The Kevin Garnett Trade: An AWAW Email Exchange

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I’ve been a Timberwolves fan since my early elementary years in the mid-90s. I can remember sitting in the upper deck with my dad, watching a Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury, and Tom Gugliotta big 3 lead the Timberwolves to their first playoff berth.

My friend and AWAW amigo William Bohl was not (obsessively) watching basketball at this point. In fact, he didn’t start (obsessively) watching the Timberwolves until after he was already gone.

This made for some interesting conversation when Kevin Garnett was traded to the Timberwolves yesterday. While I got to see the Timberwolves’ “glory years” as a fan, Bill’s lack of exposure to that era helped keep him more even keeled throughout yesterday’s happenings. We decided to exchange some emails on the matter. This is what we came away with.

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Faklis: Bill, I’m exhausted. Yesterday was a long day. There were 11 trades involving a combined 37 players traded today, and the last few hours were a complete madhouse. When I went for a run on the treadmill, JaVale McGee was traded. When I made lunch, Aaron Afflalo was traded. When I took a shower, something else probably happened. I can’t remember. It was madness.

The whole time, though, I was waiting to see what happened with Kevin Garnett. I’ll say what I said on Twitter: I’m going to be admittedly irrational at times on this matter. Kevin Garnett and Michael Jordan are the two most important reasons why I got into basketball at such a young age. Because Garnett was in Minnesota, he was probably more important to me. I grew up with Kevin Garnett. He was traded away when I was in high school, and I remember feeling a strange sense of closure when he won a championship with the Celtics.

That’s where part of the exhaustion comes from for me. When it was announced that Garnett was indeed coming here (in exchange for Thad Young), I wasn’t sure how to react. I know there are obvious mid-season downsides, but I see reasons why this could help, especially in light of the report that this won’t be a 30-game rental. I’m exhausted, but I’m excited. I can’t help it.

With that said, Bill, I know your opinion is…um…different than mine. How are you feeling?

Bohl: I didn’t grow up in Minnesota. I was aware of the NBA, and had a soft spot for the Timberwolves, but nothing about Garnett conjures any real emotional attachment for me. I know that’s probably sacrilegious, but it’s the truth – I missed that part of being involved in Minnesota sports history.

So in my mind, the Wolves sending Thad Young to Brooklyn for Kevin Garnett is a bad move. I have no nostalgia. It’s just an unequivocally crappy trade. I don’t even know how to start. I hate it.

So how about you tell me why this “could help,” then I’ll just rain on your parade of happiness, same as I’ve been doing since word of this first leaked on Twitter late Wednesday night.

Faklis: I’ll start by saying, I don’t think Thad Young’s next 50 games will be as inconsistent and disappointing as the 50 he played with the Wolves. Overall, he was a good player, but not quite what I think most expected and hoped for here. With a $10 million player option for next year, and even if he opted in and started playing better, he wasn’t part of the Wolves’ next playoff team.

With Thad’s troubles, it’s hard to gauge what his trade value really was. They ended up with KG. I get why you think it’s bad. It’s obvious. He’s 38, averaging 7 points, 7 boards, and is on a loose 20 minute per game limit. At this point, Thad is a better all-around player than Garnett. The Wolves lost value in that sense.

What got me was what Flip Saunders said last night in his press conference announcing the trade. He mentioned frequent laughter and joking around after losses. In other words, they seemed too used to losing. That habit was starting to fade with the return of Ricky Rubio, but it will be eliminated with Kevin Garnett.

On the floor, I want to see what KG can do as a mentor. I want to see what he can do to improve Gorgui Dieng’s interior defense. I want to see if he can continue to bring out the dog in Andrew Wiggins. Heck, what can he do for the Payne and Bennett? Rubio? Muhammad? Who better to help bring out Flip Saunders’ message as a coach than Flip’s best case scenario?

Bohl: Everyone’s feelings about the trade hinge on how they feel about Thad Young. You stated above that he “wasn’t (going to be) part of the Wolves’ next playoff team,” so clearly you felt as though he was a stopgap player rather than a building block.

I’m not sure whether he’s really the type of player (undersized four) I’d want playing next to Nikola Pekovic in the front court, long-term, but I would’ve liked the rest of the season (with a healthy Rubio) to find out how things would look with competent point guard play. And I know it’s stupid to draw a line from Young back to the Miami first-round pick that was used to acquire him, and therefore wish he was given a longer shot in Minnesota, but I’m a pretty stupid guy, so that’s what I’m going to do.

In my eyes, using that pick to acquire him was making an investment. And while many people on Twitter yesterday decided to treat me like some sort of invalid who doesn’t understand the concept of “sunk cost,” I’m not sure why Thad struggling without Rubio, Martin and Pekovic in the lineup makes him sunk cost. He’s not meant to be a ball dominant player who can carry a team. He’s a gap filler, adaptable, coachable, and was part of some winning teams in Philadelphia. His $10 million option for next season isn’t as big of a deal as people are making it out to be.

Here’s the Thad Young Early Termination Option Quadrilemma: If he opted in and the Wolves really didn’t want him, he could be moved over the summer. If he opted in and the Wolves were interested in retaining his services, the team would have another shot with him as part of the core group (which is exactly what they wanted six months ago), hopefully with better injury luck the next time around. If he opted out and the Wolves didn’t want him back, huzzah! If he opted out and the team did want him back, then they’d in a tricky spot, but they knew that was a possibility going in. (For what it’s worth, there were credible reports yesterday that he wasn’t going to opt out.)

Either the Timberwolves organization failed as advance scouts (couldn’t see what a terrible on-court fit Thad would be) or as personality managers (couldn’t get Thad to buy in). Either way, they look fairly incompetent, in my opinion. He’s a good player. He’s 26. Shipping him off for a soon-to-be 39 year old? It sounds ridiculous.

Even if you think Kevin Garnett can turn all of the Wolves’ bad players into average ones, and their average ones into good ones, and their good ones into superstars, and multiply loaves and fishes and heal the sick and raise dead men from their graves and walk on water, you have to give me at least this much: why not wait until after the season to sign him as a free agent? Why do this now? If the Wolves were so determined to get Thad Young off of the team, on a day when players and picks were flying all over the place, was this really the best they could do? The best allotment of resources?

Faklis: Yeah, I’d give you that. I wonder if I had to venture a guess, it would be that Young was going to opt in, and would then not be able to afford KG. Maybe that (which, again, is a total guess) was enough reason for the FO to make the move now. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know, but I certainly see your point.

To be clear, I’m not trying to insinuate that Garnett will roll in and fix every issue of every young player on the roster. I’m simply interested to see how he is able to help them along. The thing I’m most confident will happen is a culture change in the locker room. Ricky Rubio has done a good job leading the Wolves from a vocal standpoint, but KG’s presence alone, in theory, should do even more.

As for Thad, I always saw him, and still see him as a good player. He’s 26 and has a lot of basketball left in him, and I hope/think he’ll do well in Brooklyn. That said, I’m not sure I ever saw him as an investment the same way you do. I get why you see it that way, and it’s possible (maybe even probable) that the front office originally saw it that way too. For me, I saw it as a way for the Wolves to try to compete this year (and next year) while still building for the future. He’s only 26, but I always saw him as a very good, yet very replaceable stopgap. Maybe that’s where we differ most.

Bohl: Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see if KG can really help guys along and change the culture.

Personally, I think the culture changes by winning games, and the Wolves will win less often with Garnett over the next 2-3 years than they would’ve with Thad, because Thad’s a better player. I mean, if Garnett is spending the majority of the time yelling from the bench rather than being on the floor, isn’t he basically just another coach?

The other thing I hate about the deal is that this was supposed to be Ricky Rubio’s team. He’s finally free and empowered to lead as he sees fit, when suddenly the front office brings in one of the biggest personalities in the NBA. How will the two of them mesh? I know Ricky is saying all the right things, but really – what’s that relationship going to look like?

I don’t know. I know I’m in the vast minority here, but I just find the whole thing baffling. And really, really corny.

Faklis: I think it’ll still be Ricky’s team. He’ll still be the one running the offense and deciding who gets the ball. He won’t be the biggest personality on the team anymore, but that won’t make him any less competitive. KG’s one on-court place of leadership will probably be on the defensive end. He’s a big talker on that end, in a coach’s dream kind of way.

Which could add to the culture aspect we’ve mentioned. Culture changes by winning games, yes. But in order to start winning games, learning how to take a loss properly. On a perpetually bad team, losing can lose its sting. When losing is expected, it’s easier to get complacent, especially with a young team.

Yeah, the whole thing is a bit corny, but that’s where I pull out my “I’m admittedly biased” card. I embrace the corny!

Bohl: It is what it is. People are going to pack the Target Center a few times, lots of jerseys will be sold, and the team will play up his return in their marketing efforts. Lots of fans are really excited about watching KG play for the Wolves again, which is nostalgic and corny as hell.

I’m not against fun or happiness, I swear! I just think turning a first round pick into Kevin Garnett over the course of 6 months displays a serious lack of foresight and personnel management. I’m probably stupid. And I should probably be used to the Wolves misplaying their hands when it comes to making trades, but heaven help me, I’m an optimist.
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