The Timberwolves made a trade today. And then they made another trade. By off-day standards, this was a lot of activity giving rise to a lot of internet discussion. So let’s sort it out and see what to make of everything that went down.
Trade Number 1
2nd Round Pick
Wolves send to Hornets:
Trade Number 2
2017 1st Round Pick (lottery protected through 2020, after which it becomes a 2nd Round Pick)
Let’s get a few things out of the way before getting into the real meat of these transactions:
The Guards Swapping Uniforms
Mo Williams doesn’t matter to the Wolves. His contract expires at the end of the year and he was providing nothing of value to the development process of this young Timberwolves team. As a shooter, he might help the Hornets who are trying to make a playoff push.
Troy Daniels doesn’t matter. He’s an undersized shooting guard who could not, and never would crack a crowded wing rotation that includes Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad, not to mention Zach LaVine.
Gary Neal — who I like for aesthetic, style-of-play reasons — also doesn’t matter. If his contract isn’t bought out before he ever dons a Wolves uniform, he’ll play out this season and become a free agent.
These three guards are eminently replaceable. None of them would or could impact the future of the Timberwolves franchise in a meaningful way. As for the “present,” well, they wouldn’t have much effect there, either. Not with Rubio back in the lineup to play point guard, and Martin, Shabazz, and Wiggins all in need of minutes on the wing.
The second round pick is an asset, which makes the Charlotte end of the deal a (very) minor win, in my opinion.
Now with that out of the way, the serious portion of today’s events: the trade for the Hawks rookie forward, Adreian Payne. And more controversially, the trading away of a (protected) first round pick to get him.
Some Timberwolves History
The first thing to acknowledge is this franchise’s history of first-round picks; or more specifically, its history of not having first round picks and not respecting the value of first round picks. Wolves fans are rightfully sensitive when the team doles out a first rounder in a trade for a non-star player.
First round picks are valuable for a lot of reasons. They lead to talent. They lead to cheap talent. The talent is unknown and flexible in nature; if a team needs frontcourt depth it can add a big man. If it needs a backup point guard, there will be one of those available in the first round. Teams can ALWAYS trade away first round picks. Getting them back can be much more challenging.
The Timberwolves’ franchise history has been partially defined by first-round picks. When they got busted for signing Joe Smith to an illegal contract in the quintessential case of front office dysfunction, David Stern laid the hammer down. He took away five first rounders. (He later gave back the 2003 pick, which McHale used on Ndudi Ebi.) These picks came during Kevin Garnett’s prime seasons, when his lack of supporting talent was a contributing cause to the team’s mediocre playoff performance.
In the 2001 Draft, if they owned a pick, they would’ve drafted around #17. Zach Randolph was taken 19th, Gerald Wallace was taken 25th, Tony Parker was taken 28th, and Gilbert Arenas was taken 31st.
In the 2002 Draft, they would’ve picked around 22 or 23. Tayshaun Prince was taken 23rd.
In 2003 they took Ebi.
2004 was the great season with the deep playoff run. They would’ve picked 29th in that draft if they had their pick. Anderson Varejao was taken 30th.
It’s unfair and disingenuous to expect that they would’ve drafted a good player in all of those drafts, but if they could’ve added only one of the guys listed — particularly a great one like Parker — Garnett probably plays his entire career in ‘Sota and maybe he wins a title here.
Unfortunately, Wolves brass — McHale — did not seem to learn from that mistake.
In 2005 he traded a first rounder along with Sam Cassell for Marko Jaric. That pick had protections that caused the team to tank in embarrassing fashion — Mad Dog Madsen’s three-point barrage — but they ultimately forfeited the 10th pick in the 2012 draft to the New Orleans Hornets. The Hornets acquired the pick in the Chris Paul trade. The pick was a substantial asset used to get Chris Paul.
In 2006, McHale figured why the hell not: He traded yet another first rounder; this time to Boston for Ricky “Buckets” Davis. This was pure desperation and another horrible decision. Davis was supremely talented, but undisciplined (putting it lightly). The Wolves never made the playoffs with Ricky Buckets, and they ended up trading KG himself to Boston in a deal that recovered that first rounder. So the the Clippers pick helped net CP3 and the Celtics pick helped net Garnett.
Recently, the Wolves paid a premium to the Phoenix Suns to take recently-selected-fourth-overall Wes Johnson off their hands. That premium was a protected first round pick that is yet to be delivered. David Kahn both selected Wes in the draft and paid this first rounder to Phoenix for them to take him off his hands. The pick has Top-12 protection this year and next year. If the Wolves continue to struggle, it’ll become a 2nd Rounder in 2017.
The Wolves have acquired other first rounders and then traded them away in moves that — after the fact — show possibilities where they would’ve added good players. Off the top of my head, I’m pretty sure they’ve technically held the draft rights to Ty Lawson, Nikola Mirotic, and maybe others who would’ve helped the team. Also, Flip traded away a future Miami first rounder that Cleveland sent here in the Love trade, to Philly for Thad Young. Right now, that appears to have been a fairly big mistake.
More than maybe any other franchise, the Wolves have historically not respected the value of first round picks.
The Payne Trade
That brings us to the Payne trade, and the first rounder that kicks in, in 2017. It’s lottery protected in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. If the Wolves somehow continue to miss the playoffs for all of those years (even a pessimist would think that unlikely) it’ll become a 2nd Rounder in 2021.
I guess we should first talk about Payne, the player the Wolves are getting. He has to be viewed, more or less, as a draft prospect because he’s only played 19 minutes of NBA action. On the plus side, he has size (6’10” forward) and shooting ability (42.3% from three, last year in college). On the negative side, he’s old for a rookie (he turns 24 next week) and hasn’t doesn’t have a clear place on a team that neither embraces the “stretch 4” phenomenon, nor has much room in its frontcourt; particularly if the Wolves plan on drafting a big man this summer.
Payne was 2nd Team All Big Ten in his junior and senior seasons playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State. Chad Ford’s pre-draft assessment was as follows:
Honestly, I don’t have much of an opinion about Payne until I see him. Given his age and draft position, I doubt he has star potential. But I’m open to the idea that he’s an Izzo-trained defender who can stretch the floor with shooting. Draymond Green is a currently-famous example of that template and how it can help a great NBA team. We’ll see with Adreian.
What about that pick though?
First, what’s the worst case scenario for this trade? (The “best case” is that Payne becomes a better-defender Dirk, so why even discuss?)
The worst-case scenario for this trade decision is as follows:
- Payne takes Anthony Bennett’s spot in the rotation, and in the Wolves developmental process;
- Bennett is traded for peanuts or otherwise not retained;
- Payne doesn’t really pan out in a meaningful way;
- The more-important Wolves (Rubio, Wiggins, Shabazz, the 2015 pick) lead the team to the playoffs by 2017;
- Bennett plays for a coach who can impart proper NBA fundamentals to him, and he becomes as good as he should;
- The 2017 Draft is deep and the Wolves miss out on a player in the 15-18 range that could’ve helped them re-load when they have to let one good player leave in free agency to avoid luxury tax payments.
That’s the extreme worst case: They whiff on Bennett’s potential, Payne flops, and the pick ends up having value.
Maybe Bennett is Derrick Williams, 2.0 (or worse?) and he’s gone either way. Maybe that part doesn’t matter.
Also, maybe Payne will be good! Flip obviously likes him and his GM’ing skills have been way better than expected, what with the unpopular-but-looking-genius draft trade for Shabazz and Gorgui.
I’m curious about what this trade means for Flip’s vision for the 2015 draft. I’ve assumed they want another big, but maybe not anymore? Also, does this shed any light on how they view their ideal “window” for deep playoff runs? Maybe during Rubio’s big four-year deal which starts next season?
What say you?
Patrick J: I agree with your assessment of the Williams/Daniels for Neal deal. I disliked Mo Williams on this team and would rather see Zach LaVine developed in his place, however difficult it is right now. Mo pouted and sulked and rolled over on defense. He yelled at his younger teammates constantly, while at same time setting a poor example of how a veteran professional should conduct himself on the court.
Gary Neal is interesting. I don’t expect to see him in a Timberwolves uniform next season. But I do expect him to bring a new look to the team.
It’s rare that you hear Gregg Popovich call someone out for his exceptional courage. Pop himself seems to have monopolized courage and toughness, which are the qualities he praises Neal for in the interviews shown in this ESPN Outside the Lines (OTL) feature:
What the OTL feature also shows is how Neal dealt with a checkered past and became an important contributor to Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs, the class of the NBA. Teams strive to be like the Spurs. And teams strive to find courageous leaders. Who knows what Neal’s role will be, but I hope it complements the leadership that the Wolves have benefited from since Ricky Rubio returned with a dose of toughness.
Besides Rubio, this team has no real leaders. And as great a leader and floor general as Rubio is, he lacks the outward toughness many of the best veteran leaders exhibit. Kevin Martin is a journeyman professional scorer who lacks a taste for mixing it up and playing defense. Andrew Wiggins is 19 and seems as cuddly as a panda bear. He will be a leader, but for now he’s a phenom finding his way. Thad Young has always been a solid player on bad teams. He’s doing that again this year, and the example he has set is not one that will be instructive for young players, at least not for learning how to play in a way that leads to wins. Nikola Pekovic is the ultimate badass and candyass–simultaneously. But he’s not really a leader, nor does he use his menacing physique and look to instill undue fear in opponents. Pek is a good teammate, by all accounts, but you don’t look in his direction for guidance or to elevate the team when things get rough.
On Neal, let me admit a dirty little secret: The last time I paid anything at all resembling close attention to Gary Neal was when he was a Spur. A lot of time has passed since then. He has never matured into anything other than what he was as Spurs contributor–a backup guard with an intense spirit, whose numbers are solid but unspectacular. And we shouldn’t expect him to be anything more than that as a Timberwolf.
But what I’m looking forward to watching is whether Neal’s toughness and competitiveness will in fact diametrically oppose Mo Williams’, and whether he can make young players like Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins tougher and more (winning) team-oriented in ways that wasn’t going to happen while LaVine and Wiggins were going against Williams each day in practice.
Let me be clear: I don’t expect miracles from Gary Neal. I don’t expect him to be a team leader. He’s too new and too much of a bit player and is likely to have too temporary a stay in ‘Sota to develop into one. My hope is that his toughness, grit, and (rational) confidence in his ability rubs off on teammates who’re learning how to play and survive in the NBA each and every night.
Adreian Payne is a Timberwolf
Payne is not very exciting to me. I didn’t like him going into the draft, and he obviously hasn’t done anything to change anyone’s perceptions of whatever they thought of him then.
To refresh everyone memory of how Payne was viewed prior to last summer’s draft, here’s his DX scouting video.
The video, and the other scouting reports I’ve read, suggest that Payne has good length and athleticism (David Kahn voice), but there are question marks surrounding his focus and “motor.” The latter presumably isn’t helped by the fact that Payne’s endurance is hampered by an arthritic lung condition. At least he won’t be expected to play big minutes or long stretches, not right away.
Saunders, who passed on Payne as a lottery pick last summer in favor of Zach LaVine, explained the rationale for the deal as both asset-acquisition and an attempt to improve the team’s W/L column:
“”We’re trying to pick up talent.” We’ve only won 11 games, so it’s not like we’re a ready-made team right now. We’re trying to get players that are better and continue to get better and better. The decision was [to select LaVine over Payne], I think you remember my quote, we decided to hit home runs, and we thought Zach had the talent to be a home run player,” Saunders said. “We also thought at that time that Payne could come in and help us win more games.”
The question will be how much value Payne can bring as a building block for the rebuilding Wolves or as a trade asset. Right now, it seems as though he’d have to go as part of multiplayer deal unless we’d be trading him for another middling pick and not really reaping any clear edge.
Still, the Payne trade seems fairly safe, despite the (protected) first-round pick given up to acquire him.
Perhaps the most useful element of it is that we get a trial run to see whether Payne is better than Anthony Bennett. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t, but we’re likely to find out. At least that’s what we should want to find out, since we’ve invested something in acquiring both of these young power forwards, and it is far from clear whether either or both is likely to be able to ascend to the starting role at power forward when Thad Young is inevitably traded or leaves.
Young just doesn’t fit the direction of this team, especially with Williams gone. With Payne a Timberwolf and Bennett unlikely to be dealt, it would now be less shocking to see Flip try to make one more deal, which would move Young for the highest bid. That might be another cheap expiring like Neal and a second-round pick. But it would be better than paying Young $10 million next season for sub-par performance while blocking the development of a #1 overall pick and another mid-first round pick who played well in college and, despite his advanced age, should not have his NBA talent judged until he’s logged some substantial minutes in the NBA.
Like many of the franchise’s personnel moves since it drafted Kevin Garnett in the 1990s, today’s moves didn’t significantly move the franchise’s needle in either a positive or a negative direction. But in a season that’s been long with lethargy, scowls, and missed defensive assignments from Mo Williams, and poor play from the power forward position, the roster shakeup should at least make things a bit more interesting.