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Just like in the scene we’ve all grown familiar with nearly every Winter, a flurry of transactions in the last 48 hours have changed the very loins of the Timberwolves’ roster heading into the 2012-2013 season. Although, unlike a blizzard sweeping through town, covering everything from our cars to the very ground with feet of snow that can spark the deepest disappointment, this blizzard has been actually, say, pleasant.
The moves have broke news fast and there’s no telling when they’ll all be officially announced, so let’s start with the ones that broke first.
Greg Stiemsma signs with Wolves:
To save some paperwork and keep this from becoming an annoying formality, the Celtics rescinded their qualifying offer to Stiemer, making him an UFA. With that, the Wolves snapped him up on what’s believed to be a 1 year, $3 mil deal (Could be multi-year, maybe 2 years). Just when everyone thought this move was a no-brainer because Kahn had established interest in Stiemer the minute free agency started, it actually took awfully long to officially offer him a deal. The course even hit some turbulence when Stiemer’s agent claimed that there was another offer on the table but that their camp would still be willing to give the Wolves “a hometown discount.” (Stiemer is actually from Randolph, Wisconsin. Not exactly a “hometowner” but close enough).
Stiemer isn’t a wildly interesting signing but it’s an effective one indeed. After finally breaking through and earning legit consistent NBA minutes with the Celtics last season, Stiemer was able to make the most of his time on the floor. Well, sorta. He’s actually a bit of a foul machine like Pek used to be but he’s a physical rim protector with an 8.5% block rate. All Adelman will be asking of Stiemer is to replace Darko’s minutes. If he does anything beyond that, it’s really just an added bonus. Odds are, he’ll be able to take advantage the situation and become an effective backup center.
Wolves trade Wayne Ellington to Grizzlies for Dante Cunningham:
This deal has some sentimental value for me. When my mother was sick with breast cancer, one of her remedies after long days of chemo was to watch the Wolves every night she could. I joined in on the occasion when I could, and from those times I quickly learned that my mother’s favorite player was Ellington. Don’t ask why, he just was. She rooted loud and hard for Ellington and the Wolves and I owe part of my affection for the franchise to her fandom. R.I.P., mom!
Seeing Ellington move on — although not an overly effective or entertaining option at the 2-guard spot — stings like a drop of sweat in a fresh wound; it startles you with pain instantly but only for a moment or two. But this is a business after all, and in terms of a business decision, this was a solid acquisition on Kahn’s part. Cunningham provides depth in a front court that severely needed it just one week ago. He’s a long, athletic forward that can defend multiple positions. With the logjam in the back court, it was a good move. Stings but still good.
Wolves sign Alexey Shved:
The mystery man out of Russia has some fans/bloggers salivating. For me, I just don’t know. Really. I had never heard of Shved since late in the Spring when doing a little international scouting of my own. But from what I know now and have learned from others in the last 24 hours, Shved has serious game.
Shved is a 6’6″ combo guard, who’s been something of a phenomenon in Russia, just like Rubio was to Spain. Although he mostly played the point in Moscow last season, Kahn expects Shved to gain a little weight — he’s a tad scrawny — and become a full-time 2-guard with special ball-handling skills. In a conference call with Kahn, Shved and Shved’s agent/translator — the guy doesn’t speak a lick of English — Kahn explained how Adelman loves to have two ball handlers on the court (We saw that with a combo of Rubio, Ridnour and Barea quite often last season). And not only can Shved handle the ball but he can do it well. He’s got excellent court vision and passing skills to boot, making him an excellent counterpart to Rubio, playing alongside or backing him up. Shved also sports a solid spot up jumper and consistent three point shooting (46% and 37% respectively).
Best of all, Shved just seems like a winner. He’s got plenty of confidence in his basketball abilities. He helped lead his CSKA Moscow to a championship last season. And in his conference call, as excited I’m sure he is to be a Timberwolf, he claimed his focus is on the Olympics for now. He knows what he needs to do, so he’s the best mixture of youth and leadership.
Wolves trade Wes Johnson and Mem. 1st rounder to the Suns in three-way deal that nets them 3 2nd rounders and Jerome Dyson:
This is where things got awfully complicated. There’s no denying that after missing out on Nicolas Batum and some other key guys, the market has dried up. Especially in terms of what the Wolves were looking for — A long elite defender who’s primarily a 3 but can play multiple positions and score on the spot. Batum seemed like the only option to fill this hole, in my mind, so with him out of the picture and Johnson’s brief and surprising Summer League success, the only other option imaginable would be to stick with Johnson, cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Well, how about trading him and squashing that dream? That’s about the immediate analysis I could come up with. Why ship out Johnson AND a 1st rounder for some loose change? Obviously, at the time, it was clearly a cap-clearing move due to Johnson’s $4.3 mil contract this season and a $5.4 mil option for the next season due in October. But it was still a little confusing and disheartening. I was one who believed in Johnson. I would’ve chosen him over Cousins back in 2010 and I also fell for his comments/performance in Las Vegas last week. It felt as if he turned over a new leaf. People do forget that his rookie year wasn’t nearly as bad as last year, making his confidence comments more believable.
I may be the only one but, even with the positive result that comes out of this deal, I still feel bitter and actually hope Johnson has a really solid season in Phoenix. Now that he’s starting over in a situation very similar the Wolves were in two years ago, the likelihood he’ll have a great season there is certainly in question, but at least he knows that he has one person rooting for him.
Wolves sign Andrei Kirilenko:
And they finally landed the big one. Or did they? Everyone seems awfully stoked to see a 31-year old who’s coming back after a year away from the NBA for a decent contract. I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon quite yet for a few reasons.
The first is that Kirilenko is an aging role player. Like Shane Battier, we’ve seen these types make a difference in the game but they’re not the game changer that the Wolves truly need. Kirilenko is a pretty good shooter, inside and out, but he’s not a threat to light the lamp for more than 20 on any given night. Odds are he’ll be closer to averaging anywhere from 12 to 15 ppg. Not bad but not great.
Secondly, as noted before, he is coming back from playing one season in Russia. He played for the best team in the league against below-average basketball players overall. The Wolves literally picked up the two best players from that league in 1 day. Having said that, I’m guessing there will still be some transition stage that Kirilenko needs to go through before getting into the swing of things. The truth is the two games and players that play them are completely different, and even though he’s already a 10 year NBA vet, he may need to catch up to the game and it could take a little while.
Finally, I mentioned the contract, which is reportedly a 2 year, $20 mil deal. When I first heard Kirilenko wanted to return to the NBA back in the Spring, his camp claimed he wanted $10 mil a year. What a joke! There was no way I thought he could possibly get it. But in a buyer’s market that ran dry awfully quick, Kirilenko’s services got spendier by the day. Part of me still believes the Wolves could’ve offered $7-8 and still win the bid, especially after the Nets thought he could maybe sign for the vet’s minimum (HA!) The fact that it’s just two years is a little more settling for this aging vet, but the $10 mil option for next season eats up a lot cap space next Summer when resigning Pekovic will be on the top of the to-do list (Buckle up).
This isn’t a bad move, in fact it’s a good one. They found someone that fulfills their needs — a legit versatile forward who can do a little of everything: shoot, defend, rebound and pass — and it didn’t seem possible in this deserted market, so they got lucky. It may be an overvalued deal but when he’s your only option available, you have to go for it at all costs. I just have some minor concerns. None our likely major enough to actually affect how everything works out in the end, rather they’re just my thoughts that I’ll keep a thumb on into the start of the season.
All “whitest team in America” jokes aside, you can finally see the direction Kahn and Adelman are taking this team. Adelman’s offense calls for a diverse unit with exceptional passing, court vision and basketball i.q. The players currently on board certainly help out. And with Brandon Roy still left to be announced, the offseason has taken a turn for the better.
Sometimes you can see the beauty within a blizzard. This offseason threw mud in the air at times but it’s all coming together quite harmoniously. Out with the “bad blood” and in with the new. The new Minnesota Timberwolves are officially playoff contenders. Rejoice!