It’s hard for a player to grow attached to a team, or its city, when you’re only there for a short period of time. But in the NBA, executives often like to keep a roster spot or two open for wiggle room as the season progresses. That final roster spot can be taken by an experienced vet looking to keep their careers going as long as possible. It can be taken by a young 2nd rounder or undrafted FA that made the squad during training camp.
In the Wolves’ case, they went through three of these temps. Three of these “Ryan’s” if you’re a fan of The Office. Though, in some cases, the look of bewilderment that was constantly on Ryan’s face was displayed more by Wolves fans than the temps themselves.
Let’s go through them one by one.
John Lucas III
Lucas was the first temp to show up in Minnesota, making the team through his performance in training camp. Now, to be clear, I’m of the opinion that JLIII should be applauded for sticking around and finding an NBA job this late in his career. Want an Infinite Jest-length read? Go check out his team history on Wikipedia, which started in 2005. You’ll have grey hair by the time you’re done.
Within that wild history is a fun fact about Lucas and the Timberwolves. While he’s an aging vet just trying to hold on and get paid now, he was actually one of those undrafted rookie FAs, trying to find a spot in the league, 12 years prior. With the Wolves.
In total, his second time around beat out his first time, mostly because he actually (briefly) made the regular season roster on his second go-round. Still, he only managed 5 games of actual floor time, only amassed one bucket in those 5 game, and was cut by early January.
His odds of seeing real minutes never seemed likely, even if Thibs ended up actually doing a rumored Ricky Rubio trade. He was the fourth point guard on the roster, and with the emergence of Tyus Jones (emergence = he can play in the NBA, in this case), his odds of ever seeing any time whatsoever seemed near-impossible.
At 34, it’s impressive that Lucas III, an undrafted FA whose career involved lots of moving all across the globe, is still around. And it’s cool that he may have started and finished in MN, even if both stints were for such short spans.
Well, the Born Ready Era was entertaining, if nothing else. Also, short. Stephenson had been waived by the New Orleans Pelicans after an awful attempt at a fresh start. Basically, Stephenson hadn’t really found a home since leaving Indiana, and seemed lost when he came to Minnesota (the move was made, in large part, due to the season-ending ACL tear suffered by Zach LaVine).
For a half on February 8th, Lance played like his home was Minnesota.
Hit hit 3 of his first four shots, and played a brand of defense Tom Thibodeau hadn’t really seen from his backcourt to that point. In the second half, the defense persisted, the the offense fell off. He didn’t score again, but the Lance buzz was all there. Fans were in on Born Ready.
But from there, even those who continued to back him despite questionable decisions as the self-appointed offensive playmaker, injuries took Lance Stephenson away from the Timberwolves. He only made it a month with the Wolves before ankle problems forced Thibs to let him go.
Lance didn’t find a home in Minnesota, but he did set up relatively nicely for the month he was here. Where is he now? His original home, Indiana.
Like the Stephenson signing, an injury is more or less what brought Omri Casspi to Minnesota. I was skeptical but excited for the Casspi signing. He had historically shot a great three point percentage, had a good history of offensive success, and seemed to know his role everywhere he had been prior. He had entered into Dave Joerger’s doghouse and never really got out. He was then traded in that asinine deal that sent DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans, and played right out of the gate. Finally.
Unfortunately, he broke his thumb in that same game, and was eventually cut. After he was healthy, a season ending injury to Nemanja Bjelica brought Casspi here to fill that role. On paper, it fit, both are 6’8 combo forwards that can stretch the floor, and handle the ball a bit.
Bjelica had his ups and downs, but at least he had some ups. Casspi did not. He played consistent minutes from the get-go, signing in late March, but never really found his groove in Minnesota. Despite getting nearly 20 minutes per game in MN, he never scorer 10+ points in a game, and only had 2 made threes in 11 games with the team. He never looked like he really knew what his role was with the team, even though Bjelica had pretty clearly laid it out for him in previous games. Of course, Bjelly is a better ball handler (and player), which made his role easier to work through. Casspi didn’t have the handle to initiate pick and roll or take the ball to the hoops, something Bjelly did much better at towards the end of the season.
In short: Casspi was the one giving me bewildered Ryan face. More than Lance (though he had his moments), and much more than JLIII. But the role of a 15th man is never to come out and be consistently great. It’s not why they’re there. They’re on the roster to fill an odd void. Whether it happens the way the GM/coach wants it to happen is a crapshoot. But that’s why the revolving door is there. That’s why we had three in Minnesota this year.