It has already been a month since the season has ended for the Wolves, which puts the offseason at roughly 16% complete at this point if you count the pre-season as being “part of the year.” If you want exact percentages or feel a need to nitpick the math here, kindly go give David Kahn a bath.
Another notable milestone has come and gone quietly, and that is the one year anniversary of Flip Saunders being hired to take over for Kahn as POBO. Reviews on his performance thus far are decidedly mixed, but we will not dwell on such trivial matters here. Flip will surely be a major architect for this team into the 2020’s, so I suggest we get used to his style sooner rather than later, and learn to live with the Blank Check Saunders mentality (sorry, I had to).
I thought it might he a good time to take a quick snapshot of where the Wolves are leading into the draft, get a better understanding of what the Wolves can realistically do at this point, and do some basic bookkeeping on the, admittedly dire, salary situation Flip faces as he tests the trade market this summer.
Coaching: Rick Adelman has retired, and the Wolves have entered a period of radio silence. As many have suggested in the local media, the Wolves are waiting for the marquee jobs (LAL, NYK, GS) to fill before deciding among the sloppy seconds. While the rumor mill is ever-churning the word that Glen Taylor is willing to open his pocket book to hire a “big name,” my gut still says that Flip Saunders will be the coach of the Wolves next season. For whatever reason, I can’t envision Flip going hog wild and ultimately finding that right coach/FO balance that was actually quite rare with a coach of Adelman’s stature. As the names heat up, I am guessing you are going to be hearing a lot of “candidate so-and-so wants full control over basketball operations,” as we saw with Stan Van Gundy and has been rumored to be the issue with George Karl. It creates an odd and predictable dynamic that I’m not sure will be easy to replicate a la Adelman, and will likely greatly influence who the Wolves can hire. This is why I see Taylor relenting. Flip is, after all, the absolute best possible candidate for both jobs. Sigh.
Now, on to the players. I was going to provide a little “capsule” next to each individual player but that would have involved making 15 separate picture files, so here be your info dump. Stats are courtesy of Basketball Reference and salary detail courtesy of ShamSports
For those of you curious, the PER and WS/48 are two widely used comprehensive stat measures to gauge a player’s overall production on the court. For PER, 15 is the league average and for WS/48, .01 is average. Of note is that it is really quite common for teams to have regular members of the rotation check out as below average in these measures. So, it shouldn’t be some all encompassing metric, but it does go to show you who was generally good and generally bad, all things considered (hint: JJ Barea was bad). I like juxtaposing these things next to the player’s salary for the immediate future so we can illustrate some obvious payroll inefficiencies and give a sense of how realistic a big trade acquisition would be (hint: not realistic, don’t even fire up the trade machine. The answer is “no”). But one alarming insight I have overall to this eye-sore of a chart is that the Wolves are devoting over $19 million in salary next season to five players who are well below average in these basic metrics, and I firmly believe these things in aggregate caused the bulk of the team’s problems this year. Unfortunately, these are tough problems to fix through trades alone.
So with that in mind, let’s break down each player, what I perceive to be their trade value on a scale of 1-5, and what the offseason looks like for them.
1. Kevin Love. Productivity Rating: 5/5; Trade Value: 3/5.
Love is a stud. But where I think people are a bit misinformed is they look at the haul Denver received for Carmelo Anthony pre-lockout, or the Wolves for Garnett, and assume the Wolves could get a similar package today. Unfortunately, something called the lockout happened and teams can no longer acquire a player and extend him immediately. This both helps and hurts the Wolves, as it makes it harder for Love to call the shots on leaving mid-season, but also greatly softens the trade market for star players unless they are locked into long contracts. As it stands, I don’t think the Wolves could get more than maybe a young player, along the lines of an Alec Burks-level player, and maybe a pair of 1st rounders projected to be late lottery or worse. This is why Flip will not consider trading Love until he decides to leave on his own. Whether this is a good idea or a bad one is debatable, but is taking one last shot with Love worth more than Jodie Meeks and a future 15th pick from the Lakers? I would argue yes.
2. Nikola Pekovic. Productivity Rating: 4/5 (when healthy); Trade Value 2/5.
Pek’s production when healthy is top notch for an NBA starting Center. He is an elite post player and a terrific rebounder. But 54 games is not going to cut it on the court or off it in trade talks. Pek’s feet issues have become chronic and with $47 million left on his deal only a small handful of owners would be likely to take on his salary unless he plays a near full season next year. Any trade involving Pek will undoubtedly result in a drop in production/would be centered on salary relief on the return in a critical year. The Wolves also signed him with intent to keep him and I don’t think now is the time to trade him.
3. Gorgui Dieng. Productivity Rating: 4/5; Trade Value 4/5.
Dieng was the redeeming point of the season, and caused many of the tens of Wolves fans to rethink what was an awful draft. In my opinion, Dieng is quietly Minnesota’s most valuable player in trade talks as he is just starting a cheap rookie deal, and produced like a very solid NBA Center when Pek went down. However, given Pek’s injury history, I wouldn’t expect nor encourage the Wolves to trade this instant fan favorite, as in 20 years we will all look back and remember Dieng as a Bill Russell/Hakeen Olajuwon/Rasho Nesterovic/Mark Blount/Dikembe Mutombo/Tyson Chandler/Serge Ibaka hybrid….on steroids and various recreational drugs. Do. Not. Trade.
4. Ronny Turiaf. Productivity Rating: 4/5; Trade Value 2/5.
Ronny quietly had a pretty quality season with the Wolves when he played, but like so many others, injuries derailed it. His contract is cap friendly and at just $1.5 million is a bargain for what he brings, so why not keep him around? I doubt he has the stature to be a centerpiece to a trade and would more act as salary filler if one came along, but given the small contract, I doubt a team would turn a nose up too high at the prospect of acquiring him as an add-on to a trade.
5. Kevin Martin. Productivity Rating: 3/5; Trade Value 2/5
Martin is the rare type of player who could carve a role on any of the 30 NBA teams. I still think he was a great pickup for the Wolves (but while keeping AK47, but that is neither here nor there) and could potentially have a very solid role off the bench for years to come. While he coasted in the winter months and remains a poor defender, I don’t think he is someone to write off just yet. While several teams would likely be very interested in trading for him, his contract prohibits any major returns and any return the Wolves receive would likely be inferior to what Martin brings to the table on a nightly basis. This concept is an ongoing theme in this post.
6. Ricky Rubio. Productivity Rating: 3/5; Trade Value: 3/5
Can you tell I’m down on the trade value of this roster? Ricky improved his scoring after the break, but his media-driven reputation of being a poor shooter league-wide, his numbers not improving with each year, along with an incoming required extension that will surely outweigh his production, teams may not be willing to part with many assets should Ricky be brought up in trade talks. Ricky’s best chance remains trying to follow the career trajectory of Jason Kidd, and if the new coach keeps Ricky away from mid-range jumpers off the dribble, his offensive reputation will surely improve.
7. Corey Brewer. Productivity Rating: 3/5; Trade Value 2/5
Brewer and Love formed a terrific tandem in the open court that was a massive highlight to the season. However, in the half court on both ends Brewer was highly inconsistent and probably should not play as many minutes given those inconsistencies. However, the catch 22 here is with Brewer and Love playing less together, how does that impact his production? It probably goes down. With 2 years and $10 million left on his deal I’m not sure the Wolves can win many trade conversations with Brewer as the centerpiece.
8. Dante Cunningham. Productivity Rating: 3/5; Trade Value: n/a
DC is a free agent and will likely not return next season as the Wolves work to balance their dearth of underproductive combo forwards. We thank Dante for mastering the art of the elbow jumper and wish him the best.
9. Robbie Hummel. Productivity Rating: 2/5. Trade Value: n/a
Hummel was a solid rotation player at times and made some big buckets throughout the year. I would argue bringing him back on a minimum salary would be worthwhile as he could fill the spots nicely and knock down open shots, and was healthy all year. These are things you want from a minimum salary player. However, given the lack of roster spots, as well as incoming draft picks and free agents, Hummel has likely played his last game for the Wolves.
10. Chase Budinger. Productivity Rating: 2/5; Trade Value: 2/5
The only thing that prevented me from giving Chase a 1 on trade value was his reputation pre-injury. We saw flashes, but overall it was another disappointing season for Chase mired by injury. Will he ever be healthy? Is moving his contract to take a flyer on another piece, or creating tax flexibility worthwhile? Probably. He certainly shouldn’t get too many more shakes at taking up a much needed role on this team.
11. Shabazz Muhammad. Productivity Rating: *2/5; Trade Value: 2/5
Shabazz improved his production dramatically with minutes, but it is challenging to really get a comprehensive view of his performance given his lack of minutes all year. His ability to crash the glass and score inside is a unique attribute, and he seems to have the work ethic to succeed. That being said, at most he is a sweetener in a trade. It is always good to have players on rookie deals on your squad in order to round out the rotation and maintain cap flexibility. But, hopefully these players have at least two moves on offense. Of note is that TWolvesBlog contributor Tim Snyder has been a Shabazz proponent from the start and was an in-person witness to Shabazz’s takeover in Phoenix. His excitement was electrifying and him being the lone supporter of an unpopular draft pick may prove to have dividends as he continues to develop into a James Harden/Lance Stephensen clone.
12 Luc Mbah a Moute. Productivity Rating: 1/5; Trade Value 2/5
I think a lot of what lowered Luc’s production with Minnesota was some misuse by Adelman. Like many others, he had his time jerked around and on offense took far too many outside jumpshots. He is more of an intangibles player and a pesky individual defender, and certainly has a place in the league, I’m just not sure he brings much outside of situational play. However, with only 1 year remaining on his deal, he may fetch replacement value in a trade that helps the Wolves balance the bench.
13. Jose Barea. Productivity Rating: 0/5; Trade Value: 1/5
Jose Barea had one of the worst seasons of any regular rotation player in the league. He was unproductive, sloppy with the ball, generally had a bad attitude, took terrible shots, and basically singlehandedly destroyed momentum for the 2nd unit over the course of dozens of games. Flip bent over backwards in an effort to trade him at the deadline but was unable to succeed. Given he is now an expiring contract, he may be tradable, but any return will likely be addition by subtraction or will result in a bad contract coming back.
14. Alexey Shved. Productivity Rating: 1/5; Trade Value 2/5
I think there is a franchise out there who will trade a 2nd rounder for Shved to take a flyer on him. With him, it’s all confidence and mental. We know he can shoot, draw fouls, handle the ball, but for whatever reason he has been overmatched mentally since the Rising Stars Challenge in 2013. Is it worth giving him another shot? I’m doubting it. These are valuable roster spots for an extremely competitive conference and far too many players on this list are falling into the “should we give him another shot” category.
15. Othyus Jeffers. Productivity Rating: N/A; Trade Value: N/A
Jeffers was a training camp favorite who had a Moonlught Graham Wolves moment late in the year. He hasn’t been a productive player when given a shot in the big leagues but I’m guessing you will see him in the Summer League and potentially training camp again. That will likely be it.
As you can see this puts the Wolves in a difficult spot. So many high salaries (1 year or multiple) to below average players seems to be derailing this iteration of the Wolves and I’m not sure what they can really get in the trade market to help fix it. It seems the best case scenario for short term success is to shed some expiring deals for an asset, sign a quality player for the MLE, draft a player with intent to play him, have a new coach instill some life into the team and try again. While I am hesitant it will be enough in this insane conference that will only be more competitive next season, it seems the most plausible and likely give the tough, rather self-fulfilling, spot this team is in.