Conference. The pick the Wolves would be getting from Golden State would not be until 2016 at the earliest, which is when the Warriors will likely be picking in the late 20′s for the next few years. You can get good players in the late 20′s, but I’m not sure that should be your best young asset in a trade.

Let’s say they add Harrison Barnes to the trade. He’s a nice, young role player. But his confidence was shot last year, he was beat out of the rotation by Draymond Green, and he can’t dribble a basketball against a defender without making it look like he’s dribbling a football. He’s not a special 3-point shooter (35.2% on 335 career attempts). He can’t really hit shots outside of being at the rim. And he’s not a playmaker by any means. You’d risk having Rubio as the only player in a lineup who can dribble a basketball against pressure. Sure, Barnes could develop those skills, but I’m not sure you can sell “hey this guy might get much better than what he’s shown” to fans.

The Wolves would be getting nice pieces, but it looks like they’re getting nice pieces in the hopes of being competitive. I say screw being competitive and actually work toward being good. Burn it all to the ground (more on this in another post coming up). Acquire actual cheap assets. Get cap relief and draft picks in the process. And for the love of Pek, don’t acquire David Lee. He’s not an acceptable replacement for Love and he doesn’t help you compete for a playoff spot with this roster. He keeps you on the treadmill in the 10-12 range. You’re moving quite a bit but you never actually go anywhere. You just get tired.

Flip Saunders has to make this deal for what’s good for Saunders the part-owner and Saunders the PoBO; he can’t make this deal for what’s also good for Saunders the coach. That’s what I fear he’d be doing with a deal like this. It looks nice on paper, unless that paper is in a ledger. In reality, it makes the roster situation rudderless and murky without actually acquiring assets you’d need to rebuild.

I don’t know how the Wolves maximize this position. I like the rumored Denver deal that brings back Kenneth Faried (although he’s not all that good either and is due an extension soon too), Wilson Chandler (movable asset with two years left and only one guaranteed), and the 11th pick (allegedly somehow they’d get Arron Afflalo too but that’s confusing) much better than this one. I like the rumored Bulls deal of Boozer/Gibson, Mirotic, and two first round picks (and possibly Jimmy Butler) much better in terms of flipping pieces for assets. I like the Celtics deal of getting the 6th pick, whichever bad first round picks they’ve made the last two years that we pretend have value, and future first round picks much better than this deal.

For the love of this Summer of Love, call up Phoenix and ask them for Markieff Morris, the 14th pick, the Lakers’ 2015 pick, and the Wolves’ pick owed in 2015 (top 12 protected in 2015 and 2016, otherwise it becomes second round picks in 2016 and 2017). Get cap relief, get a real young asset on the cheap, and get draft picks. Don’t get David Lee. It’s literally not worth it.

Zach Harper

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20 responses to I’ve asked for one thing throughout this… just don’t get David Lee

  1. Do you see any 3rd team willing to take the Lee contract in a deal with the Warriors? 30 million is a lot of money in 2 years, but it is still only a 2 year deal which isn’t a bad term length. Maybe the Warriors pick can go to the team taking on Lee along with Barnes. Maybe a 3 way trade with Philly where MN gets Thad Young and Klay, GS gets Love and Martin and Philly gets Lee, Barnes and a future first from GS. They can take Embiid at 3 to go with Noel so Lee is covered defensively at all times. They have to hit the salary floor anyway and it’s not like Lee would mess up their chances at another top pick if they wanted. Flip gets to remain competitive with 2 proven players for Love and GS becomes an offensive juggernaut solely relying on Bogut and Iggy’s health to have any defensive ability whatsoever.

  2. Totally agreed – the sad part is that Flip will probably make this trade because he thinks it is the trade most likely to keep the team competitive and he would be dead wrong. If there is anything David Lee has proven after nine years in the NBA, it is that he is the NBA player equivalent of mashed potatoes. Good, goes with everything, but you shouldn’t overpay for it and if it’s the best thing on the plate your dinner sucks. As he has proven with the Knicks and the Warriors, he has zero impact on whether a team wins 25 or 55 games.

    Klay Thompson to me is just Eric Gordon 2.0, a very good player (pre-injury EG) who is absolutely not worth the max and will just cripple the desperate small market team that gives him a max deal which is the best case scenario if the Wolves trade for him. I know that Flip is hoping that he is actually more like James Harden 2.0 but I seriously doubt it (and it is actually not so clear at the moment even James Harden 2.0 would be the ideal centerpiece of a contending team). Also, the effort he has shown on defense playing for the Warriors will vanish once he gets to be the No. 1 guy on a bad team and he can just gun for 28 a night so he can get paid in 2016. But other than basically trading Kevin Love and Kevin Martin for a younger Kevin Martin you can overpay in 2 years, there is no downside to getting Klay Thompson.

    Harrison Barnes is an OK prospect but he also makes $8 million guaranteed the next two years, and locking in a guy who already makes rotation player money on the chance he develops into a rotation player is kind of a fool’s bet. Why not go sign Jimmer Fredette, Jeff Adrien or Xavier Henry or some other cheap young prospect for the minimum if you’re going to take a flyer? To me he is as much a potential burden as he is a potential asset.

    I hope they make that deal with Chicago, at least Mirocic creates some intrigue and would come in relatively cheap.

  3. Completely agree about this team’s need for a rebuild. Also an interesting way of contrasting that need with Saunders as coach and maybe his motivations to coach a team that is good now.

  4. I know this sounds almost archaic to say given the Spurs just “team basketballed” their way past the game’s greatest player and two time champs, but this is still a SUPERSTAR driven league. If we must give up our superstar, than we must find a trade that gives us the best chance receiving one in return. And like Zach said, this means tearing most of it up and acquiring YOUTH.

    Klay is a solid two-way guard who we could use on this team, but he certainly doesn’t have superstar potential. He’s a known quantity and a limited athlete. Harrison Barnes (who I’m assuming would be involved in this deal because it’s just god-awful without him) will probably find a way to be a starting caliber SF in this league, but again, certainly not a superstar. David Lee is a very serviceable PF, but at $15 million he drowns you from a salary-cap perspective.

    Now, a starting five of Rubio, Klay, Barnes, Lee, and Pek with a bench of Brewer, Gorgui, Bazz + others COULD be good enough to get us into the playoffs if it all comes together (if Phoenix could almost do it, why not this team?). That said, the 7th or 8th seed would be topping out, which means no lottery pick and a smaller chance at acquiring that superstar we so desperately need. We will be treading water while the likes of Thompson, Rubio and maybe even Barnes start to eye greener pastures. Void of a superstar or budding superstar, this team would have no future (with the caveat being the unknown trajectory of Gorgui or the assets he or Pek could fetch in return). And unless the second coming of Kobe Bryant is available at pick 13 this year, I don’t see us really pushing the needle from a youth perspective.The trade scenarios involving Chicago, Denver, and Phoenix would likely play out the same.

    In my mind, it’s superstar (potential) or bust. Treading water just won’t due. Look at what you can get from Boston. See if Cleveland is open to dealing now that Embiid is hurt. The trade scenarios with GS, Chicago, Denver, and Phoenix may keep this team competitive, but if you’re not trying to compete for championships, what are you doing? Glen Taylor and Flip may want a winner now, but that’s just not what’s right for the future of this team.

  5. This team isn’t as bad as everything makes it out to be. With Love and everyone healthy, it was a 50 win team. Everyone said that last year and it showed in how they could dominate teams so frequently (and lose just as frequently). It just happened that Adleman didn’t teach defense and we choked in the 4th. And I like Adleman and respect him, but his decisions to not play some of the younger guys, Shabazz, Dieng, etc. hurt the team. Losing Love will hurt, but it’s not going to sink the ship. And you never know, Love is Smart, he might be playing his cards to get a real max deal, not a Kahn semi-max deal. If it doesn’t happen though, they’ll be fine.

  6. Lee is a buzz kill I really don’t want him. He is just a real bad version of Kevin Love without the 3 point shot. I like Klay and Barnes but that’s not enough for K Love. I am hoping we go with Boston or the Cavs. As much as starting over sucks when we were a decent bench away from the playoffs we need to start over if we trade our best player.

    What really sucks is it seems Flip could not layout a plan that fixes the bench that he could sale to Kevin Love. That’s all this team needed a real backup SG and PG (guys not named JJ Barea or Alexey Shved) but dependable bench guys that could play within the structure of the game plan so the flow of the game was not thrown so completely off kelter.

    That’s what we should be talking about here. Screw the trade Kevin Love talk. We can do that in February and still make this dumbass GSW trade. Fix the bleeping bench and roll with what we have. Or blow the whole damn thing up and start from scratch.

  7. Boston or Chicago, please! I can’t agree more with the assessment here. Lee is overpaid and overrated, Klay will want to leave in a couple of years, and this team won’t be that good anyway. I don’t have a ton of faith that the Wolves management will make good decisions with whatever picks they can get for Love, but at least there’s potential with that route.

  8. The team I’d love (pun, hah!) to see us trade with is Houston. Here’s what I came up with that makes sense for all parties http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=pa4hobn. Minnesota gets: Jeff Green, Jeremy Lin, Terence Jones, Chandler Parsons (agrees to a sign and trade for ~13M/yr). Houston gets: Kevin Love, Jared Sullinger. Boston gets: Kevin Martin, JJ Barea, Omer Asik, Dontas Montej…..s. Probably a couple picks in the move, we get Houston’s pick and Boston gets ours and Boston gets a Houston pick in 2015.

  9. And to think, Kahn tried to sign Lee while already having Love on the team. I’m sure Kahn would have traded away Love for pennies on the dollar once that happened too. I wonder how many “Manna From Heaven” points David Lee could fetch on the Kahn-o-scale?

  10. At some point, I wonder if someone other than the teams are leaking these rumors to pressure the Wolves into a deal. The legitimate info is coming from local reporters as opposed to the national guys (right, Woj, Sam Mitchell and Vinny Del Negro were serious candidates for the Wolves head job).

    Either way, I’m skeptical of any rumor that only involves one other team. Who saw Andre Iguodala involved in the Dwight Howard trade to LA, or the Magic getting the specific pieces they ended up with? There’s no such thing as a good trade for the Wolves; they can only mitigate future damage. I’m not significantly convinced that they’re taking on Lee.

    I don’t have a strong opinion about starting fresh or not besides wanting to see Rubio surrounded with productive athletes, but one way doesn’t necessarily work better than the other. Seattle/OKC didn’t decide to start over until they moved up to #2 in the ’07 draft; besides them, none of the West’s playoff teams got their best players through starting over and amassing multiple years of top-5 picks. Whether the Wolves can draft and trade smartly while developing players and getting good coaching remains to be seen, but that’s different than saying that starting over is a more successful philosophy than not. It’s perfectly fine to prefer that option as a fan, but they’re obviously not going to do that, and while I’m pessimistic that it’ll work the way they want it to (and incredulous that Taylor should have any say since he’s a main reason why they’re in this mess), there’s precedent for taking this path.

  11. Agreed. I don’t want David Lee. I’d prefer Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters from the Cavs or perhaps Taj Gibson Jimmy Butler and a pick from the Bulls.

  12. I agree with you David Lee is horrible. I would feel alot better about him if his contract were one year instead of 2. I also agree with the poster that the media is leaking a lot of garbage. The initial report about Kevin Love, Kevin Martin and the Wolves 1st round pick for David Lee and Thompson was absolutely silly. The Wolves would be getting fleeced with that deal. I think Thompson, Barnes and a future first rounder is more in line for a possible deal – if only the Wolves could somehow manage to dump Lee. I am not sure dumping Rubio, K Love and Pekovic for draft choices is not the best plan and starting all over. The impression the media is getting is that Flip is resistant to this which has me worried.

  13. There is talk the lakers #7 pick could be involved perhaps they get klay Thompson and the wolves get a high pick? Can’t see them trading away the #7 pick for David Lee. Any other updates on this story?

  14. If true Flip is a terrible GM and we should all find another hobby than following Wolves basketball. If he wants a draft pick instead of Klay, Boston is offering the both 6 and the 17 for Love, why would he swap out Klay for the Lakers’ #7 pick? The only reason to deal with GSW in such a scenario is because Flip wants David Lee just that much, which is so wrongheaded for all the reasons Zach points out. I also don’t understand what the Lakers are thinking, that team needs a home run and they are bunting because they don’t have confidence in their ability to draft a good player at #7, and if they are going to facilitate a game changing deal for a division rival they should be extracting their extra pound of flesh (like how the Jazz got four picks from the Warriors in exchange for giving them the cap space to sign Iggy), not cutting a sort of okay deal that leaves them nowhere. What is most surprising is that it appears GSW is actually the team holding up the deal because they can’t decide whether to move Klay for MFing Kevin Love, one of the five best players in the league. I mean, this isn’t quite “we won’t get Amare to help LeBron because we love JJ Hickson just too much” levels of overvaluing one’s own player but it isn’t that far off. Right now they all sound like dolts.

  15. The Love trade sickens me, it only sickens me slightly less than seeing him walk for nothing. It doesn’t really matter what bodies they get in the deal, decent players won’t stay here, because we have no real history of winning.

    Maybe Bazz will take a giant leap forward, but I don’t see us adding anyone who will make the game as fun to watch as the combination of Rubio, Love and Pek. I predict sadness, It won’t matter if it comes in the form of David Lee, or an ugly offense courtesy of coach Flip. Next season won’t be fun to watch, our 13th draft pick will not be electrifying.

    I am rather tired of seeing no light at the end of the tunnel with this franchise. I’ve been here since the beginning and I’ve only had about three times when I thought the team had an real promise. I’ve always watched them to see what KG, or Ricky, or Love would do in a given game. Maybe I would see some nice passing and ball movement, maybe someone would have a big game.

    A lot of the talk on this site seems to be about the long term, but there is no long term when you can’t retain players like Kevin Love. In the sad history of this franchise we’ve had two legitimate superstars, KG and KLove. Not only have we failed to capitalize on the talent, but we failed to retain them. I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

    Don’t worry the playoffs are always three years away!

  16. NBW I see where you’re going but Love could have waited 1 more year before he dropped the bomb on us. Yeah he has had 6 real crappy seasons with the T-Wolves and ownership is 100% to blame for the current roster not having more talent.

    But this is year two of the Flip regime and a lot of good pieces are there. Trim off JJ and Alexey and put better pieces into those two positions move Dieng and Turiaf around as the backup PF/C combo and you look pretty good at the 4/5 spot with Pek if you can lower his minutes (I am really hoping we draft Adreian Payne I think he could turn into something special at he 4 like Dieng has shown).

    It’s Love who left just as things were coming together. Remember it’s not anyones faults he broke his hand two years ago and wasted one of his “6 season in the NBA but no playoffs” He really owed us this year. But Love cares about Kevin Love and we cannot change that. We see him on the floor every night and we have seen him whine while hanging his teammates out to dry time and time again. So nothing new there.

    I like what Chicago has to offer. I hope we can go that route. But not with Gibson/Snell But with Gibson/Butler and their pair of 1′s

  17. Sports teams don’t need fans who pretend the team has left them “scarred” and waste no opportunity to show those “scars.” This franchise will turn around when they start making better decisions. Can Flip do that? Who knows, but it’s too early to tell. Franchises can go in many directions based on their choices. There’s nothing wrong with being critical, but cynicism and fatalism are such gross and unproductive emotions when it comes to sports.

  18. I would love to see Gibson and Butler here. Gibson’s game is a much improved version of Cunningham’s mid-range and rim protection. Gibson is a better overall defender. The problem is that it is a three point shooters league, and Love was really valuable in spacing the floor and opening things up for better passing.

    I think a deal with the Bulls would give us better pieces than a trade with GS. KT isn’t all he’s cracked up to be.

    Maybe if Buddinger came back we could regain some floor spacing, I am also hopeful they can get Kevin Martin into whatever deal they get put together.

    As for being scarred and bitter, well those who forget history are bound to watch it be repeated. I find optimism pretty overrated. The gist of my angst is that the Wolves are for all intents and purposes a small to mid market team. One can hope they go in the direction of OKC, but OKC has one of the best players (maybe ever) and they are not going to let him walk. The other end of the spectrum is Milwaukee, I see many more parallels between the Wolves organization and the Bucks. We could say that like OKC we’re going to build through the draft, but apparently the Wolves are crappy at player development. For every pleasant surprise like Dieng (who doesn’t seem like he’s going to be a game changer) there’s Bazz (who will probably “blossom” into part of the bench mob) or DWill, pretty much a disappointment.

    I know, we’re in a different era now, right? We have every reason to believe that the culture of mismanagement and mediocrity will not continue. Sure. How is it that McHale is so great in Houston but here he more or less destroyed the franchise? The whole Kahn thing has been done to death. How about they prove they know what they’re doing starting with this trade and the draft. Let see if by some magic we can assemble something that doesn’t have us looking back at this incident in despair. But I don’t see it, KLove is a perennial all star. Those don’t grow on trees.

  19. “This franchise will turn around when they start making better decisions. Can Flip do that? Who knows, but it’s too early to tell. Franchises can go in many directions based on their choices.” What in that statement is optimistic? It’s basically saying, “Prove it.” Delaying judgement for more than a year isn’t optimistic. Nobody is happy they’re trading Love; I doubt they’ll make the playoffs for another 10 years. But that’s based on the owner and his decision making combined with the apparent need to not start over after the Love trade. It’s showing frustration at a specific situation, not playing the “Look at my MN sports fan scars!” card. If they keep failing, it will be because Taylor keeps making bad decisions with basketball operations, not because “it’s the Wolves’ fate to always be this way.” The Twins aren’t destined to always lose to the Yankees in the playoffs, the Vikings aren’t destined to never win a Super Bowl, and the Wolves aren’t destined to always be bad. Those things all happen or have happened for objective reasons.

    Do you know how absurd it is to compare Kevin McHale, head coach of the Rockets, to Kevin McHale, main decision-maker for the Wolves? He has no decision-making authority there. Daryl Morey does all of the planning and acquisitions (even required McHale to have at least one of Morey’s guys on his coaching staff); also, McHale wouldn’t be there without agreeing to this “only 3s and paint shots” offense that Morey wants. And by the way: he’s not that great in Houston. He has 2 All-Star players and plays a style that maximizes his role players. He was worked like a speedbag in the playoffs last season and this season and will eventually be fired for perennially doing that.

  20. ^^^ I agree with the McHale take for sure. I was wondering why someone compared McHale in a GM role to McHale the sideline complainer role. I didn’t watch all of the playoff games 2 years ago but this last season I watched a lot and every postgame interview McHale looked completely lost for words and said basically nothing. I’m sure there was way more to the situation than that body language but I have a feeling he will be in that early exit purgatory area that gjk alluded to above. I’m hoping for a Bulls deal or the Denver deal if Afflalo can be had via a prior trade.

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