Archives For NBA Free Agency

Photo by AtomicShed

If you haven’t already done so, it’s worth your while to check out Chris Palmer’s ESPN The Magazine piece on just why it is that our old pal Rashad McCants, despite his electric skills, can’t find a job in the NBA. The article is fairly illuminating for us fans who watched the slow car crash of his last year in MN unfold. It details McCants’s epic personality clash with Randy Wittman, his tepid relationship with his teammates and the truly amazing fact that no fewer than three of his former coaches have suggested that he seek psychological counseling. (By the way, it’s a magnificent testimony to the Kevin McHale era that the Wolves took McCants with the 14th pick in the draft despite the fact that both of his college coaches found him so temperamental that they sent him to get help.)

Here’s the piece’s most telling moment:

“They say I don’t smile,” McCants says. “Does that make me a bad person?” In his eyes he’s done everything asked of a good teammate. He sees none of the accountability issues everyone else can’t stop talking about. What coaches label as sulking McCants says is just being quiet. “Management doesn’t see how well I get along with my teammates when we’re hanging out together,” he says. “They’re not interested in that.”

No dude, not smiling does not make you a bad person. But making an exasperated spectacle of sighing and rolling your eyes when you don’t get the ball, looking vacantly into the distance during team huddles, and audibly castigating other players for minor sins for which you yourself are also guilty (all of which were on full regular display during his time as a T-Wolf) does make you pretty rotten teammate. Not someone I’d be too thrilled to spend seven months hanging out with.

Now, it’s clear that Randy Wittman was not much fun to play for; I have no trouble believing that he was vindictive in his instruction and allotment of playing time. But let’s remember that Shaddy’s monumental benching occurred while McHale, a habitual benefit-of-the-doubt-giver and an affable player’s coach if there ever was one, was in charge of the team. And let’s also remember that, on purely basketball terms, during that last season McCants was really, really terrible.

He constantly thwarted the offense with indulgent over-dribbling and infuriating shot selection. His defense ran the gamut from  excessively macho to absentminded and tuned-out (does anyone remember his bleakly hilarious attempt to go mano-a-mano with Lebron in the fourth quarter of a blowout? The knee-wobbling crossover and dunk that resulted was cringe/gasp-worthy).

In his 34 games with the Wolves in ’08-’09, Shaddy hit just 36% of his shots and posted a PER of 9.9 (that’s good for 61st among shooting guards that year). Even more damning, according to the Wolves’ offense scored a whopping 9.1 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor (and their defense was also about half a point worse).

The stats reflect what was readily apparent: McCants’s pouting, his ball-hogging and his insecure bravado prevented him from coherently participating in the team’s mission. As a consequence, his teammates, though they may have given him love off the floor, came to resent and mistrust him on it. They bristled at his chesty, on-court attitude; they grumbled about his heedless, futile gunning.

So McCants is wrong if he thinks that his coaches just want to see him smile. The fact is that no matter how skilled a player you may be (and make no mistake, Rashad McCants is a tremendously skilled player, with a finely honed offensive game) unless you can invest yourself in the idea of a group, you don’t really understand how to play basketball. McCants’s inability to insinuate himself into the working life of his team wasn’t just an irritating subplot to his on-court struggles, it was the substance of those struggles. Near the end of Palmer’s article, McCants’s pop James gives his son some good advice: “Make the changes you need to survive.” You have to wonder whether Shaddy knows what those changes are.

Enter Ridnour

Benjamin Polk —  July 22, 2010 — 7 Comments

Photo by Express Monorail

Here in Minnesota, we love ourselves some point guards. In the last two years, Jonny Flynn, Ricky Rubio, Nick Calathes, Ty Lawson, Mario Chalmers, Kevin Ollie, Sebastian Telfair, Randy Foye and Ramon Sessions  have all, at least momentarily, sported the hometown blue-ish and green-ish (and black, plus a little silver).

And now, Luke Ridnour is officially a member of that distinguished group. Welcome, Luke.  I recommend swimming in lakes for a third of the year and wearing long underwear for the rest. So what’s this all about? Are we moving Ramon Sessions as has been reported and widely assumed? Are we, uh, actually hanging on to all three of these guys? Here’s what Kent Youngblood has to say about it:

Jonny Flynn, last year’s starter as a rookie, has a sore left hip. David Kahn, the Wolves’ president of basketball operations, said it’s the same injury that kept Flynn out of last season’s regular-season finale and out of summer league ball. Kahn said the team will hold onto all its point guards until Flynn’s immediate future is clear.

“We have three point guards on our roster this season, and yet another one [Ricky Rubio] overseas,” Kahn said Wednesday. “It’s not my intent, in any way, shape or form, to have three healthy point guards on the roster this year. That wouldn’t be fair to any of them. … [But] I’m not certain, as we speak today, about Jonny’s condition.”

On a different, although somewhat related note, jianfu of Canis wonders aloud whether a mid-market team like the Wolves can afford the talent necessary to run the triangle offense:

It would appear that running this style of offense demands versatility out of all its players: your bigs need to be creative passers, your wings need to be versatile, do-it-all types. Is this sustainable for a smaller-market team wishing to avoid the luxury tax? Wouldn’t it seem, assuming you found enough players that could make this thing sing, this is a less-cost-efficient strategy given these players are skilled to the point that they’re going to be awfully expensive? The Lakers have Lamar Odom coming off the bench and he’s paid 3X the Wolves’ highest-paid player, after all. Is a Utah- or Phoenix-style offense–built almost entirely around a 2-man pick-and-roll game, supplemented with role players that are more specific (as opposed to diverse) in their skillsets a more viable alternative?

This is an interesting point, I think. My personal feeling is that you don’t necessarily need a team full of spectacularly talented players to make this offense work–although it would probably be helpful to have at least one guy of Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol or Kobe Bryant’s skill level. Rather, you need smart players who are willing and able to get open and move the ball. Its also nice if they can run the floor and shoot and feel like playing defense.

Utah doesn’t run the triangle, but Jerry Sloan’s offense relies on some similar skills: overall basketball knowledge; crafty passing; smart off-the-ball movement and screen setting. The Jazz’s great talent has been to surround their stars–Stockton and Malone, Williams and Boozer–with smart, willing, modestly paid role players; there’s no reason that the Wolves can’t do this too (and in some ways, they’re already on the right track). So when do we get our Deron Williams (or Kobe or Pau)…?

B-Easy Speaks

Benjamin Polk —  July 16, 2010 — 3 Comments

The Wolves welcomed Michael Beasley into the fold yesterday. Watching this video, especially in comparison to the goofy, somewhat childlike performance he put on as a draftee, one gets the clear sense that B-Easy has been through a lot in the last two years. We’ll see whether that’s a good thing or not.

Also, although Al Jefferson seems to have fond feelings for us back here in the old MN, he’s not exactly sweating his new situation either.

Photo by Macwagon

After trading Al Jefferson to the Utah Jazz for two first-rounders, a newfound $25 million or so in cap room, and a chance to give Michael Beasley some serious burn (by the way, Kevin Love says, B-Easy or no, he’s not feeling another year of sixth-man limbo–anybody know how this is gonna work?) David Kahn strongly hinted that the party was not over. “We’re only about halfway through this exercise,” he said on the eve of the Jefferson deal. Apparently an essential facet of the exercise was signing Luke Ridnour.  AP’s John Krawczynski reports on that:

With so many baby-faced players on a roster that is in the middle of a massive overhaul, team president David Kahn put a priority on adding some experience to help the young Minnesota Timberwolves grow together.

The first veteran addition didn’t come cheap. The Timberwolves agreed to a four-year, $16 million deal with free agent point guard Luke Ridnour, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

This probably also tells us that Ramon Sessions, the Wolves current backup point guard, is on his way to a (hopefully) happier place. Krawczynski continues:

The deal likely means that Sessions, who signed a contract nearly identical to Ridnour’s last summer, will be traded. Sessions’ agent told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he has heard about discussions with several teams, but a deal has yet to be completed.

Let me tell you what this makes me wonder. Over their careers, Ridnour’s and Sessions’s stats are awfully similar (Ridnour’s sample size, of course, being quite a bit bigger than Ramon’s). Sessions boasts a career PER of 15.6 to Ridnour’s 14.5 Sessions’s true shooting percentage is .519, while Ridnour’s is .512. Dimes? Sessions’s assist rate is 31% while Ridnour’s is 29.7%. Turnover rate? 15.9% for Sessions, 15.5 for Ridnour. Even defensively, the two players’ profiles are remarkably similar.

So what’s this about? As mentioned above, veteran leadership was something sorely lacking from the Wolves’ lineup last year; Ridnour certainly provides that–although Sessions, despite his relative youth, offered a quiet, steady contrast to Jonny Flynn’s exuberant vocal stylee. I certainly hope this isn’t an overreaction to Sessions’s disappointing stats last season and Ridnour’s career year (Luke’s PER and true shooting percentage were significantly higher last year than in any of his previous six seasons–which suggests that they’re more than likely an aberration).

Because if anyone got a rotten deal last year, it wasn’t Jefferson or Kevin Love, but Sessions.  For an entire season, he watched from the sidelines as Flynn received on-the-job training from the Wolves’ starting unit. Ramon, meanwhile, had to make do with the truly impressive cast D-Leaguers and Eurostars on the Wolves’ bench–and I’ll tell you, that crew could suck the life out of anybody’s game. Over and over, Sessions found himself the most competent scorer on the floor, forced to shoulder the man’s share of the offensive burden.

Suffice to say, this did not play to his strengths. Watching Sessions’s game slowly deteriorate after thousands of minutes spent next to Ryan Hollins and Sasha Pavlovic was one of the least appetizing facets of the Wolves long, grisly season. I’m pretty sure that Ramon Sessions is an awfully good basketball player. He doesn’t deserve what he got (and what, it seems, he’s getting) here in Minneapolis.

Big Al on the Brink

Benjamin Polk —  July 13, 2010 — 2 Comments

Things are happening to Al Jefferson. Last night Marc Stein reported that the Wolves were still haggling with Dallas over a possible trade of Big Al for Erick Dampier, or more accurately, Dampier’s huge, non-guaranteed contract.

But because of Dallas’s desire to unload Deshawn Stevenson, Matt Carroll and their significantly less amenable contracts on whomever takes Dampier, this thing is apparently old news.

Today, all the kids are talking about Utah. Here’s what Jerry Zgoda has to say:

A league source told the Star Tribune the Wolves were approaching a deal with the Jazz that would send the remaining three years and $42 million on Jefferson’s contract to Utah for a protected first-round pick from Memphis and another unspecified piece or pieces. The Jazz would use a trade exception from losing free agent Carlos Boozer to Chicago to absorb Jefferson’s salary…That trade also could clear cap room for the team to make additional trades or signings such as that of Ridnour, the former Milwaukee Bucks combo guard who visited the Timberwolves and Target Center last week.

Friends, this is sounding just like a salary dump. Are the Wolves really looking to move Al for next to nothing in order to make room for Luke Ridnour? Is that really the best we can do? I can already envision four games of Al utterly devouring Kevin Love or Michael Beasley or Darko or whoever else the Wolves use to defend him. I realize that its shrewd to enter the season with cap room (as Oklahoma City seems to do every year), but this still feels like an ignoble end for Big Al.  I’m feeling kind of depressed.

On the subject of Beasley, ESPN says that the deal is now official:

“There should be still a tremendous amount of upside there,” Kahn said of Beasley. “We like his versatility and his athleticism. If we do trade Al, he provides some comfort there is some scoring punch in case that occurs.”

Or they could, y’know, try to trade Al for an actual player with a little “scoring punch,” but whatever.

While we’re talking about Beasley, this here’s a nice piece from a few days ago by Oceanary of Canis Hoopus about the whole power forward/small forward debate. As we briefly mentioned the other day, Beasley’s stats are significantly better when he plays the four. Oceanary elaborates on just why that is:

First, Beasley can create some absolutely nightmarish mismatches for other teams as a 4. The kind that….well, that the Timberwolves fell victim to on seemingly a nightly basis last season. Beasley’s a strong shooter with range, with the potential to get even better in that department. He’s also quick and athletic in a way few power forwards in the league are, and can handle the ball well enough to exploit that without needing to run of screens and make constant backdoor cuts. And he’s a master at creating space for himself in isolation situations, whether it be with a first step, a step back, or something more crafty. He is a shouthpaw after all….a lot of people don’t realize how much that can be exploited.

Photo by NatalieHG

As much as possible, I’ve tried to stay away from covering the Lebron spectacle. The deluge of speculation, self-aggrandizement and misinformation was just a little too hot and gooey to hold onto, especially for a venue as concerned with semi-forgotten former number 2 draft picks as we seem to be.

But as I indicated below, I was sort of taken aback at the ickiness of the announcement’s forum, as well as with my own supreme disappointment at its content. So I have two, hopefully brief observations.

First, there is no doubt that holding an hour-long national television event to announce your choice of employers (in the process slowly torturing your most loyal supporters) is an act of cruel hubris.  This has been widely remarked upon and is not exactly a revelation. Still, as our friend David Roth has pointed out at Can’t Stop the Bleeding some of the more vituperative scolding LBJ (or more accurately, “his ego”) has received from the Innernet pundicrats (this one and this one are prime examples) strike one as more than a little disingenuous. Says Mr. Roth:

Obviously this whole thing was going to get dumb, and obviously it has gotten dumb. Obviously LeBron was going to sign a huge contract and leverage his brand (barf, by the way) for maximum revenue, because he has always done that, and obviously he is doing that. Getting Hulk-smash angry at the fact that these totally predictable things are happening strikes me as kind of a waste of energy and virtual ink.

These things aren’t just predictable. More than that, they’ve been expected of Lebron ever since he was, like, 10 years old. How can we possibly scrutinize his every comment and action, endlessly pontificate on his desires and motivations (there’s that ego again) and then self-righteously attack him for his outsized sense of his own world-historical importance? Seems a little hypocritical to me.

I’ve always been struck by the degree to which Lebron believes in the hagiography (the “King James” thing, the “we are all witnesses” thing, the “having a legacy” thing); as a result, it seems to me, he is disarmingly businesslike and matter-of-fact about his own magnificence. He’s got none of Terrell Owens’s pulsating narcissism or even someone like J.R. Smith’s transparent insecurity. He just takes his own status as an extraordinarily important person–which status is constantly reinforced by the media and the fans and his business associates and own teammates–as a given. So it isn’t exactly arrogant (it’s a lot of gross things, but not arrogance) for him to assume that we would want to watch an hour-long TV show about his latest act of self-marketing. We did want to watch it; it’s exactly what we had been asking for.

Here’s the second thing. As I mentioned before, my main emotion at hearing that Lebron was heading to South Beach wasn’t anger or disgust; it was disappointment. Disappointment, not so much at his disloyalty to the hometown team–as we well know, the loyalty of fans and players to their pro sports organizations has never been a two-way street–but because he would have looked so great next to Boozer and Rose and Noah in Chicago. His staggering talents would have been beautifully complemented and enhanced. Best of all, he would have seeded the possibility of an eye-popping rivalry with Wade’s and Bosh’s Heat. It would have been so much fun.

Commenter Mac put it really well (go here and scroll down for the whole thing):

But to me, Lebron will always be a guy who put winning ahead of actually competing, who wanted a ring more than he wanted to win a ring, who wanted the championship belt more than he wanted to be the baddest man on the planet. I am told he is a big fan of the movie “Gladiator.” He fancies himself Maximus no doubt, but to me he proved this summer he is a lot more like Commodus — he wants the throne and the adulation and the symbolic victory in front of the masses, but what doesn’t care about as much is beating anybody in a fair fight. And to me, that makes him a less interesting player and a less admirable champion, even if he wins a title or two or three. Your mileage may vary.

Ultimately, I don’t really care that the Lakers won the Finals this year. What was meaningful to me was the heart-exploding, ferociously competitive seven games (plus two compelling series against OKC and Phoenix, plus their whole curious regular season) that got them there. I care that they played feverish defense and managed to overcome a poor offensive game by their best player and barely squeaked by a Celtics team almost exactly as tenacious and synchronized as they were. We’ve come to so fetishize the spoils of victory–especially that iconic ring–that we’ve almost forgotten the game itself. But the beautiful struggle, the intense harmony of ten bodies in motion, that’s the interesting part. The results are just words on a page; the ring is just a piece of metal.  Winning is important, but the process, the effort, is what really compels. The fact that Lebron seems to want to circumvent that process–that he seems, as Mac says, to care more about winning than competing–this is what really bums me out.

Well, the Timberwolves’ David Lee flirtation is over, as the former Knick has agreed to a sign-and-trade with the Golden State Warriors. Chad Ford reports:

Lee’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, told that Lee has agreed to a sign-and-trade worth $80 million dollars over six years with the Golden State Warriors…The deal will send Lee to the Warriors for Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf and Kelenna Azubuike among others.

Wow, Anthony Randolph and Amar’e Stoudemire are on the same team. Galaxies will explode; matter will dissolve; Toney Douglas will become a man.

But the Wolves didn’t just mope around tearfully staring at their framed David Lee basketball card. Nope, instead they managed to land Michael Beasley, the second pick in the 2008 draft in exchange, essentially, for nothing:

Sources close to the situation told that the Heat agreed Thursday night to a trade that will send Beasley to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who can simply absorb Beasley into empty salary-cap space and furnish Miami with additional financial flexibility to continue the dramatic transformation of its roster. To complete the trade, Minnesota must only part with a 2011 second-round pick to acquire Beasley. The teams have also agreed to a swap of unspecified future first-round picks.

One reason that this move is awesome is that, until the Three Tenors officially sign their deals, the Heat have only one player on their roster, Mario Chalmers. This is the answer to one of those great heretofore totally irrelevant bored basketball nerd hypotheticals: would you trade your entire team for Lebron, Wade and Bosh? (Yes, apparently).

Now, as his draft position indicates, Beasley is magnificently talented; on age and ability alone you would have to say that the Wolves scored a major coup in accepting Miami’s largesse. On the other hand, he’s a weird dude, who has already been to rehab (either for a mental breakdown, for substance abuse, or both) and couldn’t manage to get through the NBA’s rookie transition program without getting fined $50 grand. Also, so far he hasn’t really been all that good (.516 TS%, 12.8 Rebound %, pretty scattershot defense) and doesn’t really seem to enjoy playing professional basketball. It’s really hard to tell how this will go.

On the other other hand, have you noticed that the Wolves now have a whole lot of forwards on their team? Especially ones (like Beasley, Love and Jefferson) that are a little undersized and that don’t defend all that well? More moves to come, I’ll wager.

Photo by lint machine

  • Things are happening everybody. Did you guys know that Lebron James was a free agent this summer? Wow, he’s probably going to make a lot of money, almost as much as Joe Johnson even! In any case, it seems that Lebron’s decision will have an effect on David Lee’s eventual destination. And although Golden State is evidently the front-runner in this little game, nothing is decided at the moment. Chad Ford reports at Truehoop:

Once LeBron announces his intentions tonight at 9 p.m. on ESPN, Lee should know pretty quickly where he’ll land. League sources tell me that the Warriors are in the lead to land Lee in a sign-and-trade with the Knicks if New York doesn’t win the LeBron Lottery tonight…If the Knicks do land LeBron tonight, they’ll have to renounce their rights to Lee in order to fit in LeBron under the cap. That will kill any chances of a sign-and-trade.

Good to know, except that the Knicks are not going to land Lebron tonight, so.

  • Speaking of the salary cap, Marc Stein at ESPN tells us that the cap for next season is actually $2 million higher than expected.
  • Which is great news because it means that the Wolves can now go right ahead and sign Luke Ridnour. Problem solved!
  • Ups, not quite. Nothing is settled until the porcelain Rick Rickert joins the Wolves’ Summer League team. There, that should do it.
  • Don’t worry, everybody, Jonny Flynn is not being traded (although now how will the Wolves find playing time for Ridnour? Right?).
  • This last thing has nothing to do with the Wolves, but Joey from Straight Bangin’ so perfectly captures my feelings on the whole Lebron/Wade/Bosh  Event (assuming, of course, that Lebron does go to Miami, as it looks like he will) that I’ve got to show it to you (although its chock full of dirty words). His points, in brief: It is cowardly; it is lazy; it is boring for basketball; it undermines the NBA; it insults history. True on all counts:

If Miami wins two, or three, or four titles, I hope that no self-respecting fan anoints LeBron as a historical equivalent of Michael, Magic, Larry, and them. Those are NBA greats who sacrificed, who struggled, who worked to impose their will, believing that ultimately they would find a way to emboss the designs for a title with their unique signatures. LeBron has chosen otherwise, shrinking from the obligations of true greatness. This is a herb move for a man who will remain lost despite a new direction.

Good use of the word “herb,” dude. Two more bodies I’d add to the pile: 1) For a man who claims to love his home state, he doled out some serious torture to the people who’ve supported him his whole life. 2) Culminating in this one-hour television special–which I’ll watch if I can find the stomach–this whole hubristic fiasco has done more to turn everyday life into a vacuous, preening spectacle than a thousand episodes of The Hills. Thanks everybody.

By now we all know that David Lee has visited with the Timberwolves. He was “really impressed” with the Wolves and believes that we have a “beautiful city,” with “very nice people”. I’ve heard that about us.

We’ve also been told that the Knicks and Wolves are discussing the possibility of a sign-and-trade with Lee and Al Jefferson. This is no surprise. And here, Oceanary from Canis Hoopus explains that Al still has good trade value this Summer (and discusses some other possible destinations). But here’s something interesting, though. John Schumann of writes that if the Knicks still have hope of landing either Lebron or Dwyane Wade, a sign-and-trade won’t do the trick (he also has some pretty complimentary things to say about Lee, by the way):

“But depending on what else the Knicks do in free agency, they may not be able to execute a sign-and-trade with Lee. In order for New York to do that, it must maintain his Bird rights with a salary cap hold of $10.5 million, which prevents the team from signing a second major free agent after Stoudemire. The salaries of both Jefferson ($13 million) and Ellis ($11 million) exceed Lee’s cap hold, so there’s no relief in making one of those deals.

Lee’s cap hold and Stoudemire’s starting salary of $17.2 million would put the Knicks’ cap space at $6.9 million. So if they still hope to land James or Wade, the Knicks can’t make any firm plans to sign-and-trade Lee. They would have to renounce his rights to sign James or Wade.”

Does the fact that the Knicks are even considering these offers mean that they have given up on signing one of the serious stars to team up with Amar’e Stoudemire? Are they just covering all the bases? The next few days should tell the tale. Meantime, here’s Lee wearing some ultra-tight, tasseled white pants and telling a very funny joke:

That is primitive! Here he is being cheered on by a bonnetted Stephon Marbury. Wow, the Knicks have had some weird teams: