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.