INBOX: The 2014 NBA Draft Edition

Zach Lavine: Future Timberwolf?

Zach Lavine: Future Timberwolf?

The draft is tomorrow. It kind of snuck up on Punch-Drunk this year. Rather than micro-analyze each prospect’s interviews like last year, we haven’t paid the whole thing much attention at all.

I blame Kevin Love.

Anyway, we’ll dig into what we feel are the big questions facing the Wolves, and Wolves fans as we head into another NBA Draft – a draft that doesn’t promise to be memorable for the franchise, but certainly could be.

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Does Ricky Deserve a Supporting Cast?

Is it reconcilable to consider Ricky Rubio to be a good NBA point guard, and at the same time object to trading Kevin Love for established, highly-paid veteran players like the ones rumored to be involved in the Golden State negotiations?

That’s a long, awkwardly-phrased question that might require a couple of readings to understand, but it’s one that I’m asking myself in different forms as the draft approaches along with the deadline to trade Kevin Love for maximum available value. It seems that so much of one’s opinion about a given Love Trade hypothetical turns on what that person feels about the Wolves roster aside from Love.

Can Rubio lead a good team?

Next season will be his fourth as an NBA player. He’s plenty experienced and is now pretty far removed from his unfortunate knee injury of March 2012.

Consider what Bill Simmons wrote in his 2012 Trade Value column, shortly before his ACL tear:

23. Ricky Rubio
Poor Ricky played himself out of the top 15 with a ghastly shooting slump (he’s down to 35.5 percent shooting for the season) that mushroomed these past eight games (17-for-69), a swoon that would feel like a bigger deal if Jason Kidd didn’t shoot 38 percent for his first three seasons. Special players figure it out. Rubio sees the floor differently. He’s always a half-step ahead of everyone else, especially defensively. His unselfishness is genuinely infectious in a Bird/Magic kind of way; along with Rick Adelman (it’s 1999 Sacramento all over again for him), that’s the biggest reason why the Timberwolves have morphed into the league’s best passing team. And you can’t deny his effect on Nikola Pekovic (a stiff last season) and Kevin Love (now a franchise guy). Watch the Wolves every week and you can’t help but mutter, “Those guys look like they’re having fun.” Yeah, because it’s fun to play basketball with Rubio and Love when Adelman is coaching you.

Of course, you can pick apart Rubio’s “impact” pretty easily with advanced stats, which actually makes me feel better about basketball as a whole. I’m glad Ricky Rubio can be picked apart. I’m glad he’s the 33rd best point guard in PER right now. That reinforces everything I believed about those numbers in the first place. Sometimes, they’re going to be a little … off. They should be used to accentuate what we’re watching, not to single-handedly shape opinions or beliefs. You can’t fully measure how teammates relate to one another and fit in with each other; even the five-man plus/minus stat (which I like) only goes so far. We’ll always have players and teams defying their metrics. Kyrie Irving is better than Ricky Rubio — we can all agree, right? — but I’m not sure this particular Timberwolves team would be better with Kyrie Irving. That’s why I love basketball. It doesn’t always make sense. And by the way …

A. Minnesota is going to make the playoffs unless somebody gets hurt.

B. Rubio could shoot 30 percent the rest of the way and still be the second-biggest reason it happened. So there.2

That version of Rubio — healthy, and running a high-ball screen offense suited to his skills — seemed extremely valuable; possibly more valuable to his team than even Kevin Love. He was a great defender and an only-one-in-the-league passer who saw stuff that nobody else could even imagine. He was a real weapon.

But then he got hurt.

And then the NBA stopped locking out its players, which allowed full off-seasons, which allowed brilliant coaches like Rick Adelman to install their preferred offenses. In Rick’s case, that was an offense that cared little about point guard dribbling and creative passing. It prioritized careful entries to the high post and perceptive, timely cuts down the baseline for opportunistic layups against reckless defense. As effective as it was, it was not good for an improvisational wizard like Ricky Rubio.

Before I beat that dead horse too much, I’ll get to the question here:

Is it time for the Wolves to make a decision on Rubio and the point guard position?

Should they at least consider drafting a point guard in the lottery?

A step further: Some of the potential Kevin Love trades involve mid-lottery picks. Would it be crazy to pull the trigger on one and draft Marcus Smart, who might be a future star point guard (in a more conventional style)?

Forgive me, here, as I’m just trying to follow the logic of strenuously objecting to the idea that Love should be traded for veterans that command a salary befitting their performance, and that Rubio (and PEK!) should be surrounded with a reasonable supporting cast in the next few seasons.

If the best option is to rebuild and slash payroll, what does that say about Ricky Rubio?

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Six Questions About Trading Kevin Love

As you already know, Kevin Love is on the trading block. Where he plays next season remains an unanswered question, but we are beyond the period of speculating whether or not the team is answering phone calls and entertaining serious offers. Given Love’s extended silence that followed the report that he will leave Minnesota next year as a free agent, it is safe to assume… well, exactly that. If he is not traded, he is going to leave Minnesota in 2015. He eventually made a brief ESPN appearance which did nothing to change this perception.

Flip Saunders and the organization have the option of keeping Love for one more season in hopes of attaining that elusive playoff berth that has escaped them for the past decade. More likely, they will trade Love for whatever they can get right now, or at least some time before February’s deadline.

I have not written much about these rumors (well, beyond the Twitter machine) for a few reasons, but primarily because it’s a dilemma that leaves me faced with way more questions than clear answers or opinions. With that in mind, I’ll rattle off some of them and share some reactions; reactions that vary from knee-jerk opinion to ones with a bit more factual basis and analysis.

1. Must the Timberwolves trade Kevin Love?

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“Flip Hires Flip,” and The Thing We’ll Have to Get Over

Washington Wizards v Chicago Bulls

In case you missed it (and at this point I doubt anybody reading this site missed it) Flip Saunders has been named head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He actually appointed himself leader of the sideline from his lofty perch where he currently sits as president of basketball operations. This is the second time that Saunders will coach the Wolves. He is the franchise’s career wins leader by a huge margin from the days when he led from the sidelines the teams led by Kevin Garnett on the court. They made the playoffs a bunch of times.

Purely on the merits: Saunders is a decidedly satisfactory basketball coach. He’s coached good players to pretty good seasons. He’s coached great players to very good seasons. He’s coached undeveloped players to terrible seasons. He is respected but not necessarily admired. For more on What Hiring Flip Saunders Means, check out Andrew Sharp’s piece for Grantland, or Britt Robson’s for MinnPost.

The part that I need to write about today is something I’ll try to avoid harping on too much in the future. Beating dead horses is a hobby of mine and many other writers – particularly ones that devote their time and energy to this frustrating franchise – but it gets tiring and is usually not fun to read.

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Kevin Love’s Trip to Boston

Love Harvard

In an offseason without games to report on, every Wolves-related event that might affect the course of the future–whether in a small or large way–gets reported.

One event that might affect the Wolves’ decision of if, when, and where to trade Kevin Love is Love’s recent trip to Boston. Love reportedly went to Boston just to learn more about the place. From Jerry Z’s story:

“I’m here to just check out the city and see what it’s like,” when asked why he was in town.

When a Boston Globe reporter approached him Saturday afternoon at a Boston hotel, Love said, “I’m sorry man, I can’t do nothing, I can’t.” He was referring to his inability or unwillingness to talk publicly about the purpose of his visit.

(Eds. Note: I wonder if K-Love took the Freedom Trail tour that every other citizen-tourist who travels to Boston because he wants to learn more about the place ultimately takes. If so, he could’ve got a lot just from this Lonely Planet vid.)

Given all this, some issues emerge from Kevin Love’s little offseason getaway..

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The Kevin Love Trade: How Bad Does Flip Wanna Be?

badasflipwannabe

Patrick J: There has been a lot happening around the Wolves over the past week. First, we got word that Kevin Love was likely going to use his early-termination option to explore free agency after the 2014-15 season.

At the same time, there were murmurs that the Wolves were looking closely at former Timberwolves player and Raptors coach Sam Mitchell as Rick Adelman’s replacement as Twolves head coach.

When we last wrote, both of these stories had an air of uncertainty around it. Woj had broken the Love story in one of his “should-I-really-believe-this” megaexclusives. And the Mitchell news crept upon us out of nowhere and felt like a shock to the system.

Since then, the Kevin Love news has only gotten more play, while the Sam Mitchell rumor quickly went away (Eds. Note: There has been some speculation that Mitchell could end up as an assistant on Joeger’s staff) –replaced by the rumor that current Grizzlies coach and Minnesota native Dave Joerger will be the one who succeeds Adelman on the Wolves sideline.

The Inbox below is a list of scenarios that do not seem implausible ways in which the Wolves could decide to go with whatever type of “rebuilding” strategy they will have to do, assuming that Love is traded and Joerger is hired.

Continue reading below the fold to see how we rate them… Continue reading

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INBOX: Kevin Love, Wolves, Parting Ways? + Sam Mitchell!

kevlaaarrr

So, this week we learned that Kevin Love has given the Wolves’ leadership notice that he intends to exercise the early-termination option in his contract after next season and become an unrestricted free agent.

It was Adrian Wojnarowski who reported it, so take the story for what it’s worth.

COINCIDENTALLY (?), word leaked that Sam Mitchell is a strong candidate for the Wolves coaching job.

If, like most Wolves fans, you felt as though you’d been double-tapped after reading those news items, continue reading below. Continue reading

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