The Timberwolves are sucking hard right now but no one with honest expectations should be all that surprised by it. Rookie head coach, rookie point guard, two key players coming off devastating injuries, second best player currently injured, a completely overhauled roster with very little chemistry, and of course, a low level of overall talent.
So to pass the time until this team can improve I thought about three REALISTIC trades that could be done in order to reshape the Wolves outlook.
You can play, too! Here's how. Pick any NBA team, even the Wolves, and come up with three or fewer trades that could improve the team substantially. YOU MUST BE ABLE TO JUSTIFY THE TRADES, although your explanations don't need to be nearly as detailed as mine. For a challenge, make the trades work under the cap. You can do that under the Trade Checker at www.realgm.com.
MY PLAN FOR THE TIMBERWOLVES: It seems there are two types of successful teams in the NBA. Those that win on star power (Boston, LA, Cleveland, Miami) and those that win on the system (Houston, Phoenix, Atlanta, Chicago). That's not to say that star powered teams don't have a good system or that good system teams don't have stars, only that there are teams like the Lakers that could play under any system and still win and teams like Phoenix that can seemingly slot any player into their run-and-gun system and still be successful.
The Wolves need to become a system team. I think that's what they are going for anyways. Sitting around and waiting for a Dwight Howard or LeBron James to fall into their laps isn't going to work, especially for this cursed franchise. So the plan becomes to get as many skilled/talented players that fit what they are going for, a primarily up-tempo team that can transition in and out of the triangle offense when needed. Behold...
Al Jefferson TO ATLANTA FOR Josh Smith. Before this trade could happen Al Jefferson would need to return to full strength and prove that he is who he used to be. I believe Atlanta would do the trade because when at full strength, Jefferson is one of the top three low post scorers in the league. Josh Smith, though more diverse, is a non-traditional big in that he doesn't play particularly well with his back to the basket. It was well publicized last year that they were irritated with how many threes he was taking and wanted him to get in the paint more. Also, the fact that they almost let him walk away in free agency two off-seasons ago leads me to believe that they hold other players in higher esteem. After a year in which he declined in every statistical category (in my opinion, due to a more balanced attack) I doubt his value got any higher with the team. Conversely, the "flaws" Josh Smith has in Atlanta would be pros for the Wolves and their desired up-tempo style. He's only 6'9" but plays like the 7' shot blocker that would so perfectly compliment Kevin Love. He's also a much better transition player than Jefferson and wouldn't require the ball in his hands so much in order to be effective. Contractually the players are almost identical and are both under the age of 25. Sweeteners (non-lottery picks and/or expiring contracts) could be thrown in on either end in order to make this happen.
Ricky Rubio AND Ryan Gomes TO NEW YORK FOR Wilson Chandler AND Jordan Hill. Before, during and immediately after the draft I would have never done this trade. But since that time Rubio has made himself unavailable to the Wolves for at least two seasons, and possibly three. I'm not a fan of waiting that long. The Knicks were more than willing to do this exact trade during the draft. Given that Jordan Hill does not play at all and that the Knicks probably regretted the pick within two minutes of making it, I think there is about a 99% chance they still would do the trade, especially considering that Donnie Walsh to this day spouts off about acquiring Rubio. My hunch is that the Knicks would believe once they acquired the rights to Rubio they could start swinging their big New York dicks around and get him over here early. I'm sure there is some kind of loop hole that would allow them to bend Barcelona over In Big Apple fashion. Losing Chandler is offset by adding Gomes, who doesn't pack the upside but is enough compensation in the meantime. The Wolves actual force Gomes into this deal in order to offset the addition of two non-expiring contracts. For the Wolves, they add a young and dynamic wing, something they desperately need. Chandler’s relatively low stat production this season is mostly due to him having to default on offense to David Lee, Al Harrington, Larry Hughes and Danilo Gallinari. In other words, he’s better than his stats show and the fact that he’s being underutilized could mean he’s undervalued. Picking up Hill adds depth and some upside.
Brian Cardinal AND Sasha Pavlovic TO PORTLAND FOR Martell Webster, Jerryd Bayless AND Juwan Howard. Pound for pound this isn't a good trade for Portland. However, when you consider the cash money implications I think it becomes highly probable that Portland would accept. Cardinal and Pavlovic have expiring contracts. Cardinal would help with their only obvious weakness, big man depth. Sasha would add a short-term filler at the wing. Portland has a lot of ex-1st round picks on their team that within the next year or two those players are going to be demanding a lot of money. Then factor in that Webster/Bayless are playing in and around Brandon Roy, Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez, Steve Blake, Andre Miller, Nicolas Batum and even Patrick Mills, and you realize not even Paul Allen can't afford to spend that much on backups. I think Webster is a really talented wing player. A good shooter with great 6'7" size. He just doesn't play in Portland. He would start in Minnesota. Bayless and Howard are in this deal purely to make the money work, although Bayless might one day prove some worth.
New Wolves Roster:
PG - Jonny Flynn, Ramon Sessions
SG - Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington
SF - Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewer, Damien Wilkins
PF - Josh Smith, Jordan Hill, Oleksiy Pecherov
C - Kevin Love, Ryan Hollins, Nathan Jawai (Nicola Pekovic)
I know it's non-traditional with Love and Smith at the two big spots but I do think their playing styles compliment each other really well. Plus, Love, though not as tall as you'd like, has demonstrated the ability and bulk to guard bigger players.
This roster also isn't exactly a powerhouse as is. But there aren't any realistic scenarios in which the Wolves could add the talent necessary to do that. It is, however, a plausible start and puts several young and talented pieces in place that could truly shine in a run-and-gun/triangle hybrid offense.
Finally, this scenario leaves the Wolves with plenty of assets to improve further. They'll still have their high 2010 lottery pick, Utah's 2010 1st Round Pick and either Charlotte's 2010 or 2011 1st Round Pick. They have several expiring contracts, which they could throw into another trade or let expire and use in free agency. Another wildcard is Euro center extraordinaire, Nicola Pekovic, universally regarded as top 3 European prospect. He should be over next season.