The NBA trade deadline looms – it’s Thursday, February 8th, at 2:00 PM Central, to be exact. In honor of one of the zaniest times of the year, the gang got together for a deadline roundtable – enjoy.
Let’s begin generally: The Timberwolves are 34-22 and — as of this writing — one half game behind the Spurs for the third seed in the West. Should they approach this trade deadline actively looking to improve the roster, or passively, answering the phone but not dialing it themselves? Should they be satisfied with the current status quo?
Dr. Lawyer IndianChief (Dr. LIC): To answer the question, they should be satisfied. There is this myth about Thibs that he is impatient and always in win-now mode (including reports that other front office’s try to swindle him in trades because of this proclivity). Like many things related to Thibs, I think the cognoscenti gets him wrong. One of the few things that I like about Thibs’ crazy 5-year contract is that it affords him patience, and he’s already proven that he’s a realistic POBO (see: last year taking the whole season to do roster evaluation and not entertaining that Rubio for Derrick Rose bullshit). Of course, I would love for them to improve the roster but I just don’t see many options via trade. We’ve all kind of rallied around the possibility of a Jared Dudley arrival who gives the wolves that rare 3+D option, but I’m not sure the Suns are gonna take the Cole/Bazz cap relief combo required to get it. I think BECAUSE of Thibs’ patience, not in spite of it, he’s going to be very conservative during the trade deadline outside of looking to dump Bazz. He’s on a 5-year-plan.
Andy Grimsrud: There are three things to consider here: (1) How things are going, relative to (reasonable) hopes and expectations; (2) How much better things could get with the right trade; and (3) Salary cap management. The Wolves are presently on a 50-32 pace, which is better than most people expected and very good for a team led in minutes played by a pair of 22-year olds. Things could get better, but probably not by much. Stated more clearly, the Wolves will have a very hard time improving enough to stay with Houston and they have zero chance whatsoever – ZERO POINT ZERO – of catching the Warriors dream team. Those two factors weigh in favor of patience. On the cap, they’re going to have luxury-tax issues for Taylor Corp. to sweat over in two years (when both Wig and KAT are maxed, Jimmy is (hopefully) super-maxed, and Gorgui’s Kahntract is still kicking) but they still have enough cheap pieces and future picks to hold off on any panicking on the salary-cap front. If the cap forces their hand in the future, they can deal with it then.
One more time, regarding the number of avenues for the Wolves to catch this year’s Dubs:
Lucas Seehafer: I think anytime a team is positioned in the top half of the playoff seedings they need to approach the trade deadline actively. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean a move gets done, but the team needs to do all it can to improve when they find themselves in position to compete for a potential title. The Warriors’ dominance kind of throws off this thought process (as Andy says the Wolves have no shot at beating them no matter what move they make), but I don’t think a team in the Wolves’ position can simply resign to the fact that they can’t beat them. That doesn’t mean the Wolves go all in on trying to trade for a high level player, but I do think it means they should be on the lookout for obtaining high quality role players, particularly 3 and/or D wings. Should the Wolves be satisfied with their status quo? I don’t think so, but they shouldn’t make a move strictly for the sake of making a move either. If they can get a good player on a good deal without giving up a lot in return, they should pounce on it. They should actively seek out those players. But if their searches and the offers they’re receiving from other teams ultimately aren’t fruitful, that’s ok too.
Patrick J: I agree that they should be satisfied moving forward. Honestly, it just feels like we’re finally getting some continuity as a (winning) team. We aren’t beating the Warriors this season–we just aren’t–and we aren’t acquiring the kind of player(s) it would take to do so. I think we’re in live-and-learn territory for the season with respect to the playoffs.
Bill: I don’t think they have much choice – they have to sit back and see if anyone calls. No one will be dying to give up much for Shabazz Muhammad (who could be on his way out of the league entirely) or Gorgui Dieng (who is a fine player, but on a mammoth contract for a third big). I wouldn’t feel compelled to move the OKC pick, especially since it could end up in the lower-to-mid 20s, and it sounds like this could be a deep draft. I don’t think they have the ammo to go on the offensive; so they should answer the phone, while remaining happy things are coming together the way they are, and weigh the options only if an intriguing offer comes in.
How should Thibs-Layden, LLC seek to upgrade this roster at the trade deadline? Certain position or skill set? Salary-cap management? Upgrade for this season, or the future?
Dr. LIC: The worst kept secret in the league is that the Wolves need three-point shooting and are simply at a different tier of basketball compared to Houston and Golden State without a deep threat. The obvious suggestion would be to try to get some shooters in the building like a Marco Belinelli or Lou Williams. As I stated above, I don’t see it happening (even though I would give up crazy things including the OKC first rounder for Lou Will), and I kind of think the Wolves are resigned to their ugly+effective 2-pointer-oriented offense. Given this, I’d prefer they go after defense. My dream acquisition would be Tony Allen. Go all-in on bad three-point shooting and try to win ugly. I’d prefer to have a guy like Allen around who can at least disrupt the Steph Curry’s of the world.
Andy: I am more worried about salaries and future cap flexibility than the quality of the current players. When KAT is 24 or 25 years old, championship aspirations could be realistic and they’ll want the best team possible around him. Their foundation is KAT (a post) and Butler-Wiggins (a pair of wings) yet it pays its point guard $19 Million this year and the two after that. It pays Gorgui Dieng over $14 Million this year and almost $50 Million over the next three (!) to play 18 minutes per game off the bench. If they do anything significant, I hope it involves moving either Teague or Dieng for a better allocation of salary. Both are quality players at positions in the rotation where competence is needed, so they can’t be given away for dead-weight, expiring contracts, but the team should be listening to calls that involve moving those salaries off the books. Each guy is significantly overpaid for “competence.”
Lucas: As I pointed out above, I think they should be on the lookout for 3 and/or D role playing wings. In an ideal world, any move bringing in that type of player would loosen up the Wolves cap flexibility and would not only be an upgrade for this year, but going into the future, but the odds of all of that happening are slim to none to say the least. The Wolves should look for players that would retain their Bird Rights or are on short-term deals allowing them to upgrade both this season and next. If they can dump some salary in the process, all the better.
Patrick J: Three things: (1) three-point shooting, and (2) three-point shooting. And also depth at the wing positions. I’ve been so focused on what has worked, hasn’t worked, and might work on the current team, and why, that I haven’t thought a lot about what we ought to do next, in the middle of the season. Again, that gets to my point above–that this season is probably best for building the core that we can then tweak and refine next season.
Bill: If the opportunity does present itself, I think the Wolves should definitely look for a three-point shooting wing. But again – even if they managed to finagle a deal, I don’t know what the new rotation would look like. Whose minutes do you cut? Do you play Gorgui 8-10 minutes a game, and more Taj at the 5, to squeeze another wing into the mix? Because I don’t think a guy like Jamal Crawford (as wonderful as he is, by all accounts) would take such a demotion lightly.
Many players have been rumored or strongly speculated to be available at this deadline. Some trades have already happened, like Blake Griffin to Detroit and Nikola Mirotic to New Orleans. What specific player in the rumor mill should draw interest from Thibs?
Dr. LIC: DeAndre Jordan. There is so much risk there and it would do insane things to the current chemistry the Wolves starters have with Taj (team MVP in my opinion). However, I worry about Taj getting worn down. I worry about KAT still having occasional defensive lapses. And as long as Teague is who he is (sub-average defender who gets killed off the dribble), I think Jordan completely plugs the defensive holes. I know it’s crazy, but I think the defensive upgrade would be worth the gamble. Other than DAJ, uh, Kawhi Leonard?
Andy: Stanley Johnson intrigues me a tiny bit as a player who might come at a low cost (Bjelly?) and benefit from two things the Wolves could provide: a fresh start after things didn’t pan out in Detroit; and an offensive role that is much less dependent on pure catch-and-shoot skills than Stan Van requires in his spread offensive system. I realize this is not a sexy choice. Johnson is averaging 8.3 points per game on 36.3 percent shooting. He’s a bad shooter. But he’s a hard-nosed defender of almost any position, the Wolves bench defense stinks, and who knows what offensive talents he might have in a different system?
Lucas: There are two players that I think it would be wise for the Wolves to go after and they’re Jared Dudley and Marcus Smart. Dudley, though not splashy, would be a solid contributor off the bench and can hit threes, which the Wolves desperately need. He likely wouldn’t demand a lot of playing time and by all accounts is a terrific teammate and locker room presence. He has 2-years, $20 mil remaining on his contract, which may be a bit much, but wouldn’t be crippling. Smart can reportedly be stripped away from the Boston Celtics for a first round pick and with the Oklahoma City Thunder comfortably in the playoff picture, it may make sense to move it. The Wolves would retain Smart’s Bird Rights and he is an restricted free agent in the summer, meaning that if he is signed at the right time (the semantics are too detailed for this piece) his salary wouldn’t count against the cap. His defense would be extremely valuable off the bench and he’d provide the Tony Allen impact, but without the Tony Allen oldness.
Patrick J: I keep thinking of “Players of Thibs Past” whom the man covets. To my knowledge, he has never said anything negative about Luol Deng. But Deng isn’t playing. The other is Derrick Rose. I’m not saying he should try to acquire either player–in fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say he shouldn’t–but he certainly will be looking at guys who’ve played for him before and with whom he’s comfortable.
Bill: I know we’ve all talked about three-point shooting but I would love to have Marcus Smart. That’d be cool as hell. A Smart-Butler-Wiggins-Taj-KAT lineup would be fun and I don’t CARE IF THERE WOULDN’T BE REMOTELY ENOUGH SHOOTING JUST LET ME DREAM MY DREAM.
Shabazz has asked the Wolves to trade or release him before the deadline, per Woj. That will probably happen and the return will be negligible enough to skip any discussion here. But Bazz has been a fascinating player to follow in his five seasons in ‘Sota. After he’s gone, what will be your lasting impression of Shabazz Muhammad the Timberwolf?
Dr. LIC: I think the timing was always off with Bazz, and he never dedicated himself to defense, making him unplayable. Other than that, I wish him well.
Andy: A faulty pre-draft birth certificate, an unfair (or at least “proven to be inaccurate”) reputation coming into the league, an on-court motor that ran hotter than anyone not named Corey Brewer, reckless offensive rebound crashing, reckless transition offense, tunnel vision, toughness, frustration, tilted-head shooting form, defensive intensity, lack of defense awareness, and points per touch. BAZZ!
Lucas: A well-meaning guy on the court with one of the best motors in the game who simply couldn’t figure it out. I hope he finds success with another team or in Europe.
Patrick J: I’ll miss him. He was so unique in so many ways. A part of me enjoyed watching him try things he probably could never do. Not that many players are as transparent, without seeming phony, about what their goals are and how they’re trying to reach them. Bazz’s sojourns with Navy SEAL trainer Crazy Frank were emblematic of that.
Bill: Very fun guy to watch on a bad team, because he was quirky and unique and he always played hard, no matter the situation. Not so much fun under Thibs, once the team needed a very specific set of things from a bench wing (playmaking, competent defense, and three-point shooting) and he was utterly incapable of, or unwilling to, provide them. At any rate, I wish him well. I wonder if he ends up in China; I could see him succeeding there.
In the 2018 NBA Draft, the Wolves will give their own pick to the Hawks. This stems from the Adreian Payne trade. Before his tragic passing, Flip Saunders made a number of great decisions to set this franchise on the upward track — trading for Payne did not happen to be one of them. But! They will nevertheless draft in the first round, in Oklahoma City’s place. They acquired this pick in the Ricky Rubio cap-clearing trade with Utah. If the season ended today, that OKC pick would be 22nd. It might be required as a sweetener of any trades that involve moving big salaries. Should they be willing to do this? For what type of return?
Dr. LIC: I’d trade the pick for Lou Williams as I noted above. Also, for DAJ, or for another dream acquisition, Kent Bazemore (wait, why is everybody laughing?)
Andy: I wouldn’t trade it in a garden variety move for an expiring-contract good player that’ll need to be paid in the 2018 off-season. In his most recent piece on the deadline for ESPN, Zach Lowe ripped off a bunch of names in the “it’ll cost you a first rounder” camp, including Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood, Tyreke Evans, and Lou Williams. He doubted that anybody would pay a first for them; the reason being that potential buyers (theoretically, a team like the Wolves) would still have no shot against Golden State. (See: Zero Point Zero clip above.) I tend to agree with him, so I would only entertain pairing the OKC pick with Gorgui or Teague as part of a bigger-scale deal. How about I save the rest of this answer for the finale question below.
Lucas: I’d be willing to trade the pick for Smart or a Smart-esque talent, but I’d be nervous including it simply for a salary dump to get off Dieng’s contract. If they do move the 1st and Dieng it would really depend on who the sign with the money they’d save. I guess I wouldn’t totally be against it, but I’d be cautious. First round picks can be extremely valuable because they (can) provide low cost, useful talent, but I’d move it for the right deal.
Patrick J: Is Mike Beasley available? 😉
Bill: No, I want them to keep that pick. The rookie-scale deal for the 22nd pick in last year’s draft, with both options exercised, was approximately $10 million over 4 seasons; that’s an extremely (read also: unfairly, but that’s a discussion for another time) team-friendly deal if you hit on a quality role player with the selection. Jarrett Allen (Brooklyn, 22nd), OG Anunoby (Toronto, 23rd), Kyle Kuzma (L.A. Lakers, 27th), and Josh Hart (Lakers again, 30th) were all taken 22nd or later in last year’s draft, and all look like locks to out-perform such a contract. The Wolves are going to be tight up against the cap over the next 5-7 years, with KAT, Wiggins, and Butler all max players. Locking in a decent role player on the cheap, whose Bird Rights the team owns, will be critical to the team’s depth. Keep the pick.
Here is a link to the Trade Machine. Let’s see the wildest Wolves trade idea THAT YOU CAN TYPE OUT WITH A STRAIGHT FACE.
Dr. LIC: Gorgui/Cole/Bazz/A-Brooks for DAJ and Lou Williams works. I’d throw in a first. Who says no? (besides Doc Rivers)
Andy: Gorgui and the OKC pick for Amir Johnson (and his expiring contract) and last year’s number one pick, Markelle Fultz. The Wolves have a recent history of acquiring other team’s number one overall picks, even when the early bust signs are very evident. (Eds note: Love you, AB!) With this move, we shed Gorgui’s salary and task shooting coach Peter Patton with Mission Impossible 7:
Lucas: Wildest: Teague/Patton/Aldrich/OKC 1st for Kemba Walker/Nic Batum (lol). Realistic: Aldrich/OKC 1st for Marcus Smart.
Patrick J: I’m still standing pat.
Bill: Jeff Teague for Ricky Rubio works.