Here’s a sight for you. If you had taken a peak down the Wolves’ bench in the fourth quarter of this rigorously un-lovely loss to the Clippers, you would have seen: Lou Amundson, Greg Stiemsma, Lazar Hayward, J.J. Barea, lots of empty seats. Larry Bird is not walking through that door.
Past Timberwolves teams have been dislike-able for a host of reasons. From last year’s grim-faced underachievers to the callow, talentless bunches of years past, there have always been reasons to distance your self from the awful things happening on the court. But, in their basic competence, in their plucky, Euro-inflected flair, and in their foreignness to the Wolves’ rancid culture, this team has been unprecedentedly appealing.
Which makes it all the more of a bummer to see them so completely threshed by misfortune that even home games against upper-echelon opponents have come to feel essentially un-winnable. Even before Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved hobbled off the floor, this game was pretty dark. Facing the single-minded, absurdly long Deandre Jordan, Pek was just 1-8 from the floor. Shved looked every bit the fatigued rookie, as he has for most of the past month. Dante Cunningham continued to awkwardly brick his signature jumper. Ricky Rubio continued to play as if he is recovering from a reconstructive knee surgery that kept him off the court for nearly a year. J.J. Barea continued to attempt yogic finger-rolls over multiple shot blockers. The Wolves hit 21.1% of their threes. They hit just 14 of their 35 shots in the paint (!!!). They whiffed on wide-open layups; they bricked dunks.
The NBA trade deadline has come and gone and the Wolves roster looks exactly the same as it did when we woke up this morning. The juiciest rumor had been a proposed three-team deal between the Lakers, Blazers and Wolves that would have sent Michael Beasley to L.A., Luke Ridnour to Portland (along with Steve Blake and LA’s first-rounder) and netted Jamal Crawford for the Wolves. But when we saw that the Lakers had used their picks to score Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill, we had to know that the deal had to be dead.
Now, there’s no question that it might have been nice to see the Wolves improve the roster or net a pick by moving Beasley rather than allowing him to become a restricted free-agent this summer. And it would also have been nice to land Crawford, upgrading their offensive production at the two-guard. But to my mind, the price of that deal was a little high. First of all, while Beasley alone for Crawford might not have a been an exactly equal deal for Portland, Beasley and Ridnour together seems a bit much. Ridnour has actually been a more efficient, though considerably lower-volume, scorer than Crawford over the past three seasons. He’s also a much better passer and defender, even when giving up multiple inches at the two.
Given that the Wolves claim to be pursuing a playoff spot this season, a starting backcourt of J.J. Barea and Jamal Crawford seems to be conspicuously lacking in an actual playmaker, someone who can consistently serve the ball to Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. And even if it was a Crawford/Rubio pairing the Wolves were ultimately after, Crawford has an opt-out clause in his contract for next season. In other words, the Wolves would have been trading their only healthy true point guard for a high-volume gunner who wasn’t even guaranteed to be around past July. Seems like they lucked out to me.
Our beloved Timberwolves are back in the saddle/Iditarod sled of shaping the roster and preparing for another hopeful season. And while it seems like this team is set with 13 players under contract and still two rookies (Derrick Williams and Malcolm Lee), the T’Pups remain heavily involved in the free agent sweepstakes. From what we’ve learned through various scribes (Zgoda, Spears, Stein, etc.) players like Jamal Crawford, DeAndre Jordan and Chuck Hayes are all being pursued like a canine chasing a rogue ice cream truck.
The shooting guard position for the Wolves is pretty weak. Between Wayne Ellington’s Wayne Ellington-ness, Wes Johnson’s inability to handle the ball or create off the dribble well enough to be a true shooting guard in Rick Adelman’s offense, and Martell Webster being slightly more adept at covering Wes’ offensive deficiencies, the Wolves could really use a shooting guard who can put the ball on the floor and create scoring opportunities in the halfcourt offense.
(Let’s just pretend Malcolm Lee will be brought around slowly, but I love his game and think he could eventually be an option for playing major minutes.)
Jamal Crawford does that and then some. He’s one of the best scoring 2-guards in the league. It may not be the most efficient brand of basketball. It may not be a consistent output when his shot isn’t falling. But he knows how to put the ball in the basket. Two seasons ago, Crawford had a career year, despite coming off the bench exclusively for the Hawks. He scored 18 points per game, had a true shooting percentage of 57.3%, and had the lowest turnover rate of his career at 9.9%. He was as efficient as ever. Crawford is also a human highlight reel waiting to happen.
But last year his productivity with the Hawks took a pretty dramatic dip. He wasn’t the consistent scoring threat the team saw the previous season. His shooting percentage was back toward his career rate, he was a below average 3-point shooter and he was turning the ball over a lot more while being involved less in the offense. When taking into consideration the idea of giving him a four-year contract, he’s going to be starting his twelfth season in the NBA and he’ll be 32 in March.
While it’s pretty obvious that Jamal Crawford is the sexier name of the free agent options, if the Wolves are going to find a way to work one of these guys into a pretty full roster then they need to make a concerted effort to sign DeAndre Jordan.
For lack of a better term, DeAndre Jordan was a bit spastic with the way he played his first two seasons. It was all dunks from accidentally being in the right place at the right time. He also seemed to be everywhere on defense but never in the right place. When he was around a shot, he usually tossed it in the other direction. He was active and showed determination to figure it out, but it was more awkward than anything.
However, last season DAJ broke out in a mini-spotlight next to Blake Griffin’s Epcot spotlight. He was defensively one of the best big men in the entire NBA from an individual standpoint. Jordan didn’t really have a defensive flaw last year. He played the post well, he rotated well, he played the PnR well, and he closed out on shooters well. While there were times that he was slow to see the play develop, after the first couple months of the season he was able to see things unfolding and respond quickly to it. If he has any real weakness defensively, it’s that he hasn’t completely filled out his lanky, broad frame. He could still stand to put on a few pounds of muscle while keeping his freakish athleticism.
In fact, freakish athleticism isn’t a term that does DAJ justice. When you watch him move around the court, he almost appears to be teleporting. He seems to instantly travel 10 feet at a time with his long strides. This helps him immensely when running pick-and-rolls with his point guard. As soon as he seals on the pick and turns his hips toward the basket, he’s already four-feet from where the screen was set. One step later, he’s gathered his balance and is exploding for the alley-oop.
Jordan was third in the NBA in dunks last season. Of his 234 made field goals, 158 of them were dunks. 205 of his 234 made field goals were at the rim and he only took eight shots beyond 10 feet (making none of them). This may seem like he’s extremely limited offensively, and maybe he is. But he also doesn’t try to do a whole lot on offense that isn’t in his skill set. You won’t see him posting up a lot and hold the ball on the block for long stretches of the shot clock. He knows his limitations.
The problem with acquiring DeAndre Jordan is he already turned down a five-year, $40 million deal from the Clippers and he’s a restricted free agent. With the stunning result of the Clippers already signing Caron Butler for three years and $24 million, they’re showing they’re willing to overpay players right now. With DAJ being one of Blake Griffin’s best friends, it seems they would match whatever it takes to keep this duo together.
The Wolves have roughly $5 million in cap space and 15 players under contract after they presumably sign Derrick Williams and Malcolm Lee. That doesn’t leave a lot of room to make something happen for Jordan, when he’s looking for eight figures on his contract and you have to push that to around $12 million or higher to make the Clippers blink at matching the deal. To make this happen, the Wolves would need to drop the amnesty hammer on one of their guy or trade one of the bigger contracts.
The problem is we don’t have big contracts to get rid of. Some people would say to amnesty Darko, but he’s only making $4.7 million this season and the Wolves need depth in the frontcourt. You could amnesty Brad Miller since he’s not really going to be able to contribute much after his knee injury anyway, but he makes roughly the same amount as Darko and could be a great mentor for young guys learning Adelman’s system.
So is the answer to deal Michael Beasley? Do we amnesty Martell Webster? Webster makes the second most on the team with $5.2 million hitting the salary cap. The Wolves wouldn’t be saving any money long-term because his salary for next season is only guaranteed for about $600,000 against the cap. They’d also be losing one of their few options at shooting guard.
With Beasley, it would free up a presumed headache within the organization (that could easily be saved and become an All-Star but that’s a conversation for another time), a logjam at the small forward, and about $6.2 million. That gives the Wolves a starting price tag of $11.2 million for Jordan. Would that price tag and acquiring Beasley in a sign-and-trade coupled with the suffocating guilt possessing the Wolves’ 2012 first round pick be enough for the Clippers to accept the deal?
This would be the best-case scenario for the Wolves in many ways. You free up a potential distraction by moving Beasley – as fair or unfair as that may sound. It would give the Wolves a fantastic, young interior presence around the rim on both ends of the court, and even if he doesn’t improve much past what we see now, four years and $44 million of this DAJ isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s not the best bang for your buck, but there are worse contracts for big men to have.
If it plays out this way, we’d be looking at a potential depth chart of:
PG: Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour
Wing: Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington, Malcolm Lee
Wing: Derrick Williams, Wes Johnson, Lazar Hayward
Post: Kevin Love, Anthony Randolph, Anthony Tolliver
Post: DeAndre Jordan, Darko Milicic, Nikola Pekovic, Brad Miller
There are a lot of options and versatility that comes with that depth chart. Sure, it leaves the Wolves pretty outmanned at the shooting guard position, and perimeter scoring would be a bit lacking. But Rick Adelman’s offense is designed to get different parts moving and having the ball swung to find them. This works out well for a young, athletic team like the Wolves.
It would be nice to acquire someone like Crawford or Arron Afflalo (also a restricted agent), but their asking price might be more than the Wolves should have to fork over to acquire them. I’d much rather put the money toward improving the middle of the paint and building outward.
Finally, Wolves have been in talks with Chuck Hayes as I mentioned above. Hayes is one of the best post defenders in the NBA, despite being just 6’6” soaking wet. He’s also a fantastic passer from the post and high-post. But I don’t know he’s exactly what the Wolves need, especially if they have a chance at an athletic big man like Jordan. And he’s fixed his free throw stroke so we wouldn’t get to live this roller coaster very often.