Wolves, Cavs agree to a Kevin Love deal

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Just about teammates, Love and LeBron have lofty goals in Cleveland

The one, the only Adrian Wojnarowski reported earlier this morning that the Wolves and Cavs have agreed upon a trade in principle that will ship Kevin Love to the Cavs for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a future 1st round pick. Perhaps the biggest piece of the deal is the assurance from Love’s camp that he’ll agree to a new contract, which will seal up his future in Cleveland for the foreseeable future.

Unless you live under a rock, this isn’t news to you. In fact, if you’ve been paying attention at all over the past three weeks, you would’ve known that this whole thing was inching closer and closer to completion. After all, it makes all sorts of sense for both of these teams to reach the alleged deal.

Cleveland just secured a once-in-a-lifetime second chance after LeBron James decided to ‘go home,’ but now the pressure is on to not blow like the first time around. Lucky enough for them, LeBron is now older, wiser and even better than he ever was in Cleveland. But, in basketball, we’ve learned that a team always triumphs over the individual, a lesson LeBron learned the hard way in Miami. That’s why the Cavaliers can’t afford to hand the ball to LeBron and say, “Have at it!” They need talent beyond him and Kyrie Irving, which is exactly why Love will help those three form, perhaps, one of the most deadly triple threats the league has ever seen. And one thing Cleveland still has, despite the trade, that Miami could never really figure out completely was depth up and down the roster. They’re still looking to shore things up at the moment, including looking at Shawn Marion, but for the most part, their youth and depth seem to give them an advantage. Miami never had a guy as good as Dion Waiters as their fourth player. They never had a true rim protector like Anderson Varejao — barring he stays healthy. They never even had a power, hustle forward like Cleveland does in Tristan Thompson.

The Cavaliers roster isn’t quite there yet to name them the unanimous title favorites but it’s a much improved scene over the cast of mistfits that Miami continually brought in on the veteran minimum with the promise of a championship. This core of young guys led by LeBron are hungry for a title, perhaps none more than Love himself. The thing that will really help Love mature is having a true leader to follow suit. In Minnesota, he was supposed to be that guy, but a poor attitude and a lack of vocal leadership hindered him in ever becoming a true leader. The skills and the game are there to be a team’s number one option but it was the swag and confidence in his teammates that never followed. Playing alongside the game’s best player and a worldwide icon will give Love a better opportunity to play to his characteristics and personality, while not forcing a leader to come out of him.

I can’t state enough how fortunate the Cavaliers have been through this entire offseason. Rarely does one team get a chance to run out the best player in the world in their jersey, but now another top-five player in the league will be right alongside him in the Wine & Gold.

But those opportunities don’t just fall into your lap. There was a price to pay, and that price was the potential of Andrew Wiggins. Notice that I said “potential” there because that will become ever-so important once you see this kid play his first game for Minnesota.

I’ve been a big Wiggins fan for a few years. Got to watch him play on the best AAU circuit in the country, the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. He led his CIA Bounce team, alongside friend and teammate Tyler Ennis, to the championship game, where they fell to the Aaron Gordon-led Oakland Soldiers. But then even through college, where he played at one of my favorite programs Kansas. He wasn’t a star by any means but he oozed with potential and still was able to throw in some of the most impressive plays that most college kids couldn’t ever pull off.

The problem with Wiggins is his consistency and passive-aggressive nature on the court. Overall, his year at Kansas was solid. It wasn’t enough to garner talk of the first overall pick like Michael Beasley’s freshman year did but it was good enough to pair with his NBA potential at such a young age to justify the pick. The problem was that, scattered throughout the season, were some really poor performances, especially scoring-wise.

How about three points on 1-5 shooting in a big conference game with Oklahoma State? Or how about seven points on 2-12 shooting against Texas? Better yet, the show-stopper, a measly four points in Kansas’ tournament-ending performance against Stanford in the second round? The evidence shows that Wiggins’ poor games happen more than just poor shooting nights. He tends to disappear in games — at least on offense — which is by no means a trait of any superstar in this league.

But what Wiggins does best doesn’t show up in the stat sheets. He’s an above-average defender as it stands right now, and he’ll only get better as he learns assignments better. He’s also been very durable over the course of his career (Knock on wood). He makes a lot of things happen on the court simply due to his elite athleticism that many players couldn’t even fathom. It doesn’t all add up and make a pretty stat line but he’s been doing what it takes to win games at every level he’s been at. That’s something Love can’t quite say yet in his career.

Alongside Wiggins in the deal is Anthony Bennett. I’m not huge on Bennett. I believe he’s simply a newer version of Derrick Williams with even a shakier jump shot and less athleticism. That doesn’t bode well moving forward, but what I do like about Bennett is the will and the want to get better. He had one of the worst statistical seasons ever last year, of any player, so Bennett knows what’s at stake. In order to improve, you have to work very hard at it. Bennett came into Summer League having lost a good amount of weight, had his tonsils removed, so he’s breathing on the court better. There was no slacking off in getting prepared for this season because he knows it’s a big one.

The toughest part of this trade is imagining the drop-off from last year’s starting 4 to this year’s potentially starting 4. Love was the best statistical power forward in the league, while Bennett was the complete opposite. And as it stands right now, Bennett is the best option at that slot. That’s scary. So unless they can flip Bennett or find another way to deal for Thaddeus Young, as rumor has it the Wolves’ interest in acquiring him from the 76ers is very high. I like the idea of bringing in Young to have Bennett sculpt his game in the mold of his, while coming off the bench. Otherwise, as things stand currently, the Wolves are set to take a huge step back in terms of production of their starting five, and that’s very scary for a team that missed the playoffs for the tenth straight season this Spring.

All in all the trade was a huge success just in terms of getting something substantial in return for a mega-star, who made it known that he had zero intentions of staying in Minnesota past this coming season. He was going to walk, leaving the Wolves with nothing but his statistical records in the books. So for that very reason, to pull off a deal for a player with high aspirations in this league and another that looks to be climbing a mountain, is a great deal for Flip Saunders and the Wolves. It doesn’t necessarily dawn yet another full rebuild but fans must be willing to accept the step backwards and be ready for brighter days ahead with a roster constructed in the right manner.

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Andrew Wiggins Just Wants to be Wanted

Before we begin, I need you to do me a big favor. Just watch that video below and do your absolute best to watch it to the end. I promise this isn’t some trick that’s going to show you some close-up of Paul George’s mangled shin bone, but I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t pretty brutal as well, just in a completely different sense.

Okay, now that that’s over, let’s begin to bash the brutally pathetic reporting/journalistic skills of that interview. I’m not going to bash Bram Weinstein for the interview questioning because he probably didn’t come up with the questions. But, on the other hand, since he was the “journalist” pestering Wiggins into answering those bizarrely unfair questions, he’s getting grouped in on this rant.

See it like this: there’s a more-than-likely potential trade that’s about to go down. Somehow, some way Kevin Love is going to be wearing a Cavaliers jersey by the beginning of next season. That much we know, especially after Glen Taylor admitted as much in a recent interview. But the whole proprietor of a coming deal — Kevin Love’s camp — has been pretty mum on the whole thing. Rather, they’ve taken on the Minnesota nature and played the situation so painfully passive-aggressively that it’s forced the media to take on the narrative themselves.

That in itself can be a huge problem, especially in today’s world of lightning-fast news via Twitter without needing so much as a “BREAKING” or “SOURCES” taking up very few of your precious 140 character “report.” Because of the national firestorm that can catch ablaze in just seconds nowadays, the Love trade has risen to a whole new level, like that new storm movie. And Andrew Wiggins’ interview was the tipping point of it getting out of control.

This is how I see it: Wiggins is a 19-year old. He probably plays a lot of video games, eats candy and junk food and stays up probably way too late. He’s a teenager through and through despite the fact that he can leap into the sky 45-inches on average. But he’s still just a kid, and because of one media outlets attempt to prove their reports right — that Love-for-Wiggins is near inevitable — that latest interview is the byproduct of sticking an innocent player in the middle of a battlefield. In my honest opinion as, 1) a fan of basketball, the NBA and the Timberwolves, and; 2) a former student of the art of journalism with a degree in PROFESSIONAL Journalism and Sports Management, I believe ESPN hung out one of its subjects to dry, and if he wasn’t so inclined to being the top overall draft pick in a worldwide-recognized sport, his agent, his camp and he himself would never do such an interview again for ESPN.

In the middle of watching horrible interview, I couldn’t help but think, “Where’s Kevin Love?” After all, he’s the proprietor, remember? He’s the one wanting out of his current situation, and in order to grant him that, there will be some innocent bystanders affected such as Wiggins and perhaps Anthony Bennett. So why not go after him with these kinds of questions? Pressure him into answering, “Since you’re not sure what jersey you’re wearing next year, how do you feel?” Or “What do you have to say to Minneapolis or Cleveland about playing for them in their respective cities?”

Maybe ESPN was smart in grabbing the innocent, know-nothing player involved here. Maybe they thought they could get him to say something everyone doesn’t already suspect because he is just a rookie. After all, he doesn’t know any better, and he himself said he’s just a rookie, he has no say. But if you take that approach, you’re just furthering the notion that ESPN reprehended its duty as a journalistic outlet by trying to play “gotcha” journalism with someone who didn’t know any better. On top of that, they unveiled a genuine lack of being able to choose frontline sources to confirm reports of their own. Wiggins himself, as a rookie in the NBA, isn’t going to be told a damn thing about any trade he may or may not be involved in. For one, that’d be a massive misstep in following the rules by the Cavaliers, and two, why should Wiggins be involved in that process? He himself, once again, said he’s just a rookie, he has no say. So shame on ESPN for believe that he could give insight into a closed-lips process since the very beginning.

Wiggins himself, the Cavaliers and the Timberwolves all have a right to be upset with ESPN’s interview yesterday. It was a poor, pathetic attempt to wiggle their way further into the reports they themselves created, while leaving the rookie to fend for himself. If you didn’t think he felt “wanted” before, now they probably made things even worse. The interview could’ve been very simple. A couple “How’s your life changed so far?”, “Have you met any new people along the way?”. That would’ve been easy, made for a watchable interview and then still carried out their initial prerogative by dropping just one potential trade question in there, and not conduct the interview with a barrage of FULLY-LOADED questions that were going to get the kid in trouble.

If there ever were a time Wiggins would want to feel “wanted” it was definitely after something like that. And it probably doesn’t even matter which franchise warmed him up with blankets and hot cocoa. But I can assure you this, judging by the backlash on the Internet by Wolves fans everywhere, Minnesota is going to be a place that genuinuely wants to have Wiggins a part of this team’s future. As a team that’s struggled greatly to just get back to the postseason in over 10 years, adding high-quality young talent is a must, whenever they see fit. In other words, the Wolves couldn’t ever have enough star-potential guys under the age of 22. Wiggins would be the cream of the crop, if the trade were to go down, and fans here would go ballistic to see him as part of this franchise.

So if Wiggins’ true feelings are to simply play for a team that wants him, loves him for who he is, and will be patient enough to live through his mistakes in order to get better, Minnesota is the place for him.

Mo Williams, now a Timberwolf

Timberwolves sign Mo Williams

Mo Williams, now a Timberwolf

Mo Williams, now a Timberwolf

Today it was announced that the Timberwolves have signed free agent point guard Mo Williams on a 1-year, $3.75 mil deal. Williams played last year for the Portland Trail Blazers, averaging 9.7 PPG, 4.3 APG and shot just about 37 percent from deep.

One of the biggest weaknesses on the roster was their (capable) depth at the point guard position. Ricky Rubio’s the obvious starter but immediately after that things got blurry. For most of the season, you saw JJ Barea take hold of the back up duties but saw just as much time at the 2-guard spot than the point. Alexey Shved didn’t play much at all last season, thanks to Rick Adelman’s guidance and tutelage, and he could’ve become a possible option there.

But other than that the Wolves showed how desperately thin they were at the position, especially considering how poor of years both Barea and Shved endured last season given their inconsistent minutes. Flip Saunders has made it a point to change things there this season by drafting Zach LaVine, who, regardless of whether he can actually play point guard or not, gives the Wolves depth in the backcourt. And now you bring on Mo Williams to shore things up.

If you ask me, since a Kevin Love trade is looming over our heads, bound to be completed in the next 30 days or less, we may have witnessed Flip Saunders upgrade the entire outlook of the backcourt from last season to this — AND FOR LESS MONEY!

Take it like this; JJ Barea was set to earn $4.5 mil this coming season, while Shved a near $3.3 mil. Williams and LaVine will make a combined ~$5.85 mil next year. That’s nearly $2 million in savings, all while likely upgrading the production from the bench’s backcourt.

But there’s still a catch.

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Mo Williams’ 2013-14 shot chart

Williams, although a polarizing, fun-loving kind of player, is well past his prime, surviving in the NBA on one-year deals like his latest with the Wolves. He had a pretty good season playing behind — and sometimes next to — Damian Lillard in Portland but still struggled with a lot of the issues he’s faced over his entire career. Take a look at his shot chart, for instance. Williams has constantly been a chucker his entire career and always above the break. He took just 47 threes from the corners and only made 16 of them, so he’s not going to be particularly useful playing alongside Rubio, who will depend on guys huddling in the corners for triples (Please, God, let Chase Budinger find his stroke again this season).

Williams has also struggled with a high usage rate, even during his “prime,” playing alongside the one and only LeBron James. Look, he likes to dribble and he’s a point guard, nothing wrong with that. But you’re going to find strikingly similar numbers from JJ Barea, who was the death of most Wolves fans last season. How many more constant-dribbling point guards can we stand before they simply pass the ball? Luckily, Williams finished with more assists per game with Portland last season than Barea did in Minnesota but Barea did boast a higher assist rate than Williams, who got to dish the ball off to wonderful spot-up shooters in Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews.

As for LaVine and Shved, neither player has shown enough to prove their worth in the NBA yet, and that goes to saying that Shved has an additional two years of experience over LaVine. What’s that say about Shved’s NBA run so far? Regardless, LaVine’s athleticism and sheer potential is enough to consider it an upgrade at the “backup combo guard” position. I still believe that Shved can thrive in the right system but it won’t be in Minnesota anymore given the talent and experience ahead of him.

All of this was basically a lede into the fact that the Williams signing is likely a move before a move that likely has Barea and Shved looking for new homes in new cities. Likely paired in a Love deal or a separate one to tweak the final roster before camp, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Flip is molding this team with the players he wants to coach, and that doesn’t include Kahn-era guys like Barea and Shved. And as much as I understand the idea as well as the newly saved $2 mil in cap space, I don’t officially believe that Williams/LaVine is much of an upgrade over a Barea/Shved backcourt, and let me tell you why.

As for Williams vs. Barea, both are viewed as score-first point guards off the bench, who bring intensity as well as playoff experience to the table. Williams is very much in decline at 31 years old and will not be much better than he was last year unless he can prove to hit that corner three a little more often. Barea may be beginning his decline at 30 years but much of last season’s woes could be contributed to a down year. His turnover rate has been lower than Williams’ the past two seasons and his three-point percentage (31.6) is well-below his career average of nearly 35 percent. Maybe it’s me reading too deep into this but if Barea’s being ousted because of his poor play last season, I wouldn’t be surprised is he finds a new home and puts up a better season than what Williams might do in Minnesota. But that’s basketball, right?

The LaVine/Shved matchup is a bit of a wash because Shved simply hasn’t performed well at all in the NBA minus a couple of exciting breakout games. Part of me truly does believe that Shved has it in him to become a solid combo guard somewhere in the NBA, but it all has to do with his confidence and on-court demeanor. Wanna know where you can get a boost in that? Making shots. All you have to do is ask Mo Williams that one. But LaVine is an intriguing prospect, who may be more than a year away to making any real contribution, but it’s why the Shved project likely isn’t going to work out in Minnesota any longer. It’s a tough break for the Russian but that’s the biz, buddy.

So if Flip’s mission was to go out and successfully upgrade the backcourt this offseason, I’d have to wait and see before you can clearly give him the credit of doing so. But, if anything, he shaved $2 mil from the cap and brought in players that are at least capable of replacing their counterparts and perhaps doing even more, especially in the case of LaVine.

Wiggins signs with Cavs, so what now?

It’s been a while since anything’s been written on HTW but for good reason. Amidst the stir of rumors containing the one and only Kevin Love, I feel it’s been fair to stay away until the fluid situation starts to solidify a little bit more.

Today was that day, and sort of for the wrong reasons.

The Cleveland Cavaliers officially signed Andrew Wiggins to his rookie scale deal today, which also invokes the rule that Wiggins cannot be traded for 30 days per the CBA. I know what most of your reactions probably were, ranging from anger to sadness or all-in-one. Although it is frustrating that a trade couldn’t be worked out before, there’s actually a good reason this is how things had to go down.

The signing was only the first step in a series of events in this saga. Obviously the wild rumors come first but they all meant nothing until Wiggins actually signed his contract. With Wiggins’ deal at 120 percent the rookie scale, the Wolves-Cavs can now start to balance out the money in a potential deal a lot easier. With his money, Anthony Bennett’s similar wages and the host of non-guaranteed contracts the Cavs just traded for already, the two teams are already a lot closer on swinging a deal that works with the salary cap. In fact, per CBA rules, the Cavs must send out at least $10.5 million to make it work. Wiggins’ new deal and Bennett’s is right there.

Now down to the problem with all of this, if that’s what you’d even wanna call it.

30 days seems like an eternity considering all the hype and talking that went down in the past week. In today’s world of a Twitter-driven reporting medium, the news is instant and credible, so all these reports have everyone’s head on a swivel. If so much could be leaked in the past week, just imagine how infuriating it will be to watch report after report scroll by when nothing can really happen for 30 days.

Within those 30 days will be more than just Wolves-Cavs talk, though. A few days ago, it was reported that the Chicago Bulls had officially offered a package for Love, centered on Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and maybe Nikola Mirotic. I’ll be up-front about this now but I firmly believe no such offer has actually been given but that won’t stop the reports from flooding in. Perhaps in a week we’ll hear of a “new and better” Chicago offer, or maybe an official offer from the Denver Nuggets or even the Phoenix Suns. It only contributes to the madness of this 30 day moratorium but it’s all a part of the deal.

The only two cons I see coming out of this for the Wolves are as follows:

  1. Golden State jumps in the party, officially offers Klay Thompson
  2. The Wolves convince themselves that keeping Love is better for them in the short term

The first would be a real boner. The fan base has already been on their toes about the prospects of getting Wiggins. He offers hope to a fan base that will be seeing its franchise player get traded away yet again. Thompson is completely the opposite. Although a good fit next to Rubio, a deal with the Warriors is salary cap suicide, and there’s no two ways around it. Having 30 days to ponder a potential deal with Golden State could be Flip Saunders’ doom but let’s hope GSW stands still and continues to hold tight on not including Thompson.

As for the second, it’s not a horrible option. Love is a top-5 player in the league. He’s already done his damage to the fan base but, if they somehow start the season with him and begin to win early, fans will quickly forget about the whole ordeal and move on to “We’re the next Portland!” chants. I wouldn’t go so far as to hope for that but, if Love starts the season with the Wolves, his trade value won’t decrease in any way. Perhaps it only grows as the season goes on. After all, Love has a new max contract to play for and will be using the 2014-15 season as an open audition to the league. He won’t want to screw up whether he’s with the Wolves or not come October.

Other than the brutally long wait Wolves fans have in store, there aren’t any real downers about the signing of Wiggins and this bearing 30 day moratorium. It was a formality that had to happen before any trade anyways, unless the two sides got really clever in adding a third team. There will be some things to consider, such as the potential two options laid above, but I think everyone can stay safe in neither really happening. I actually believe the Wolves-Cavs are very close to terms on a trade. Sure the Wolves want even more leverage but if they can’t get it, whatever might be there now should be there in 30 days.

So don’t sweat it. As long as you don’t get caught up into the hype of Twitter for 30 straight days — And good freaking luck with that — this should be all over before you know it.

Wolves in Vegas: Game 1

Seeing as the first game of Las Vegas Summer League has yet to be televised due to tape delay, I thought I’d make a few quick points from what I watched in the Wolves-Mavs matchup this evening.

  • If I had to name just one thing I learned from tonight, it’s this: Shabazz Muhammad gets buckets. This is exactly what we wanted to see from Muhammad, — who dropped 27 points on 10-24 shooting — not just putting up big points but doing it as a leader of the offense and not just some selfish ball-stop. What’s really impressive about Muhammad’s offensive game is that he’s very good at mixing up his moves and scoring from everywhere on the court. But even better, he’s constantly giving it his all even in the half-court offense, which includes attacking the offensive boards; he finished with seven tonight, 11 rebounds total. I don’t think anyone hustled more and moved as well as Muhammad did on offense, particularly without the ball. He’s a very good slasher, and if he’s playing alongside someone who can actually play the point, say Rubio, he’s going to thrive off those off-ball movements. There’s a valid reason that Flip Saunders chose him last season and it’s obviously his offensive prowess. But there’s also a valid reason that Rick Adelman didn’t play him much at all last season. Now’s his time to shine and play his way into the rotation and even past some of Adelman’s guys last year such as Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger. Whether he’ll be able to reach starter-status within the year remains to be seen but at the very least we saw first-hand just how threatening he can be on offense tonight.
  • Mentioned a little bit about Muhammad being able to thrive by playing with a true point guard. Well, Zach LaVine, after just one Summer League game (Which is WAY too early to tell anything right now) is not going to become a true point guard. He’s a solid ball-handler but doesn’t have the knowledge or the leadership abilities to lead an offense, put guys in position, etc. Way too often he actually lagged in advancing the ball up the court, burning precious second off the clock. Once he was in position and the offensive sequence started to run, it was already too late. When that happened we saw Gorgui Dieng suffer the final consequences by catching the ball 18-feet from the basket — WAY out of position — and with just seconds remaining on the shot clock. That happened multiple times. Not much good came out of LaVine running the point but it’s obviously way too early to tell at this point. From what I could see in this game, though, is that LaVine is gifted in many ways and will become a very good player if he excels at just one thing. He did finish the game with 13 points on 5-12 shooting but had five turnovers and just two assists, which did include a sweet dime to Muhammad on a fast break. Anyways, playing the point guard role actually limits some of his abilities athletically because he’s too busy dribbling the ball and setting up the play. By playing him off the ball and running along the perimeter freely more often, he can get the ball in one-on-one situations that suit his game much better. From there he can take guys off the dribble and attack the hoop more vigorously. When he was playing point there was less of that going on and more passing out of the PnR. His decision-making will need some serious tuning but that will come with more experience. For now, it’s a clear assessment that this him playing the point — or major minutes within the rotation at all — is a definitive work in progress.
  • As for the other rook, GRIII wasn’t overly impressive but that’s simply not his nature. At Michigan, he conscientiously took a backseat for the betterment of the Wolverines offense. He’s going to do a lot of that with Minnesota, largely because he won’t see extensive minutes for much of the season — or at least most likely won’t barring injury or trades. That doesn’t mean GRIII doesn’t have talent; in fact, he looks more seasoned and polished than LaVine at this stage. He’s a versatile defender, even though he’s not particularly great at staying in front of the ball but still very capable of becoming a solid team defender, who can defend three positions or so. On offense, however, there were some ticks I didn’t like to see. His jumpshot looks fine but, whether it’s nerves or what, he overextended on a couple shots, causing him to launch into things a tad much. Then, while in transition, he received the ball on a 2-on-1 break. Instead of rising up to challenge the only defender at the rim — which, with his athleticism, should be the automatic decision — he decided to pass the ball backwards into traffic to Muhammad. The lay up attempt was easily blocked and went the other way. You wonder if his selflessness is going to hurt him moving forward but I don’t think that will be the case. He’s a smart player, who just needs more time and experience to learn when he has to step up and make a play instead of forgoing his opportunity.
  • Gorgui Dieng was solid for most of the game, finishing with yet another double-double (Gotta love that) of 12 points and 10 boards. That goes to say that his impressive stint towards the end of last season may not be a fluke after all. It may be tough to repeat if Nikola Pekovic can stay healthy but we’re going to see Dieng take another step forward this season. In fact, I actually expect Flip Saunders to play Pekovic and Dieng together in some lineups, especially if Love is traded before then. Anyways, the only moment that caught my attention in Dieng tonight was when the defense started to slack severely, leaving him all alone. For some reason, even as the team’s best interior defender, he definitely struggled. The Mavs spaced the Wolves defense out big time and used a barrage of plays to score on the Wolves. A lot of it was perimeter-oriented but they still had great success attacking the paint even with Dieng in it, which led to four personal fouls from the big man. From what I could see, Dieng struggled to help from the weakside and seemed to trap himself too often. He defends the PnR very nicely but when it comes to protecting the rim, he just wasn’t able to do that tonight. I think that’s more of a result of an incredibly poor team defensive effort from the Wolves in general but it’s something to look for in the next couple games.
  • It’s probably no surprise that the most composed player for the Wolves was Alexey Shved. He’s coming into his third year in the league and still remains a huge question mark. Flashes of brilliance shine but fade very quickly. I love Shved’s game, personally, but he still lacks general strength to attack the paint like he tries. Anyways, he hit a couple shots from around the perimeter, which is very important to him for his confidence’s sake. You can tell that he gets bothered when he plays poorly and things just get worse from then on. So when he’s making shots and seeing positive numbers, you can see it in his confidence. One thing that shouldn’t be a surprise was his defensive effort. It was, how shall I say, NOT GOOD. But, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Guarding Ricky Ledo is not an easy task. He’s a perimeter threat, who actually pulled up for a few treys in transition. He was really good tonight, and part of the reason was his talent and the other was Shved’s saggy defense. Shved’s never going to be a defensive star, so this isn’t news. But, in Summer League, you’d hope he can limit his man next time out. For his sake, let’s hope it’s not Ledo again.
  • The recurring theme for the entire Wolves was the pathetic defense. Everyone’s defense was below-average except for maybe LaVine, who actually showed how well he can move his feet and stay in front of his man. He can definitely defend both guard positions, leaving Rubio (If that’s the lineup) to defend the best guard and become a very pesty little backcourt duo. LaVine was very good at defending the PnR, very rarely getting lost in transition. I only counted a couple times where he was late on a switch but still recovered and wasn’t punished for it. That’s pretty solid when facing a guy like Gal Mekel at the point.
  • Other than the five starters, the Wolves’ team is pretty bad. With maybe the exception of Kyrylo Fesenko, who wasn’t very good tonight, the Wolves’ bench isn’t worth a thing at this point. I was expecting a little more game from Jordan Morgan, perhaps, but he was a train wreck, getting lost on defense multiple times and also forgetting what he was supposed to be doing on offense. D.J. Kennedy got the most burn off the bench but didn’t provide anything useful. Markel Starks played backup duties at the point, and although he was solid, doesn’t seem like he has enough talent to make the team this season. Time will tell on that, so I’ll leave it at that.

There you have it for the first game of the Wolves in Summer League. Next game is tomorrow night against the Wizards at 10:30 pm EST.

Not so fast, everyone...

The Free Agency Floodgates Open; Will Kevin Love Be Next Big Piece To Fall?

Not so fast, everyone...

Not so fast, everyone…

The news came suddenly and almost in anti-climactic fashion when LeBron James announced he was going home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was supplemented with a heartfelt letter explaining his situation and everything that went into the decision to return to the franchise that drafted him over 10 years ago. The sincerity and love that gleaned through the words was touching and struck right into the heart of not just Cavaliers fans but NBA fans in general; it was a standup move of pure class and maturity from a player who once coldly turned his shoulder in a quest for gold rings.

But that was only the beginning. LeBron’s decision was the key that opened the NBA free agency floodgates, as swarms of rumors, signings and more flowed through the pages of Twitter and all over the Internet.

As things stand right now, the Cavaliers have their King back, the Rockets were completely shunned, the Lakers spent way too much money today and the second-best signing came out of Phoenix. That just about sums up the day for the NBA.

However, despite the day’s nonstop action, there are still some big time pieces ready to fall into place. For one, Carmelo Anthony is still a free agent, despite visiting with teams earlier in the week. Pau Gasol seems to be a hot commodity for one of the top contenders. And everyone seems hot on the trail of the market’s “Plan B’s” such as Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza amongst others.

Next to Melo, the biggest name has still yet to fall, though and he’s not even a free agent. Kevin Love is still on the trade block, waiting for a new home. Sources close to the situation tell me that the relationship between Flip Saunders and Love has all but dried up in recent weeks, so the likelihood of him starting the season in a Wolves jersey are quite slim. That’s not to say he won’t because the market still determines that fate.

At this point, once Melo chooses his destination (Reports say it’s down to Chicago and New York), the Love market is going to be what it is. The Warriors still retain interest but also still refuse to offer up Klay Thompson in a deal. The Celtics have always been in the thick of things but their package of picks and so-so young talent has much to be desired (Not for me but for Flip and co.)

But today’s developments opened things up a tad bit — at least for a while. When LeBron’s news resonated, in classic Twitter fashion, everyone asked ‘What’s next?’ The rumors linking Kevin Love to Cleveland couldn’t be ignored, especially after word came from his camp that he’s “intrigued” by the situation in Cleveland (Sidebar: What an arrogant asshole with an ego as big as LeBron’s four years ago?) After all, Love, just 25, is in the prime of his career, wants to be on a contender right now and was teammates with LeBron on the USA Team. The fit is there, as are the potential trade pieces that Cleveland can offer.

Andrew Wiggins, 1st overall pick this summer, looks like he could be very, very good. Anthony Bennett has trimmed down and looks more engaged than his horrendous rookie season. They also have the disgruntled but offensively promising Dion Waiters and a defensive stalwart in Tristan Thompson, who could be a starter on a good number of teams in the league. Obviously Wiggins is the crown jewel of the bunch but, sadly, the Cavs have already told him he’s not being traded for Kevin Love, according to reports (That could always change.)

Now, with Love, the Cavs are immediate contenders, featuring two of the best five players in the NBA on one team, including one of the best point guards in the league in Kyrie Irving in the mix as well. Without Love, the Cavs are still a contender in the East — maybe not a championship caliber team now but one with a very bright future because of Wiggins and company. Either way, the Cavs’ general outlook is pretty positive, which doesn’t bode that well for negotiations in a Love deal. Why give up the ship now when things could be even better in a year or two?

Subsequently to the LeBron news, Chris Bosh to the Rockets for their max offer seemed like a foregone conclusion. But then he signed for even more money and years to stay with Miami, leaving the Rockets as the summer’s biggest losers thus far — again I might add. At first, a Love swap to Houston made sense because a package of Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones might’ve been enough, but since Mark Cuban partied with Parsons and signed him to an offer sheet, Parsons can’t be traded until December, regardless of which team he’s playing for by then. So that just about wipes out the Rockets’ hopes. Sorry, guys.

So, along with LeBron’s news came the potential news that Love’s market has grown, when, in fact, it’s actually starting to decrease a bit. The potential for a bidding war on Love’s services has gone down greatly pretty much since Wiggins suited up for the Cavs in tonight’s Las Vegas Summer League bout with Jabari Parker and the Bucks, in which both players showed out. It’s not that everyone underrates Love’s value as a player but that no teams are willing — or, in the Rockets’ case, even able — to throw the ship at the Wolves in an attempt to drive up the price and acquire the All-Star forward.

But there’s still a small glimmer of hope in my opinion. Today, Jerry Zgoda revealed that Flip Saunders in fact does have a dream offer that he’s trying to leverage, and it’s coming from Chicago. A package of Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, rights to Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott is what he covets, and for good reason. Two of these players are starters right away and two others could become extremely valuable offensive weapons. That’s almost like a potential starting lineup alongside Ricky Rubio right there. But this seems a tad desperate on the Bulls’ end to give up so much for Love, especially considering they’re still out in free agency shopping for guys like Melo and Gasol.

The Bulls are the only chance that Flip and the Wolves have left at driving up the value on a Kevin Love trade this summer and starting any type of bidding war to win his services. If Melo and Gasol sign elsewhere — say Melo goes back to New York and Gasol goes to Spurs, as reported — then the Bulls are the only team with the assets available to pair with the stench of desperation to get a deal done. They can offer something out of the package listed or the exact deal listed to get the fire started. Once a deal is officially on the table that has a little bit of that desperation involved, then Flip can take that and go to a place like Cleveland or Golden State to try to maneuver a bidding war to ensue. His prize out of something like that would be a Wiggins-centric package from Cavs and Thompson-centric package from Warriors or still heap of players from Chicago. Once all the suitors have their offers lined up, then it just becomes a dessert buffet. Hmm, do I want the molten chocolate lava cake? Or am I feeling like banana cream pudding? Who doesn’t want to decide amongst those kinds of options?

The only other way I see the Love rumors light up and the trade offers start lining up is if LeBron simply wants Kevin Love on the team with him. After all, LeBron’s heading back to Cleveland a new man but he still dictates how things happen just like before. I said it on Twitter before, LeBron is now their star player, their on-court coach/leader, their GM and their owner, as long as Dan Gilbert knows what’s good for him. That franchise is indebted to the King, so he’ll get his way no matter what. If LeBron feels that Kevin Love gives them the best chance at a championship — even if it means trading Wiggins, Bennett and whatever else — the Cavs will do it and not think twice. Although this isn’t a very realistic situation and I don’t see it going down like this, it is a possibility to consider.

But, in my honest opinion, without an actual offer that wreaks of desperation, the market for Love may dry up even quicker than it moistened with the Love-to-Cavs rumors that came right off the bat. To me, the only team that can saturate the table once more are the Chicago Bulls, which will get others to jump on board in an all-out push for Love. Sadly, all of this is contingent on two other pieces that have yet to fall, Melo and Gasol. Until those two make their decisions, nothing will become of Love’s quest to get out of Minnesota, and that should be as hurtful to the fans than it should to his own agenda.

Timberwolves Announce 2014 Summer League Roster

The Wolves finally announced their Summer League roster for Vegas, which begins July 11th. As a warmup, the team will be hosting a scrimmage at the Target Center with Zach LaVine, Glenn Robinson III among others participating. Should be a grand ole’ time. Anyways, here is the official roster:

  • LaRon Dendy | Forward | NBA Exp.: R
  • Mamadi Diane | Forward | NBA Exp.: R
  • Gorgui Dieng | Center | NBA Exp.: 1
  • Kyrlyo Fesenko | Center | NBA Exp.: 5
  • Brady Heslip | Guard | NBA Exp.: R
  • Dennis Horner | Forward | NBA Exp.: 1
  • D.J. Kennedy | Guard | NBA Exp.: 1
  • Zach LaVine | Guard | NBA Exp.: R
  • Jordan Morgan | Forward | NBA Exp.: R
  • Shabazz Muhammad | Forward | NBA Exp.: 1
  • Glenn Robinson III | Forward | NBA Exp.: R
  • Alexey Shved | Guard | NBA Exp.: 2
  • Markel Starks | Guard | NBA Exp.: R

A few quick notes on the team:

  • Obviously everyone is excited to see LaVine, especially because athleticism can rule in summer league games because they’re so similar to college level basketball. But the three players that must look good no matter what are Dieng, Muhammad and Shved. Dieng and Muhammad are Flip Saunders’ guys, so they have to break that mold of recent years that the Wolves can’t develop young talent. As for Shved, he may be playing for his NBA life and a new contract. He might not even be a Timberwolf to start the season. Nonetheless, he still needs to show that he has some potential and hopefully that he built up his frame a bit this offseason.
  • Morgan and Starks are nice additions to the squad. Neither are expected to make a team this season but they’ll definitely play a part during pool play and beyond.
  • Fesenko is an interesting name. He’s bounced around the league because there’s not much true talent there. But you can’t teach a guy to be 7-foot-1, 270 pounds. He’s an immovable object on the glass, if only he could shore up his defense a tad and learn some type of post move. He could end up being a decent option off the bench as a final big man.
  • I’ll bring it back to LaVine and Robinson III now. What we want to see out of both of them is an emphasis on team ball. Let Muhammad, Dieng and Shved shine while not completely surrendering your worth. I’m not nearly as worried about Robinson III in this regard as I am with LaVine because he played that role in college. LaVine, on the other hand, could easily let things get out of control, which could ruin his summer league experience and chip away at any confidence.
Zach LaVine, the Wolves 13th overall pick in 2014 NBA Draft

Timberwolves 2014 Draft in review

Zach LaVine, the Wolves 13th overall pick in 2014 NBA Draft

Zach LaVine, the Wolves 13th overall pick in 2014 NBA Draft

The NBA draft is over. You can exhale and safely bring back out the top-shelf liquor and crystal-ware to pour yourself a drink. After all, you deserve it! You stayed up late and watched the whole thing, didn’t you?

Well, in case you didn’t, here’s a very brief recap with a more in-depth analysis below:

  • Wolves take UCLA G Zach LaVine with the 13th overall pick
  • Wolves take Michigan G/F Glenn Robinson III with the 40th overall pick
  • Wolves sell the rights to the 44th overall pick (Markel Brown) to the Nets for $1 million
  • Wolves sell the right to the 53rd overall pick (Alessandro Gentile) to Houston for unknown amount

So, the Wolves had four picks heading into the draft and took just two players but probably made enough money in their two sales of second rounders to nearly pay LaVine’s first year salary. Nice! But let’s get into what really matters: The selections of LaVine and Robinson III.

Let’s kick things off with the first choice. Zach LaVine didn’t make the greatest impression on the Wolves community by saying a curse word — it started with an “F” — after hearing his name and “Minnesota Timberwolves” in the same sentence.

But can you hardly blame him?

LaVine is an intriguing prospect from — you guessed it — Minnesota’s favorite pipeline, UCLA. Although he didn’t play much during the season, in fact he only started one game, he still put up decent numbers as a sixth man. But what everyone truly loved about LaVine was his “potential” and all the measurables that go into scouting a player. But what really determines potential? To many, that means how well his game translates to the NBA. To me, it means his numbers, role and attitude/drive translates favorably to an NBA team.

Flip Saunders said, when he first started and reiterated when he was looking for a head coach, that he wanted analytics to become a part of the Timberwolves future when it comes to building the team. But, in an effort to completely throw that logic to the wind, Saunders did the opposite by taking LaVine, who is a complete testament to the old-school “eye test” when it comes to gauging a prospects, well, prospects of becoming a solid NBA professional. And by the eye test I mean you look at a guy and his measurables — height, vertical, wing span, hand size, shuttle time, etc. — in order to determine his fit and potential in the NBA.

But guess who will be the first to tell you that the “eye test” only goes so far: David Kahn.

Kahn was particularly keen on the eye test when scouting any draft. After all, it’s an old school measure of gauging a player’s transition and potential to the NBA. But in today’s stat-driven world, it’s an outdated method by immense measures. LaVine’s transitional statistics to the NBA are not good. In fact, LaVine’s per 40 minutes aren’t very good with just 15.4 points per game on 44 percent shooting. He’s not even close to good in terms of getting to the free throw line with just an average of three free throw attempts per game, despite a guy who’s athletic and likes to get to the rim. His true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentages are tempting but he turns the ball over too much and his usage rate was suspiciously high for a sixth man at UCLA.

Saunders falling for the eye test on LaVine is a critical mistake in the Timberwolves’ future plans. I don’t want to be the one to break him the news because I, in fact, have fallen for the eye test plenty of times, and often right alongside Mr. Kahn himself. Come draft time, I believed the Johnny Flynn projected to be an average NBA starter at the very least, and at the 6th pick, that’s not a bad deal some times. Then, with Wesley Johnson, I believed he was going to be another player with average starting capabilities. After all, he was long, had great size and defensive capabilities and could shoot the ball very well right out of school.

And then there was Derrick Williams. He was a little tougher to gauge, but in a draft that was so poor after Kyrie Irving, they really didn’t have much better of a choice. All three — Flynn, Johnson and Williams — turned out to be busts in Minnesota and put the franchise back about five years in terms of rebuilding.

Now, I’m not saying the LaVine’s fate will be very similar, but history lays out the path; the Timberwolves simply don’t draft well regardless of position in the draft. It’s a difficult reality to face, especially because they could be so much better than they currently are or ever have been, but the Wolves have been at the mercy of the draft’s crapshoot every season. It’s never been kind but part of that rests on the minds of the decision makers like Kahn and Saunders. In the end, there are new, innovative ways to approach creating a roster that fits the mold of your style of play and neither has been able to achieve that. Instead, both were stuck in the ancient ways of the eye test and have furthered the potential of failure for the coming years. I absolutely refuse to call Zach LaVine a failure before he appears before us in a Timberwolves jersey for at least a season, but forward-thinking with an emphasis on analytics has me skeptical nonetheless until he proves me otherwise.

As for Robinson III, he has a chance to become one of the best value picks of the entire draft, which Flip may or may not deserve credit for.

For starers, Robinson III is one of the more accomplished players in the second round, both in terms of statistics and team success in college. His per 40 minute stats are considerably better than LaVine’s in both of his seasons at Michigan. In most other drafts, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a late teens-to-twenties draft pick but this year was a tad different. Regardless, Robinson III played a big part in Michigan’s success the past two collegiate season, posting win shares of .178 and .142 in his freshman and sophomore seasons respectively. The regression in his sophomore season is a tad alarming, mostly because he was supposed to be the guy once Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. were out of town but that wasn’t the brand of basketball the Wolverines played, and if anyone reaped the benefits it was their key player Nik Stauskas.

Robinson III sorta just fell into Flip’s lap. If another name was called at 40, Flip may have had some explaining to do. Robinson III has a great chance to make the team, especially if Robbie Hummel is no longer an option — which he shouldn’t be. It’s not like Robinson III is a must-have on the roster, but he certainly adds a level of competition when it comes to making the squad, which is why he’s a great asset to have aboard.

If I had to give the Wolves a grade on last night’s draft, I’d have to say it’s INCOMPLETE. It’s a copout; I know that. But when you take a player like LaVine, who is such an enormous question mark, at a time where you really need players who can make an impact immediately, you’re taking on a huge risk. And as much as I like the Robinson III pick in the second round, it doesn’t make up for the fact that there were impact guys to be picked at 13 but you passed on them to take a potentially big project in the middle of a transitional period for the franchise.

If this were indeed a sign of things to come for the Wolves’ remaining offseason, I’d advise to brace for the worst. There are two things very wrong with what went down tonight that support that last statement. The first is that Kevin Love remains a Timberwolf. It’s not a bad thing but it means that you’re still skeptical of the offers on the table and that you don’t have a clear understanding of the direction you want the team to head in. Do we keep Love? Do we trade him? That sort of thing exactly. The second is that Flip has already publicly stated that he wants the Wolves to remain competitive and not go into any sort of rebuilding mode yet he took the most unpolished player in the entire lottery — perhaps the entire draft — at no. 13. What does that say about the direction of the team and where management would like to see things go from here? Doesn’t exactly scream “stay competitive” to me…

I have a strong gut-feeling that Flip doesn’t have any sort of plan for the present and the future states of the Timberwolves roster. Instead, he’s being very retroactive by sitting and waiting for things to change around him — like an unexpected trade offer for Love or the addition of Klay Thompson in a Warriors offer — but that doesn’t make the Wolves any better, or push the roster or future any further along in the present. Instead, that regresses the progress that was already taking shape because teams like the Mavericks, Pelicans and Nuggets are all making deals to get better as soon as they can.

That’s why I think the scariest part about last night’s draft wasn’t any of the picks they made or the sales they authorized; rather it was the general feeling of “what do we do now?” that seems to be resonating throughout the entire organization’s management, while the fan base is starting to slowly feel the rippling effect. Maybe it’s because Flip has never been in a situation like this before as the President and the Head Coach, but neither has a lot of employees. So buck up, dust off the best 5-point business plan you can find and present it immediately because the rest of us seem just as confused and lost as you probably are, Mr. Saunders.