Archives For free-agency

The Timberwolves have had their share of splashy injuries, the kind that lead on Sportscenter and receive their own Twitter hashtags, injuries that date models and endorse Nikes. But the Wolves also boast injuries that are less gaudy and heavy-trending but that were nonetheless essential to last season’s disappointment and frustration. Because for much of the season, while the Wolves were desperate for perimeter players who could a) capably execute the corner offense and b) hit a three more than 30% of the time and c) be taller than 6’1″, they had just such a player sitting behind their bench in a slightly ill-fitting suit.

That player, of course, is the fair Chase Budinger. Like most things involving the Wolves this year, Budinger’s season was disfigured and disjointed. He was felled after six games by torn meniscus in his left knee; and when he finally returned, 59 games later, he looked like he was running with a ten-pound weight on his left ankle. He had no explosiveness, no lateral movement and no rhythm in his jumper.

Still, when he returned to the lineup in March, his effect on the team was palpable. Because the Wolves’ lineup was so depleted during the heart of the season, Rick Adelman radically simplified the offense, abandoning most of his corner sets, putting the ball in the hands of his guards and asking them to make plays. This was out of necessity–the Wolves just didn’t have enough talent to run sets with multiple options–but this distillation of the offense made it one-dimensional and awfully easy to defend. When Budinger rejoined the team, his ability to move without the ball, to hit midrange jumpers off of flare screens and to even marginally threaten the defense from beyond the arc significantly improved the Wolves’ spacing and offensive continuity. After all, if you want to run the pick and roll, its helpful if the defense is forced to do something beyond packing five players into the paint.  It was no magic bullet–certainly nothing that balanced the loss of Kevin Love–but the Wolves’ offense was noticeably better when Budinger was on the floor (about two points per 100 possessions better according to 82games).

What’s more it underscored the importance of skilled, savvy role players to a team’s makeup. When those roles go unfilled, especially a role as essential to success in the contemporary NBA as outside shooting, a team’s offensive idea collapses in on itself. You get what you saw in the Wolves this year: a team forced to improvise and scrape just to keep its head above water.

This summer, the Wolves will be scouring the draft and the free-agent market for shooters. Despite his struggles last season, Budinger is still shoots 36% from distance for his career, will likely once again be able to dunk like this and is still tall. All that, plus he isn’t likely to command much more than $3 million per year. I’d advise them to look into it.

Correction: In an earlier version of this post, I said that Budinger was unlikely to command “much more than the veteran’s minimum.” The 2013/2014 minimum for a five-year vet will be just over $1,027,000. Clearly, in real world dollars, $3 million is quite a bit more than that. Certainly, the difference is enough to buy and sell you or me many times over. Still, my point remains: for a player with the potential to help the Wolves offense so much, in NBA money, $3 million a year is a solid bargain.

Unusually for a famous professional athlete, Kevin Love mostly tells you what he’s thinking. And even when he’s attempting to mask his feelings on an issue, that masking is so halfhearted and unconvincing that we nevertheless walk away with a pretty good impression of what’s under the surface. So here are his feelings on the Wolves progress to the playoffs, as reported to Yahoo! Sports (via ESPN.com):

My patience is not high. Would yours be, especially when I’m a big proponent of greatness surrounding itself with greatness? All these [Team USA] guys seem to have great players around them. It’s tough seeing all these guys that are young and older who have all played in the playoffs. When they start talking about that, I have nothing to talk about. If I don’t make the playoffs next year, I don’t know what will happen.

These seem like Revealing Comments from a Famous Basketball Player. But lets take a step back and ask ourselves whether these comments are even a little surprising. Would any of us like to watch, let alone play for, a team as hapless as the Wolves have been since Love arrived? Are any of us feeling particularly patient with the Wolves’ progress? When Love signed his extension, we all knew that the Wolves were gambling that, in three years’ time, they would become good enough to keep him around. Does Love’s recent remarks change that equation in the slightest? The reality is clear, as it always has been: the Wolves need to improve dramatically over the next two seasons. If they don’t, they might find themselves starting over from scratch.

Update: Read Zach’s excellent take on Love’s comments in Truehoop today. Here’s an excerpt:

By saying the team needs to make the playoffs or changes need to happen in the days before you may or may not acquire Batum just seems like horrendous timing. The Wolves had only a glimmer of hope to get away with acquiring Batum outright if Portland decided not to match. Now Portland can be open to a sign-and-trade, knowing they can demand any and all assets Minnesota has at its disposal…Love could have applied pressure to the Timberwolves in private, but now the rest of the league has been put on alert — things in the Twin Cities are bumpy. That doesn’t help you keep future contract negotiations and trade discussions in your team’s favor. It takes away any potential for possessing the upper-hand when transforming your roster.

Any of these names sound good to you: Nicolas Batum, Jordan Hill, Greg Stiemsma, Brandon Roy? That’s the shortish list of players that the Wolves are pursuing in free agency this summer. The team has reportedly offered Batum a four-year deal worth around $50 million, although Batum left Minneapolis yesterday without agreeing to a deal.

The wrinkle, of course, is that Batum is merely a restricted free agent, meaning that if Portland is dead set on retaining the lithe Frenchman, there’s not much the Wolves can do about it. On the other hand, as Jerry Zgoda points out, if Batum were committed enough to coming to Minnesota–and Portland were willing to part with him–the Wolves could conceivably land him in a sign-and-trade deal. But that’s all speculation for now.

I will say that, even if the Wolves’ do swing a deal for Pau Gasol, signing Batum would be, in my opinion, their only unequivocally great move of this off-season. Batum is a young, three-point shooting veteran with ridiculous athletic ability and alarmingly long arms. He can convincingly play a few different wing positions and has a Rubio-esque defensive impact: disrupting passing lanes; swallowing up penetrators; sowing general perimeter chaos. He’s a perfect fit for this team and fills a need that’s been aching for years now.

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)…?