Lovely Ambivalence


[Editor’s Note: The trade deadline is next Thursday, February 20. What follows is a conversation that many Timberwolves fans are having with themselves, in their own minds. Or at least I am, anyway. Enjoy.]

Mr. Pessimist: K-Love is gone. Just like Simmons predicted. Six straight years and no playoffs? Are you kidding me? And that bullshit with Taylor and Kahn refusing to offer the max? Did you read the Woj interview? He’s gone. They have to trade him, and they will. Before next week’s deadline.

Mr. Optimist: Nah, they can’t. They won’t. He’s their best player. Their FRANCHISE player. Kahn’s gone, ain’t ya heard? Flip Saunders is back. He and Love are tight. They have lunch all the time. And that stuff with the new practice facility? And the Mayo Clinic? Did you miss the part where Love said he’s looking forward — FORWARD — to playing in it and attracting free agents here. He’s looking ahead to the future. Here in Minnesota. Whats’ so hard to understand about that? He took out a full page ad in the Star Trib. What else do you need to see?

Mr. P: Well, some wins would be nice. The most they’ve won in Love’s five years here is 31. That’s not even .500 ball. Not even close. And Love barely even played that season. Oh, you musta forgot when he smashed up his hand doing knuckle push-ups. Or the part where nobody (except you?) believed that he actually hurt himself doing knuckle push-ups. Yeah, that happened.

Look, the team is flat lining and this plateau isn’t even close to where All-NBA players in their primes become satisfied. HE HASN’T EVEN PLAYED IN A PLAYOFF GAME YET! Why am I even having this conversation. Trust me, he’s gone. They’re putting on a happy PR face to keep his trade value and reputation intact. It’s smart business, but face the facts: Love is gone. Early next week, at the latest. You’ll read about it this weekend. Trust me.

Mr. O: But what are they gonna do without him?

Mr. P: Uh, keep losing? Whaddayou mean?

Mr. O: I mean, even assuming you’re right — which I don’t — what could they get for him? If everyone knows he’s a free agent in a year and a half, why would a team pay big for him now?

Mr. P: Because he’s an All-NBA forward and the best scorer-rebounder combination in the world. He could EASILY be the “2004 Sheed” that pushes a playoff team over the edge into a bowl of deep playoff runs and a championship.

Off the top of my head, the Bulls would definitely want him, and they’d send back Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and change. That’s 75 cents on the dollar, which ain’t bad. Chicago’s in an uncomfortable spot with all of these Derrick Rose injuries, but imagine if they could re-load with a Rose-Love-Joakim Noah core? That locks up Tom Thibodeau for the next half dozen seasons and they’ll probably win a championship. They’d certainly contend for a bunch of them. And Love wouldn’t leave Chicago.

Or the Thunder, where his college roommate Russell Westbrook plays. The Thunder are rolling now, but they couldn’t turn down a Love for Ibaka and Jeremy Lamb trade. Shit, they’d probably toss in a couple draft picks. Those are just two possibilities. I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea. The Wolves would take a step back, but what’s the difference? They’re not cracking this top eight in the West this year, or any other time soon.

Mr. O: Whatever man, I’m not buying it. We haven’t heard a peep about Love being shopped. He’s averaging 26, 13 & 4. Those are numbers from a different era. You don’t trade that for Serge Ibaka or Taj Gibson. You just don’t.

Mr. P: Believe what you want. Just don’t say I didn’t warn ya.



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13 responses to “Lovely Ambivalence

  1. Jeremy

    Here’s my take – There is no need to trade Love for the time being. I doubt that we would be able to get the best offer right now simply because any trade package would likely involve first round picks, and a ton of future picks are locked in limbo due to the CBA Stepien rule where you can’t trade picks in consecutive drafts (which is why the Wolves can’t trade either of their 2014 or 2015 picks right now). Further, with the upcoming heralded draft class, the draft order and Big Board are going to play a major role in how teams decide to play their cards. Some interesting things will happen this summer across the whole league.

    That said, I don’t think there is any need to panic for the Wolves right now. Keep Love here, let him play like a beast and keep his value as high as possible. Try to be as competitive as you can for about another month – if the playoffs are still a virtual impossibility at that point, tank enough to keep our draft pick. When the summer rolls around, Flip and Taylor need to sit down with Love and his agent and talk it out. Ask him how he feels about his deal and what he wants to do. If the impression is that he wants to move on, see what kind of offers are out there. If he wants out, the team has to move him and get some return. The notion that it’s preferable to get one more year of Love and then let him walk for free is ridiculous. If Love walks and we get nothing, the franchise is crippled. With a basket of players and picks, we at least have the possibility of building a watchable team around a core of Pek, Ricky, and KMart. It’s not ideal, but nothing about the Wolves franchise has ever been ideal.

    As far as the trade deadline goes – the team needs to be active. The pieces we have aren’t going to bring back anything that puts us back into the playoff picture, but there are still some smart moves that might be possible. Dante has been playing pretty well and has an expiring deal. Nobody really knows what Shved is, but there are probably teams out there that think he is worth a gamble. We have 3 second round picks – what are those worth? At the All Star weekend, get another GM a little drunk and show him highlights of JJ from the 2011 Finals. I don’t know. I would think that there is definitely a move or two out there that could be made to clean up our cap sheet a little bit. Any thoughts?

    • I love the “drinks over JJ highlights” idea. That’s classic outside-the-box thinking.

      Chicago has future 1st Rounders (protected, of course) from Charlotte and Sacramento. The Bobcats one could be a mid-first rounder in 2014 if Al Jefferson continues his Hakeem impersonation for much longer. So those could sweeten the Gibson-Butler-Mirotic deal, contemplated in the post.

      It’s hard to know what they’ll do because (to their credit, and unlike Kahn) they’ve kept the cards close to the vest.

      I doubt our non Love/Pek/Rubio assets have trade value. Like Zach Lowe wrote yesterday some teams are “intrigued” by Shved (like we all are!) but he won’t net anything meaningful. But he is probably the guy who you can imagine in a Spurs uniform, magically transformed into a badass playmaker. Everyone else (JJ, Dante, etc) pretty much “are who they are” as far as I can tell. Shabazz and Gorgui have the rookie, undetermined thing going for them but one of this season’s failings has been the inability to develop them quickly (Gorgui in particular, who is old, experienced at the NCAA level, and has shown some bigtime defensive potential) which would do a lot to boost their trade value as they begin their rookie-scale deals.

      • Jeremy

        Does KMart have enough value to make something good happen? For instance, would Charlotte trade Ben Gordon’s expiring deal for KMart along with Shved and Dante’s expiring? That definitely makes them better right now for a playoff run and still clears $3.5mil off their cap sheet (between the salary differential and Dante’s expiring). Charlotte is looking like they won’t keep their 2014 pick, and KMart on his contract is probably as good as they could do with FA this summer. That would leave the Wolves with a bunch of cap space to go for a stud in FA – names that come to mind are Lance Stephenson and Thabo Sefalosha (both UFAs) or Gordon Hayward (Utah would probably match any offer, but we might be able to get him at around $12-13 per on a 4 year deal).

        • I’m really not sure. The K-Mart conundrum is that he’d have trade value if he played close to his November level all season, but if he played at that level all season, the Wolves would be looking forward to the playoffs, and not looking to move him. I think the length of his new contract — three more seasons after this one — probably compromises the ability to move him.

          Moving Pekovic is something rarely discussed, but theoretically possible. He’s hurt now, which never helps when talking trades, but he’s played at a near All-Star level this year and has a reasonable contract for that caliber player. Of course, I’m not sure why the Wolves would be in a hurry to move their second best player, unless the return was surprisingly big and was likely to help keep K-Love here beyond 2015. The reasoning, I suppose, would go something like “they need better rim protection next to Love, and a vertical, lob recipient to complement Ricky’s floor vision and passing.” (Just not sure I buy it.)

          I think the odds are in favor of some “shuffle the deck” move, like something involving Barea, maybe Shved, that brings back — one way or another — somebody like Andre Miller. It would be nice to ship out one of the new wings, not only to clear up a little future salary cap room, but also to free up some Muhammad minutes down the stretch of a non-playoffs season.

          • Jeremy

            You’re probably right about KMart’s value being drug down by his stupid contract. It was a bad idea to issue an expensive 4 year deal to a guy on the wrong side of 30. We might be stuck with him for the long haul.

            I don’t really know if any of our other wing guys are moveable either (at least on their own). Corey is a little overpaid, I think Chase is viewed as damaged goods with those consecutive knee surgeries, and we’ve already seen what Mbah’s value is (worth exactly one Derrick Williams). The only way I see any of those guys being moved without taking back an equally bad contract is adding them as a poison pill in a trade that involves one of our core guys. Not ideal.

            I had heard some pretty serious rumors floating around that we should be expecting Andre Miller in a wolves uni by the deadline. That was like 2 weeks ago though, and the lack of noise at this point leaves me pretty skeptical. JJ for Andre straight up works, but I don’t know why Denver would want JJ when they already have the superior version of him in Nasty Nate.

            I don’t like the idea of trading Pek, mostly because he’s badass and Love really seems to like playing with him. Still, the Love/Pek frontcourt dynamic has been a mostly failed experiment. 30 rebounds and 43 points between the two of them just hasn’t been able to make up for the complete lack of rim protection. Pek trades are interesting, because even though he’s our second best player, he has enough value that a trade could actually bring back enough to improve the team. An elite rim protector like Asik or Larry Sanders next to Love would probably be a better fit, but trades for those guys would likely need at least three teams to make the salaries and roster fits work, so I doubt it could be pulled off either.

            Just looking at the roster as it is, there really isn’t much that can be improved between now and 2015 unless we blow everything up. I guess the smart move now is to make sure we keep our draft pick, pray that we nail it and get an immediate difference maker, and hope for a better run next season. Maybe the West starts to cool off a bit next year and we can win a few of the close games. I’m not gonna hold my breath.

            • On your last paragraph… I’m really skeptical that such things exist these days (immediate difference maker rookies). But I think it’s realistic (if not likely?) that there will be some improvement of Rubio as a scorer, Budinger’s health/athleticism, Gorgui’s ability to stay on the floor without fouling too much, and Shabazz’s overall comfort level as a helpful offensive player. (Some of those things, anyway.)

              In the draft, in the “one and done” era, I hope they always target whatever they peg as long-term assets, over the idea of somebody helping immediately. Other than Kawhi Leonard and maaaybe Harrison Barnes, not many rookies have helped good teams in recent memory.

  2. Nathan Anderson

    weighing in late here …

    The lack of rim protection is evident. I’m not sure, however, how important it is relative to weak defense at the 2/3. Because shot-blocking is so much fun to watch, I worry that we overestimate its importance. That said, I am aware of studies showing that guys like Dwight Howard have a huge effect on the game even when they are not blocking shots. (Howard is not walking through that door, however).

    Below, I try to think through this but kinda lose the plot at the end.

    It’s helpful to fix Love and Rubio in place and look at options. With those two the Wolves have a plus defender at PG and an average defender at 4 that lacks rim protection and help ability.

    What’s the best way to improve the defense? Obviously, to have stud do-everything defenders at 2,3 and 5. But that is not going to happen. It does seem, however, that they need two above average defenders distributed across the 2,3, and 5. Right now they don’t have a single one at those positions.

    The twin questions are then

    (1) where is defense more valuable (2 and 3, not 5), (3 and 5, not 3), etc.
    (2) where is defense most expensive (in terms of both money and lack of offense)

    It seems plausible that replacing Brewer with a good defender could be cheap (is there a 6-7 guy in the D-league that could defend better than Brewer) and not cost very much at all on offense or in $. Ideally, you would get someone who is both better on defense and offense than Brewer, but that costs $ (or at least should, unless you are the Spurs).

    Replacing Pek with a defensive center seems more expensive. Those guys seem more rare and in demand and so they are more expensive $; further, playing that type of guy is expensive because it costs Pek’s elite offensive abilities at fewer minutes. Pek is also a rare commodity (also the demand for him is less than clear; which is interesting and relevant here … ).

    Key, then, is to understand just how valuable that shot-blocking 5 really is because it will be expensive. Yes, they have GD (the big rookie, can’t spell) , but he cannot play now and scores points for the other team. Is Turiaf that type of guy? If he is, it appears the type of guy they need is not that expensive.

    That said, they have Luc and don’t play him over Brewer. I fail to understand this. But playing with Luc and Brewer’s playing time doesn’t solve any real problems because it still leaves a gaping hole at the 2 and 5.

    • Nathan–

      If Love is here for the long haul, then they have a pretty consistent *overall* advantage at the 4-5 positions. Adelman has worked hard to incorporate both players into what has become a top ten offense, by the stats.

      I do think they are consistently hurt by the poor shooting of Rubio and Brewer and hurt occasionally by Brew’s spotty one-on-one defense.

      But a great deal of this post pertains to Love’s free agency issue. If we could somehow know that he DOES plan to re-sign here (as the recent PR campaign suggests, fwiw) then I think a lot of this discussion is moot and we just worry about the ways this team fails to become a Top 3 or 4 NBA offense. With Love and Pek, they’re guaranteed to be mediocre. But with Love, Pek and great surrounding shooters, I think they could develop into a last year’s Knicks or 7SOL Suns type of team that wins a whole lot of games with great offense and average defense.

      Oh, and the bench needs to improve too, obviously. Maybe Shabazz and Gorgui will become helpful bench players in a year or so, but they also need a real point guard to run that offense.

    • Nate in St. Paul

      I think it’s less about position than it is about fielding lineups that are able to produce the things that are needed for winning basketball at a high level. Defense isn’t necessarily more important at any single position, but it does tend to be more highlycorrelated with the center position and big two-way wing players on the very best squads.

      There has been some really interesting work done with synergy and fit over the past few years in places like the SLOAN conference and APBR. For instance, the best 2 man combos tend to be a high scoring 2 guard and a versatile 3 who can shoot from outside and defend. The best 3 man combos tend to be high scoring point guards, versatile 3s, and bigs who can defend, score, and rebound (see OKC, Spurs, Indy, etc–also, power forwards are super tough to build around).

      Think of winning basketball like a pie that is cut into 6 slices. 3 of the slices are offense: shooting, ball handling, and rebounding. 3 of the slices are defense: shooting defense, causing turnovers (reverse ball handling) and rebounding. You can win games by having a huge piece of offensive rebounding pie and a big piece for scoring, but it’s a pretty volatile mix (see Wolves, Timber) and it comes with lots of duplicated production (see Pek + Love). Some games and situations just don’t come down to offensive rebounding or scoring that relies a lot upon free throws. Sometimes you need to have somewhat reliable “low occurrence” production (steals, blocks, extraordinarily low turnovers, etc). Again, these characteristics tend to cluster themselves in ultra-versatile wing players and bigs who can defend well, but they don’t have to be tied to position.

      Wolves fans, of all people, should have a crystal clear example of the importance of this sort of thing being placed next to a duo of Love + Pek. AK47 was pretty much the template for the type of player needed to produce low occurrence events (to include blocked shots) who can backfill the production that the team loses by overloading on offensive rebounding and scoring with its 2 best players.

      What can they do? Dunno. I think it involves either finding something as close to AK as possible or trying to move Pek for a pick that could net a defensively minded 4 so Love could play the 5, while also opening up money to sign a better 2 or 3 than Martin or Brewer (both of whom could not be more terrible for a team with Love + Pek + Rubio). They can win with Love and Pek and Rubio, but they need a pretty specific piece on the wing. There just aren’t that many guys like AK out there. Beyond that, I think trying to move Pek is probably the next logical step to make if they want to keep Love.

      • Nate–
        Great stuff. The extreme one-way nature of these wings has been one of the bigger problems of this season.

        Entering the season, I obviously expected improvement due to healed knuckles, but I even thought Kevin Martin would be arguably as valuable as AK47 because he’d be a great floor spacer for Rubio action.

        Well, that was a horrible prediction. Not only does he not really space the floor that well (his weird wind-up motion seems easy to close out on?) but his defense is predictably suspect, compared to AK47’s brilliance, and the Wolves aren’t even running a Rubio-friendly offense, so who really cares about floor spacing?

        Anyway, thanks for chiming in here.

  3. Nate in St. Paul

    Since we appear close to the experimentation portion of the season, I am worried less about the Love bit and more about whether or not the Wolves can field one of the worst shooting single game lineups in league history in order to improve their draft stock. Rubio, Tony Allen, Prince, LRMM, and Dieng for anti-victory!

    • Heh – the best part is you could flip Shved for Rubio, or Brewer for Prince, and still accomplish this goal.

      I like that phrasing, by the way (“experimentation”). I doubt Rick Adelman’s big on the games-as-laboratories concept, though…