This is a three-part series detailing the three mediums through which the Wolves can improve their roster: Free agency, trades and the draft; and who they could possibly target via those outlets.
The Wolves made distant and visible strides last season that even some of the harshest critics took notice to. It mostly came from within the organization (i.e. the dominance of Kevin Love, the sudden emergence of Nikola Pekovic, etc.) but also from abroad (Ricky Rubio’s contributions were imperative to the first half of the season’s hot run).
Looking at those under contract for next year, there are still plenty of names that will be able to provide immediate help in hopes of solidifying a starting lineup and bench platoon capable of making the playoffs. But the challenge to any GM in the NBA — or any sport, for that matter — is to find personnel outside of the current roster that can come in and not only help the team but gel seamlessly with the guys already in place. After all, there’s nothing worse than bringing in a new guy who only ends up being a locker room nuisance.
Because there are multiple outlets to acquire that complementary piece — or even pieces, if you’re feeling lucky — I’m going to lay out a three-part series highlighting specific players that can provide instant help in next year’s quest. I will divide the players into the three categories by which the Wolves can obtain them: Free agency, trades and the draft.
Let’s kick it off with free agency. Since Kahn’s reign began back in 2009, his work in the free agent market has been sub-par to say the least. He has nothing really to hang his hat on. Instead he has two backup point guards signed to identical four year, $16 million contracts. It’s not to say he hasn’t tried, though. Back in 2010, Kahn looked to make a big splash by talking to marquee names on the market such as Rudy Gay and David Lee. Unfortunately, Gay cancelled his flight after the Grizzlies said they’d give him a max deal, and Lee seemed close to signing after Kahn dined and wined him but — luckily — ended up in Golden State.
It’s obvious Kahn was searching for that big name to headline a desperate team back in 2010. But with two of the NBA’s brightest up and coming stars in Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, there needs to be a drastic change in the approach towards free agency this summer. Instead of a headliner, the Wolves need supporters. Well, they’re in luck because the crop of free agents is slim on big names but bountiful with players ready to come in and simply contribute even in a lesser role. Watching the NBA Playoffs, I found it’s imperative that a championship team have at least 2-3 of those role guys on a team, unless you’re the Miami Heat, of course. But the OKC Thunder are chock-full of those guys. Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher. See, told ya.
These guys are just as important to team success as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are. Because of that, it will be Kahn’s duty to find these gems within the passel of 2012 free agents. Now, the Wolves will have just enough money to pursue one, maybe two, tier 2 and tier 3 free agents (Roughly $12 million if they decline options on Beasley and Webster, as well as other easy moves). But there are two issues that come from leaning on free agency: 1) The money, and; 2) The commitment. I didn’t lie saying the Wolves will have some cash to spend but it’s not plentiful by any means. And tying that money up in to a long-term deal would hinder the ability to sign someone in 2013 — James Harden, anyone? — or extending a deal for a current player like Pekovic.
Having said that, here are three mid-level targets that I think the Wolves could/should go after during free agency in hopes of filling out the roster with the most flexibility possible for next season.
#1: Courtney Lee:
Rumor has it that Kevin Martin may be on the Wolves’ radar. He’s familiar with Rick Adelman and his system; he’s a solid offensive player with all the tools the Wolves lacked from that position last season (Ability to take it to the hoop, hit open threes and get to the foul line). But Martin’s glaring weakness is on defense, which certainly doesn’t bode well for the Wolves, and his enormous contract is quite the burden.
Well, since Martin won’t help in that area, why not go for the other shooting guard in Houston? Lee has been a bit of a journeyman in his NBA career thus far but he’s awfully young still. At just 26, Lee has already played for three different organizations in four seasons. At every stop, he’s played up to par, averaging 10 ppg for his career, and a serviceable 44-percent shooting percentage. Clearly, Lee’s not going to light up the board but he is capable of hitting timely shots and going for 20+ on special nights.
Diving deeper into Lee’s body of work, in the month of April last season, Lee actually averaged 14 ppg and even hit nearly 43-percent of his three-pointers. Because of that last month, Lee may have improved his stock just enough to score an extra few million dollars on his next deal.
But as I said, Lee’s specialty is his defense, which the Wolves so desperately need. Lee immediately fits in with the Wolves because of his defensive prowess but his spot-up scoring and athleticism doesn’t hurt. Playing alongside Rubio would only give him more open looks from deep. All things considered, Lee would easily step in and be the starter alongside Rubio in the backcourt from day 1. Or at least he should.
The skinny on Lee, he’s a restricted free agent this summer, meaning any offer a team gives him, the Rockets have a chance to match that offer and retain his rights at that price. When it comes to restricted free agents, the trick is to offer just enough so that the former team doesn’t match but not too high to where you lose value in terms of price. Lee could be had at a low-medium offer, say $5-6 million a year because the Rockets still owe Martin a lot of money, which gives the Wolves a great shot at him.
#2: O.J. Mayo:
Remember back when Mayo was a T-Wolf? Can’t say that trade for Love didn’t work out for the best, but what would you say to having both Mayo and Love on the same team? Well, it could happen.
Just like Lee, Mayo is a restricted free agent, but rumor has it that the Grizzlies are interested in retaining his services, which only means more money for the Wolves. Is it worth it?
Mayo didn’t transform into the Kobe-lite player many thought he could’ve been from his high school days. But that’s no matter because he’s still made a decent living in Memphis. His role has drastically changed, from star (pre-draft) to starter to sixth man, and he’s been very professional through each step, which has to say something about his maturity. Mayo, although many of you won’t agree, is best-suited in that sixth man role, especially for the Wolves. Allow me to explain. Take the OKC Thunder (I use them a lot because, hell, what a great franchise). They have one of the best shooting guards in the league in James Harden. He’s not perfect at any one aspect on the court, rather he’s above-average across the board; the true do-it-all player. The Thunder have dubbed Harden their sixth man for strategic purposes; once Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are ready for a breather, Harden comes in fresh, ready to tear up the opposing team’s bench players (Because they probably switched out their starters around the same time too).
Mayo can play that role for the Wolves, like Michael Beasley did last season. Everyone needs a scoring punch off the bench. And whether Mayo is starting or not shouldn’t matter because he’d likely be on the court to end the game and potentially hit that clutch shot. That’s what Mayo would be brought in to do. He’s a scoring savant in need of a change of scenery, not necessarily a change in his role but scenery for sure.
#3: Anthony Tolliver:
Hey, I never said that player has to come from another team. Tolliver is an unrestricted free agent this summer. All signs point to the Wolves retaining his services but just to make sure, I’m throwing him on this list.
I see Tolliver playing a Collison-like role on a championship team. He’s just a great all-around guy, who’s guarantees 110-percent of his effort every night. Tolliver is a top-notch hustle defender capable of defending guards and forwards alike. He’s so versatile and does exactly what’s asked of him to the best of his ability. Because he’s still young, mistakes happen and Tolliver saw his fair share last season as well as inconsistency on the offensive end but nothing alarming enough to ship him off.
Tolliver can resign for the Wolves for cheap, maybe another two year, $4 million deal, which gives the Wolves money to play with in other free agency plans. That’s why resigning Tolliver is a no-brainer as well as a must. It really can’t hurt.