I’ve been a Timberwolves fan since my early elementary years in the mid-90s. I can remember sitting in the upper deck with my dad, watching a Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury, and Tom Gugliotta big 3 lead the Timberwolves to their first playoff berth.
My friend and AWAW amigo William Bohl was not (obsessively) watching basketball at this point. In fact, he didn’t start (obsessively) watching the Timberwolves until after he was already gone.
This made for some interesting conversation when Kevin Garnett was traded to the Timberwolves yesterday. While I got to see the Timberwolves’ “glory years” as a fan, Bill’s lack of exposure to that era helped keep him more even keeled throughout yesterday’s happenings. We decided to exchange some emails on the matter. This is what we came away with.
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.
Ricky, we already miss you. Its hard to tell if Saturday’s performance against the Hornets was simply the product of an emotional hangover or if its simply what we can expect from the post-Ricky Wolves. Either way, it was an unlovely melange of poor shot selection, stagnant ball-movement and listless, unaware defense. As Rick Adelman put it afterwards, (via Kent Youngblood at the Strib) “I thought maybe it was the worst game in a long time defensively for us. No communication, ball-watching, not playing as a team.” True that.
It’s an ominous moment for your Timberwolves. Rick Adelman’s arrival notwithstanding, it often seemed that the only thing standing between this year’s Wolves and the gauzy nightmare of the Wittman/McHale/Rambis era was the floppy-haired Catalan hope machine. Without him, things feel a little scary.
By way of providing solace, Truehoop points out that, despite the surplus of charming smiles, warm feelings and ecstatic moments, Rubio had hardly transformed the Wolves into a titan of offensive efficiency. Last season, the Wolves scored 101.1 points per 100 possessions, this year they’re scoring 101.5 pts/100. Because of this season’s league-wide, lockout-induced offensive tumble, that number is good for 14th in the NBA, but the point remains. What’s more, according to 82games, the Wolves offense was exactly as efficient with him on the floor as off. On the other hand, it seemed clear on Saturday that without Rubio’s probing ballhandling and preternatural vision, there were fewer open shooters, fewer rhythmic spot up jumpers.
On the other other hand, as we’ve already discussed, Rubio was probably even more integral to the Wolves’ defensive renewal. The team was 3.3 points/100 possessions better defensively when he was on the floor this season. The lack of Ricky’s ability to create turnovers, disrupt the pick-and-roll game and conjure frenzied defensive energy was painfully evident against New Orleans.
So how does this affect the Wolves’ decision-making moving forward? Well, as Jerry Zgoda pointed out to ESPN, this probably means the team won’t be looking to move Luke Ridnour, the only Wolf left with any natural-born ball-distribution skills, not to mention their best perimeter scorer, any time soon. And most observers seem to agree that, short of possibly moving Mike Beasley for a draft-pick (would any vampires in the audience care to glamour the Nets into parting with their first-round pick?), the Wolves are best served by standing pat. After all, their long-term needs are still most glaringly at shooting guard and in the middle. Here’s how Zach put it in his most recent 5-on-5 appearance:
I’ll say no move for the backcourt is necessary right now. Ridnour has been one of the more unheralded role players this season and is capable of keeping Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love scoring at high clips. The key will be getting Barea healthy and seeing if Malcolm Lee can provide a spark. Now, if they want to go after Pau Gasol to add elite size, that’s a much better plan to me.
Which, yes, agreed. But can you see any combination of Timberwolves short of Kevin Love or Ricky himself that could entice the Lakers into moving Gasol? Well I can’t.
After all, Rubio’s most significant contribution, as attested to by the recent outpouring of Twitter love, was spiritual. And it was that loss–the way he made us feel, the way he inspired his teammates to play–that was felt most acutely on Saturday.
In the future, the Wolves will make the playoffs and we will all live in places like this.
The regular season is just a tick over halfway done. Almost miraculously, your Timberwolves have won as many times in 33 games as they did all of last year. They have players that do incredible things, players that people enjoy watching. It seems possible that they may actually be competing for a playoff spot as the season winds down. The days of dreary, callow basketball, of loss after disheartening loss, seem to be over.
But the riddle is far from solved. The Wolves remain incomplete, full of gaps and shortcomings. And they face a punishing schedule, sure to deplete whatever reserves of energy they may have stowed away during their long weekend. So Zach, Myles and I will here attempt to tackle some of the big questions facing the Wolves as the season’s second half gets underway.
ESPN is reporting that the Knicks have finally landed Mr. Carmelo Anthony. In exchange, the Knicks have traded almost all of their young players plus Governor’s Island and three scuzzy, bro-infested East Village bars. For us, though, here’s the important part:
New York will send Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry to Minnesota as part of the deal in exchange for Corey Brewer, a league source told Broussard.
I hope that, just once, the Wolves deign to put Darko and Curry on the floor together. That would be pure magic.
By the way, Corey Brewer is/was my favorite T-Wolf. This hurts a little.