Hello Future: What Barea's Buyout Says About the Wolves

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To make the fifteen man cutoff for rosters at 5 pm ET on Monday, the Wolves were going to have to cut (or trade someone). Although Chase Budinger’s name had surfaced in trade rumors with Indiana and Cleveland, nothing concrete was likely to happen there prior to the deadline, so that essentially left the Wolves to decide between J.J. Barea, Glenn Robinson III and Robbie Hummel. Obviously, solidifying the fifteenth man on the roster is not exactly a major thing, but that it was Barea who was bought out does in fact say something about the direction of the team.

Now, first of all, part of releasing Barea absolutely had to do with the fact that he will likely find a soft landing spot with his former team, the Dallas Mavericks. Although he was often fiery and sometimes hard to deal with on the court, as a player he was a consummate professional and always a good guy to talk to in the locker room. He was brought on to the team at a time when it was thought that the Wolves just needed to add some pieces to suddenly make the leap into the playoffs, and it was thought that Barea’s championship experience, plus his offensive spark off the bench, would be just what the Wolves needed. Instead, he ended up stuck with primary ballhandling duties on a second unit that had no other real scorers. It was a poor role for his skillset, essentially the equivalent of souping up your Toyota Tercel by starting with ground effects. Barea as a player is a finishing touch on putting together a playoff team, not a foundational playmaker for your woeful bench unit.

That fact is also what gives a certain weight to his release. Had the Wolves released Robinson, it might have been because they felt they could let him go — likely to the D-League — and then get him back should they need him. Had it been Hummel, they would have been hedging their bets: retaining Barea in case they needed a vet off the bench but also hanging onto Robinson as a rookie with upside.

But Hummel was never likely to be cut for the simple reason that he’s an ideal low-maintenance guy who will practice hard and can jump right into the game as a known quantity. Add in the fact that he can reasonably play either wing position and be a stretch four in a pinch and he’s simply a more flexible and less demanding bench player than Barea, whose position is less “point guard” or “shooting guard” than “Barea.”

The real sign in Barea’s release is that the Wolves are committing to potential and growth, along with all the difficulties that will come along with it. It’s not likely that Robinson will see much playing time, which means that should they need him they will be dropping in a rookie who will need to get acclimated rather than a veteran who could hit the ground running.

Whether that commitment is good or bad depends largely on how you personally feel like this season will pan out. For my money, it’s the right move because Barea has never been the kind of veteran who can provide stability and mentoring. He provides punch and fire, which might be actually needed on a Mavs squad that lost their veteran bench puncher in Vince Carter.

Going with Robinson is a clear indicator that the Wolves know their future lies in the hands of their young players. Hopefully they will all get their time to show what they can do.

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  1. Favorite quote “[Barea] whose position is less ‘point guard’ or ‘shooting guard’ than ‘Barea’.”

    I’m not sad to see JJ go (another in a string of many David Khan miscalculations), but after watching the preseason games my worry is twofold A) That we could do some serious Milwaukee-style stealth tanking by having LaVine play meaningful minutes at the point should Rubio or Williams go down. B) There are just not enough available minutes on the wings to keep Robinson, Hummel, Budinger, LaVine, Wiggins, Martin, and Brewer happy. Two or three of these guys are gonna ride the pine hard and not be too pleased about it.

  2. My perception of this decision may be way off base, but isn’t this a sign that Wolves management actually believe they have improved from last year? If the organization is willing to cut a guy that played significant minutes over the past two seasons and potentially eat his salary wouldn’t the thinking be that his replacement is an improvement. In the most simple sense: Robinson is a better fit for this team than Barea. I say this only because the experts (some who are guessing, some who actually have sound arguments) are forecasting this Wolves team to finish at the absolute bottom of the NBA heap this season (Zach Lowe with Grantland predicts only the Sixers will be worse). I’m not saying they’ll make the playoffs, but isn’t a team that can afford to jettison the likes of Barea more likely to be about average to slightly below average this season?

  3. @Pooh

    I think it is more a sign that Minnesota has accepted that they are not built to win this year so they are dropping older players in favor of the younger guys. Unless Wiggins is going to come out the gate as an All-Star level player I don’t see them reaching 30 games. I could absolutely be wrong(See Phoenix) but I am into this season to watch the young players adapt and get ready for the future more then I am watching them hoping for playoffs.

    My guess is around the trade deadline a team that thinks they are close will be trading for one of our vets for an expiring and a pick. I would not be shocked to see Pek, Martin, Buddinger, or Brewer traded. Possibly Young if Bennet is showing more of his potential.

  4. @Jordan
    Those are all great points, thanks.
    I’d like to reiterate that I don’t think this team’s going to make the playoffs, I just don’t understand the seemingly conventional wisdom that they’re going to be putrid this season.
    It’s kind of a flawed and unclear argument, I guess, but my overall point is that last year the experts said the Wolves had a real shot at the playoffs and this year those same people are saying they’re going to stink like a Red Lobster dumpster on an August afternoon.

  5. Underratedly, it reflects the cheapest way out. The veteran minimum is more than what Robinson or Hummel makes, and I’m guessing the buyout was reduced to include that sum. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they moved Budinger or Brewer to empty a spot for a 3rd PG if that became necessary.

  6. @skunkdog
    Yes, there are a lot of wings on the team, but I don’t think there will be a lot of complaining. My guess is that Robinson, and maybe Levine will have stints in the D-league to get playing time. Neither of them is really NBA ready despite their over the top athletic ability. Hummel is probably happy to just have a roster spot. Wiggins, Martin, Brewer, and Budinger are likely to get most of the minutes among that group, with Hummel, Levine, and Robinson (in that order) picking up the slack when there are injuries or foul trouble. Shabazz was in the same position last year and he complained a little bit, but mostly took his medicine, worked hard and waited for his chance. Looks like he’s going to be in the rotation this year. Levine and Robinson will need to do the same.