Thursday, July 26, 2012

Offseason Report: Timbas Edition

KLove has gone on record saying the Timbas need to improve significantly. Lets see if Kahn and Co. were listening.

I’ve wanted to do one of these for a while now, but the timing was never right (as we found out before). So, I waited. I waited for free agency to start. I waited for the Nicolas Batum saga to come to a close. I was ready to do a write up, but the signings kept coming in. It wasn’t until these last 24 hours when I felt comfortable enough to declare the Timbas’ offseason complete and, more importantly, a resounding success.

We marked the beginning of the offseason with a report on the Chase Budinger trade. While I get as irrationally excited about the draft as the next guy, I was happy with trading our draft pick for Air Bud because he was a proven NBA wing with a small contract and experience in Rick Adelman’s system. It’s been a month since that trade went down, and our good friend, the madman David Kahn, has been busy swinging deals left and right.

The Madman and El Adman are happy with their moves so far this offseason.

The biggest storyline of this offseason was the aforementioned Nicolas Batum saga. Batum was a restricted free agent with the Portland Trail Blazers, which means that other teams could offer Batum contracts, but the Blazers had the ability to match any outside offer and keep him in Portland. There were reports that said the Timberwolves offered Batum a four-year, $46.5 million contract, and that Batum agreed to the terms and was excited to play in Minnesota.

Kahn knew that the Blazers would probably match any offer the Timbas made and tried to negotiate a sign-and-trade with Portland, with us getting Batum in return for a couple of first round picks, or Derrick Williams and change. The sign-and-trade fizzled out, so Batum signed the Timbas’ offer sheet, and the sheet was submitted to the NBA league office. The league office then rejected it because the Timbas didn’t have the cap space to support Batum’s contract. To free up the necessary space, Kahn and the Timbas traded Brad Miller and waived Martell Webster. The offer sheet was resubmitted and, after three days of waiting, was matched by the Blazers.

NBA: Where bureaucracy happens.

Nicolas Batum seems perplexed by the whole situation. And honestly, who can blame him?
So, after two weeks of back-and-forth negotiating and posturing, our number-one offseason target ended up back where he began. Bad news, right? Not according to some. Some people were happy that we didn’t have to pay $11 million a year to Batum. That $11 million a year would not have been good for our cap space in years to come, especially with big Nikola Pekovic about to get PAID after next season. Someone’s going to pay him; the flexibility afforded us by not having Batum’s contract on the books allows us to be that someone.
Batum was not the only focus of the Timberwolves during this two week time. The Pups came to verbal agreements with a handful of players during this frame, but had to wait until the Batum saga was done before pens could be put to paper. 

This is no longer fantasy. This is reality.
 Brandon Roy agreed in principle to a two-year, $10.4 million contract with the Wolves after retiring prior to the 2011 season due to a distinct lack of cartilage in his knees. This deal could be a HUGE win for the Timbas if Roy regains his All-Star level of production that he had in Portland. Realistically, Adelman and Co. will probably limit his minutes, and he gives us average production at the 2-guard spot for 15-20 minutes a game. Worst case scenario, I guess, would have to be the bone-on-bone friction in his knee (due to a lack of cartilage) becoming so hot and powerful that his knees catch on fire and Target Center burns to the ground. In any case, he’s a huge upgrade, at both ends of the court, from what we had last season at shooting guard.

Look out, Minneapolis. Here comes Shved.

Alexey Shved also agreed to a contract during the Batum talks, and a few days ago was officially announced as a Timberwolf, having signed a three-year, $10 million contract. Like Roy, Shved is also a complete unknown quantity at the shooting guard position. Shved has spent most of his young career playing professionally in his home country of Russia, where he’s known for his ball handling and play-making ability. No one really knows how well his skills will translate to the NBA, but if he turns out as well as the last two Euros we brought over, I think he will do just fine. 

Anything is possible!

Greg Stiemsma is the third and final player the Wolves agreed to contract terms with during the Batum saga. Like Roy and Shved, Stiemsma is also a complete unknown at the shooting guard position, but most of that stems from the fact that he plays center. Stiemsma, who played his college ball in nearby Wisconsin, was signed as a restricted free agent from the Celtics, who could not match the offer sheet the Timbas sent his way. Stiemer was signed to be a defensive big man that will complement the offensive-oriented play of starter Nicola Pekovic.

As I mentioned before, Webster and Miller were key “additions by subtraction” for the Timberwolves during the Batum fiasco. We knew Miller was retiring to focus on his hunting show. Webster had/has a bad back, and could never quite find his place on the team (it didn’t help he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed). Other key additions by subtraction include letting Michael Beasley walk to Phoenix. He was easy enough to like off the court, but never seemed to put it together for the Timbas on the court.

Darko Milicic ended up getting amnestied. That one was hard for me to digest. I always wanted Darko to succeed, to finally put it together here. He never got the support he needed as a teenager in the NBA, and I had hoped that he would have found it in Minnesota. In the end, I think the opportunity for him to improve was there, but he never got up and took it. I’ll never forget, though, seeing my boy Steve Bieloh caught on camera during a broadcast, holding a sign that said, “Turn the lights on, it’s Darko in here!” Oh, the memories.

All of these additions and subtractions have been the rising action for the climax of events from the last couple days. First, the Timberwolves traded Wayne Ellington to Memphis for Dante Cunningham. With the glut of shooting guards coming in, squeezing Wayne out of his minutes, Minnesota no longer had a need for him. We did have a need, however, for another forward. Enter Dante Cunningham. I think he’ll see the court about as much as Ellington did last year, which is to say not much. This trade is purely for positional depth, and I see both sides coming out ahead from it. Like Beasley, Ellington was easy to like off the court, and was by all accounts a great guy, but he just never delivered the production the Timbas needed from behind the 3-point line. 

A truly frightening sight. And I'm not just talking about those pants.

Which brings us to the latest and biggest move the Timbas have done thus far. Minnesota will be shipping out Wesley Johnson aka Mess Johnson aka Tragic Johnson and a first round pick to Phoenix as part of a three team trade with the Suns and the New Orleans Hornets. The players and assets the Timbas are in line to acquire in this trade are inconsequential. The biggest gain of this trade for us is the cap space to cover the two-year, $20 million contract to which Andrei Kirilenko has just agreed.

Looks like Ricky might have some competition for best mop top.

In Kirilenko, the Timbas have found their starting small forward. His career average 19.1 PER will be the highest PER at small forward for the Timbas since Wally in 2006. He didn’t play in the NBA last year due to the lockout, and will be 31 years old by season’s start, but he will still be a vast improvement over anything else the Wolves would have trotted out this season (no offense to Bud and DWill). His arrival reunites him with his CSKA Moscow and Team Russia teammate Alexey Shved, which can only be a good thing in terms of cohesion in the locker room and on the court.

Quick recap: The Timbas roster went from this:
PG: Rubio, Ridnour, Barea
SG: Johnson, Ellington, Lee
SF: Webster, Beasley, Williams
PF: Love, Randolph, Tolliver
C: Pekovic, Miller, Darko

To this (new guys in bold):
PG: Rubio, Ridnour, Barea
SG: Roy, Shved, Lee
SF: Kirilenko, Budinger, Hummel
PF: Love, Cunningham, Williams
C: Pekovic, Stiemsma

Overall, that is shedding (Shvedding?) a lot of dead weight, under-achieving, low-BBIQ guys in favor of high-BBIQ guys with documented ability to provide at least replacement-level production. The sheer volume of turnover is staggering. Kahn has really outdone himself this time. This is without question the best offseason since Cassell/Sprewell in 2003, and, call me a homer, but I expect the results of the following season to be similar to those in 2003-04.

Also, this is probably the whitest basketball team ever assembled. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here; think of the marketing possibilities: Now introducing the Minnesota Timberwolves Blizzard lineup, brought to you by Dairy Queen!

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