And the roller coaster just took off… Miller and Foye packing their bags

Ok folks David Kahn has started and has started early…

With the draft just two days away Kahn has setup the Wolves for a big Thursday by trading Mike Miller and Randy Foye to the Washington Wizards for the #5 pick a serviceable center in Etan Thomas, a serviceable power forward in Darius Songaila and a backup center in Oleksiy Pecherov.

Conflicting reports have the Wolves set to keep both picks and take 2 of the guys they want at #5 and #6 and others say they will use the #5 to move up and grab Ricky Rubio. Personally I think it was a good move to start the regime change although I had hoped we could nab #5 for Miller and something else without Foye in the deal. That being said with all the action Kahn is rumored to have had working the phones there is probably a reason he wanted to get this done before draft night and before someone else from the long list of teams rumored to want it (i.e. Knicks, Blazers, Celtics, Rockets, Nets) were able to make a better offer.

This now gives the Wolves the most options in the draft whether it be via trade or using the picks. Could they use the #5 to move up to #2 to get Rubio. Are the Celtics dumb enough and want the #5 enough that they would really move Rondo who they are rumored to be shopping? Could Rubio fall to the Wolves at #5. (This is unlikely but some analysts have mentioned its now more a possibility than anyone ever thought.) The good news Wolves fans is that the Wolves are in the preverbial driver seat come draft night with a number of options and ways to come out on top at the end of Thursday night.

One thing I don’t see happening, Kahn trading both the #5 and #6 picks for #2, i.e. Rubio. This is too much considering it’s basically Miller+Foye+#6 for Rubio. He’s good and I want him but that’s too much and I think Kahn knows that. He wanted two picks to reshape the backcourt and now he can.

As for Miller and Foye I think they just weren’t the best fit here. Miller struggled with injuries this past year and without a distributor to get him the open looks he’s so good at converting he saw previously in his career. He still has plenty of game left in my opinion and I think he will do well in Washington with Arenas and Butler getting him the ball. Foye as well I think is moving to a better situation. He never was the conerstone point guard the Wolves needed and after being taken out with a knew injury two years ago has failed to progress like the guy he was traded for in Brandon Roy. Personally I think he will do very well as Washington’s 6th man combo guard off the bench in the Leandro Barbosa/Jason Terry mold. He definitely has the ability to score in bunches and should be penciled in for 12-14 points off the bench in 25-30 mins. I wouldn’t be shocked if he played well enough that he was in talks for the 6th man of the year award. That being said I think it was right for the Wolves to move him as he only has 1 year left on his rookie contract and hasn’t lived up to what we needed him to be.

The other guys in the deal. I think Etan fills a need for the Wolves as a serviceable center assuming he is fully healthy again. He’s certainly not the long term answer for the Wolves at center and I still would like to see them get Gortat, however Etan is probably an upgrade from the Collins/Shelden Williams who played when Love and Jefferson weren’t tag teaming it. Songaila is also a decent piece in the deal and could mostly be described as a slightly bulkier version of Gomes who can step out and hit shots but also rebound and bang inside. I expect Craig Smith becomes a trade piece with the additon of Songaila

Grade for the Wolves: TBD at the end of Thursday night, could be an A+ if Rubio shockingly falls to #5 or they sell #5 to a higher bidder on draft day, could be a B+ if they can package #5+#18+change for #2 to get Rubio, cold be a B if they land Curry+Harden or Curry+Evans. Could be worse I suppose too but I really feel that if Kahn was as active as everyone says he was he has something good up his sleeve for Thursday night.

For more on the breakdown visit the great Wizards blog, The Truth About It for a breakdown from the Wizards side.

Update: Andy Katz confirms the Wolves will try and move to #2 but won’t do it with both #5 and #6. Something like #5+#18 or something like that.

Also check out the solid trade breakdown over at Canis Hoopus by Stop-n-Pop.

State of the Wolves Part II

Ok Wolves fans so we have plenty of updated information in the past few weeks that we’ve gotten straight from David Kahn on what his plan is for the Wolves. On top of that some more research has led me to change some of my views as well and we have a lot more information on the players available in the draft.

So with that here’s my State of the Wolves Part II (I’ll be pulling from the first State of the Wolves as well as my look into how the Wolves look in terms of scorers and will indent that stuff to distinguish old from new):

I like the format Draft Express used in their Off-Season Analysis a few years back so let’s go with that…

Draft Picks:

Picks #6, #18, #28, #45 and #47

Depth Chart:

PG: Randy Foye/Sebastian Telfair/Kevin Ollie/Bobby Brown
SG: Mike Miller
SF: Ryan Gomes/Rodney Carney/Corey Brewer
PF: Al Jefferson/Kevin Love/Craig Smith/Shelden Williams/Brian Cardinal
C: Jason Collins

I put the players in their most natural position here and only used everyone once. Miller could be argued at SF and Foye could be argued at SG but we’ll have more on that later.Notice how goofy it looks?!?!

This is how the playing time went (Based on the Team’s Minutes per 82games.com) minus Rashad McCants+Calvin Booth who were traded:

PG: Sebastian Telfair (50%) – Randy Foye (24%) – Kevin Ollie (18%) – Bobby Brown (3%)

SG: Randy Foye (37%) - Mike Miller (22%) – Rodney Carney (19%) – Bobby Brown (3%)Kevin Ollie (2%)
SF: Mike Miller (36%) - Ryan Gomes (34%) - Rodney Carney (10%) – Brian Cardinal (8%) – Corey Brewer (6%)
PF:
Ryan Gomes (29%) – Craig Smith (29%) - Kevin Love (21%) – Brian Cardinal (14%) – Al Jefferson (2%) – Shelden Williams (1%)
C:
Al Jefferson (43%) – Kevin Love (30%) - Jason Collins (10%) – Craig Smith (7%) – Shelden Williams (4%) – Mark Madsen (2%) – Ryan Gomes (1%)

Initial Thoughts: The blessing of the current roster is obviously the Wolves versatility at SG, SF, and PF. The curse of it is that we are stacked with a large group of quality “backup” type players (Save for Big Al and K-Love) at these 3 positions that are more like interchangeable parts with no defined role for each on the team. We have too much flexibility. Every player besided Telfair plays multiple positions with some consitency. Gomes is kind of a poor-man’s Odom (maybe a slightly better 3pt shooter) that is a nice player off the bench that gives the team flexibility to play small or big, Rodney Carney another nice 2/3 off the bench that played well with minutes down the stretch, and Mike Miller who had an up and down year with injuries but has the talent to be a starter with a high scoring efficiency from the wing. Foye splits time between the 1/2, Jefferson and Love between 4/5 etc. Jefferson is certainly capable of playing the 5 and with the news he’s looking to slim down this summer I think that will help his cause to be quicker on defense.

Background/Recap:

After an eventless year of rebuilding without KG in ’07-’08, the Wolves started this past season right where they left off with an 0-5 start that led to a 4-15 record which resulted in Head Coach Randy Wittman getting fired. Kevin McHale vacated the front office in a move to the bench that after a slow start learning his new philosphy resulted in a solid month of January at 10-4 that even gave McHale coach of the month honors. The run came to a crashing hault however with Al Jefferson tearing his right ACL on February 8th against New Orleans. The rest of the season was mostly a wash with Big Al out, but the Wolves used the time to groom rookie Kevin Love who by the end of the season established himself as a starting quality PF with the 4th best rebounding rate ever for a rookie. (See here for the evidence and here for the breakdown.) The only other news of note in the second half of the year post-Jeferson was the trade that sent Rashad McCants out of town to the Kings with Calvin Booth in exchange for Bobby Brown and Shelden Williams. (yawn…)

Ultimately the Wolves finished 24-58 which was bad enough to secure the 6th pick in the draft after being un-lucky yet again in the lottery.

Team Needs:

“The Timberwolves are a team without an identity.” (Funny this is a sentence that I didn’t need to change from Draft Express’ 2006 breakdown, ouch. Shows you the quality of GM Kevin McHale was and the general lack of vision within the organization). Even better look at what they had for team needs in ’06 as well.

1) A defensive minded center
2) A point guard
3) Athletic scorers

Amazing isn’t it! In fact I would contend that the Wolves have been in need of a defensive minded center, a pg (other than Cassell’s stint) and athletic scorers since forever. The biggest weakness we’ve had over the past decade in my opinion is that we have no one that can take the ball to the hoop and get to the FT line. Here’s a mental exercise for you, picture the Wolves on offense in the half-court (not a fastbreak) and try and visualize one of the Wolves players driving past his guy to the hoop for an And-1. Anyone come to mind? Maybe McCants or Foye once or twice in the last two years but no Timberwolf has had “Can beat guys off the dribble” and “Gets to the hoop and the FT line” listed in their strengths since maybe Marbury was running the point over 10 years ago!

GM’s Strategy:

No one really knows what David Kahn’s draft strategy is or his vision of how to build a franchise. (Other than what you think you might be able to pull out of his open letter to the fans and his first couple of interviews here and here.) However he did have a significant role in building a team in Indiana that featured Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal which was a pre-season favorite to win it all before the brawl happened. (And was also with the team when they grabbed Danny Granger after the Wolves passed on him for McCants). So we will see what Kahn’s strategy is, the good news is that moving from Kevin McHale to ANY strategy is an improvement.

This is where we have the biggest change since my original breakdown has come. Kahn has been all but a completely open book with just about everyone (media, season ticket holders, etc.) over the past few weeks. (Everyone except the players he’s going to be shipping out, i.e. all of them not named Jeffeson or Love.)

Based on what we know now I think Kahn’s strategy or plan breaks down like this:

  1. Draft or trade for a true pg to lead this team.
  2. Add shooters (and scorers) around said pg and Jefferson
  3. Trade for players in the 24-26 year old range to grow the team together
  4. Find a positive coach that will take time to develop the group of younger players
  5. Work the phones and be the most aggressive GM in the league to use the leverage he has in expiring contracts and multiple 1st round picks to complete the plan by being opportunistic during the draft, free agent season, and next year at the trade deadline.

I honestly can’t wait to see Kahn’s first day or real action this Thursday to see the plan start rolling after lots of work over the past few weeks working the phones.

Personal Analysis:

First lets look at the 3 team needs:

1) A defensive minded center: Again I reiterate that taking a run at Chris, The Birdman, Andersen would be a good move this offseason. Likewise, Anderson Varejao also could fill this role and is a FA this summer. Both players would bring the energy, rebounding, and tough/active defense to the team that has been missing while we had a constantly rotating door of backup centers fill the roster. (A third option would be “The Polish Hammer” Marcin Gortat of the Orlando Magic who when given minutes has been just as good as Andersen/Varejao) Snagging one of those two would give the Wolves a very solid 3-pronged Front-line with Love and Jefferson where any two of the three could play well. Slot Jefferson in for 36-40 minutes, Love for 30-35 and 20-30 for Birdman/Sideshow Bob and you have arguably one of the top front-lines in the league all of the sudden.

This still is the plan, I think however based on Kahn saying he wants a group of 24-26 year olds Gortat would be the one to go after, which would work well as he is probably the most attainable. Personally I think signing Gortat would be a much better move than drafting Thabeet. I also think this item has been moved to #2 on the to do list which means that #2 is now #1…


2) A point guard: Certainly the team has a solid player in Randy Foye that some have argued is the teams point guard of the future. However looking at the breakdown of the Wolves 5-man units at 82games.com from this past season notice who the SG is on all of our best ones. Yes folks its Randy Foye. Honestly I’m conflicted on Foye. I think he’s comparable to Leandro Barbosa and Jason Terry and would be a great scoring 6th man guard that can play both 1+2 and would play starters minutes off the bench. Part of me says hes not the long-term solution at PG for the Wolves because I don’t see him creating for his teammates very often. The other side says that paired with the right back-court mate who can create his own shot to go along with a Big Man in Jefferson who is also good enough to score on his own and I think it could work out well with Foye at the point. I think that trading for Hinrich could work out quite well or drafting a player at #6 like Tyreke Evans who can create his own shot and get to the basket at will would also work well. Both players are bigger than Foye and could match up well with SG’s on defense. The other part of me (that says Foye should play SG) says the Wolves should be looking at Johnny Flynn at #6 who fills the role of a more traditional PG and would be an upgrade over Telfair.

I think this is #1 on the list now and I really think (and hope) Kahn is going to go get Rubio on Thursday. One of the big things I’ve been thinking about is that the Wolves desperately need a leader on this team. Think about it. Jefferson doesn’t seem vocal enough, Love is the hard working type of guy with a winning pedigree, and Foye is just not that guy (unlike Brandon Roy who is, sigh.) Foye really is somewhat of a disappointment across the board. (I don’t want to beat up on Foye as he definitely has skill and can play, but really he is average to good in everything and not great at anything in particular which is a hard piece to build around. Again a good 6th man but nothing more than that I don’t think. Ultimately based on what Kahn has been saying I think Foye’s days as a Wolf are numbered but if not I think he could thrive in the 6th man/sparkplug role and could even start at SG until the guy we take at #6 develops a bit.

As for what Rubio would bring to the team, (I’ll have more on what I think of him as a prospect tomorrow in the draft preview.) I really think he is the true pg this team needs. Not many pass first guys that trully make their teammates better come into this league with as much potential as Rubio. I think he’s the Wolves answer at the point.

If the Wolves fall short in getting Rubio I hope they can use a piece or two to improve the #18 pick or straight up add another pick in the 10-16 range to take Ty Lawson. I think Rubio has superstar potential but I also think Lawson has star written all over him. (I’m thinking the next Chauncey Billups) Again more on this tomorrow.

3) Athletic Scorers – Again the Wolves haven’t had an athletic scorer since Marbury left town. Drafting Evans, Flynn, or maybe Stephen Curry would change that. Don’t see a ton of trade options for a player that fits this mold either.

The good news? As I alluded to above I think the Wolves may be end Thursday night with two top 6 picks. Kahn should be able to move up to #2 to either straight up with Memphis or after an initial trade with the Wiz at #5 to add to their package without including #6. That would allow them to nab the atletic scorer they need with the #6 pick most likely in either Evans or Curry depending who’s left.

Other Considerations:

It’ll be interesting to see what Kahn does in his first month on the job and how he starts building the team and shaping it into his vision of a contender. Personally I think they should bring back McHale as coach for three reasons,1) he connects with the players well can commands their respect, 2) as a result of that connection he seems to do well developing players (especially big men), and 3) because really there aren’t that many better options available unless you can convince a guy like Jeff Van Gundy to come to Minny or sign away a top assistant like Tom Thibodeau from the Boston Celtics.

Well we’ve got our answer here. I’m not too upset about McHale leaving, (See here) although I think we could have lived with him as coach. As stated earlier I think Sam Mitchell who did well with a less than talented team in Toronto or Marc Jackson would be good choices and if they could get Terry Porter as an assistant that would be good too. (Not sure if he could/would take an assitant role as he is still getting paid by Phoenix quite a bit of money for half a season. Love how that works in this league.)

Looking Forward:

Since we all like to play GM here’s my stab at what I would try and realistically do this summer if I were running the Wolves:

1. Draft Tyreke Evans with the #6 pick in the NBA draft and B.J. Mullens with #18.
2. Trade #28 for a future first round pick.
3. Trade Mike Miller to the Bulls for Kirk Hinrich
4. Sign Chris Andersen, Anderson Varejao, or Marcin Gortat with the full-midlevel exception.

I don’t think anyone could disagree that every one of these moves is completely fathomable for the Wolves to be able to make this summer. The only thing that would need a little luck is being able to convince The Birdman or Varejao to sign with us. The Birdman probably prefers the mid-level in Denver if they offer it and Varejao may command slightly more than the MLE. That being said Gortat might be had by the Wolves with their full MLE.

With these moves the Wolves Depth Chart looks something like this with the percentage of minutes broken down:

PG: Kirk Hinrich (40%) / Sebastian Telfair (30%) / Randy Foye (20%) / Tyreke Evans (10%)
SG: Randy Foye (40%) / Tyreke Evans (25%) / Kirk Hinrich (20%) / Rodney Carney (15%)
SF: Ryan Gomes (33%) / Corey Brewer (33%) / Rodney Carney (33%)
PF: Kevin Love (40%) / Al Jefferson (30%) / Craig Smith (20%) / Ryan Gomes (10%)
C:
Andersen/Varejao/Gortat (40%) / Al Jefferson (30%) / Kevin Love (20%) / B.J. Mullens (10%)

That’s a playoff teams folks! And a fairly good one at that. Notice also how the roles become more defined even and that we basically have a solid 3-player rotation both in the backcourt and in the frontcourt without giving up our flexibility? Then we can fill in at SF whatever player we need based on the matchups that night. This is a solid NBA team in my opinion that could compete in the West right away next year.

Ok here’s my updated plan of attack for the Wolves:

1. Trade Mike Miller to the Washington Wizards for the #5 pick and Mike James.

2. Trade #5, Craig Smith and a future top 10 protected 1st  to the Grizzlies for the #2 pick and Greg Buckner.

3. Use the #18 on the BPA (Best Player Available) Hopefully a guy like Earl Clark falls here.  The Wolves are said to have promised Austin Daye that they’ll take him if he’s available here and in Chad Ford’s latest mock draft he was available. Daye would seem to fit in with Kahn wanting to add shooters to the team. Mullens is still an option as well but may be gone.

4. Sign Marcin Gortat (Or Chris Andersen or Anderson Varejao if possible) with as much of the midlevel exception as necessary.

5. Hire Sam Mitchell as coach.

I don’t think anyone could disagree that every one of these moves is completely fathomable for the Wolves to be able to make this summer. The only thing that would need a little luck is being able to convince The Birdman or Varejao to sign with us. The Birdman probably prefers the mid-level in Denver if they offer it and Varejao may command slightly more than the MLE. That being said Gortat might be had by the Wolves with their full MLE.

With these moves the Wolves Depth Chart looks something like this with the percentage of minutes broken down:

PG: Ricky Rubio (50%) / Sebastian Telfair (25%) / Mike James (15%) / Randy Foye (10%)
SG:
Randy Foye (40%) / Curry/Evans (40%) / Rodney Carney (10%) / Greg Buckner (10%)
SF:  Corey Brewer (30%) / Austin Daye (30%) / Ryan Gomes (20%) / Rodney Carney (20%)
PF: Kevin Love (40%) / Al Jefferson (30%) / Ryan Gomes (30%)
C:
Gortat (50%) / Al Jefferson (30%) / Kevin Love (20%)

That’s a playoff teams folks! And a fairly good one at that. Notice also how the roles become more defined even and that we basically have a solid 3-player rotation both in the backcourt and in the frontcourt without giving up our flexibility? Then we can fill in at SF whatever player we need based on the matchups that night. This is a solid NBA team in my opinion that could compete in the West right away next year.

Same thoughts here with this lineup. Probably a borderline playoff team this year with Rubio getting his feet wet and Curry/Evans also getting significant minutes.

That’s my State of the Wolves Part II right now, next up I’ll have a more in depth look at the draft and what the Wolves should look foron Thursday.

Feel free to leave your comments below or Twitter them to me @howlintwolf. Also I’m up and running over at Ball Hype as well so if you want to give me some love it’s always appreciated.

McHale OUT

You have to love technology right? This probably isn’t the way that David Kahn had planned to have everyone find out that McHale is not returning as the Wolves coach, but just before Midnight tonight Kevin Love posted this on his Twitter account: “Today is a sad day…Kevin McHale will NOT be back as head coach next season.”

And with that the Wolves coaching search begins (or so we think). Again I’d like to throw my vote out for Sam Mitchell to replace him and take over the reigns of this young Wolves team. I’ll have more on that later. (Side note: there’s a new poll up for you to voice your choice for the Wolves new coach –> )

As for McHale, could he stay on in some sort of player development capacity? It seems the players liked him and Jefferson said multiple times he learned more under McHale than anyone else.

In any case it will be a very interesting day for the Wolves tomorrow.

EDIT: T-Wolves blog has the letter Kahn sent via e-mail addressing the situation to Timberwolves Season Ticket holders.

Kahn's (Mongolian) Barbeque

Can you smell what he’s got cooking?

No not the great Twin Cities eatery off of 494 and Portland. I’m talking about new Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations David Kahn cooking up a plan to make the Timberwolves the team holding up the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the finals. Can you smell what he’s got cooking? I can… slowly but surely he is letting us into his line of thinking. After a season ticket holder meeting which I addressed here, multiple media breakfasts reports from Jerry Zgoda here and Michael Rand here who it should be noted was quite impressed, “we have to say we came away impressed by the man. He has a clear vision. He speaks with both depth and common sense. Of course, as he also knows, he will not be judged by his likability or even his plan, but his ability to make the right moves — particularly during what he acknowledges are a very important next 16 months,” and a 10 minute interview with Dan Rosen at WCCO, (just search Kahn if you don’t see it on the first page), we all of a sudden have lots of nuggets the line of thinking from the Wolves new boss to breakdown and analyze.

Highlights from all of these include:

  • Kahn again reiterated his point at the media breakfasts that, “On a championship-contending team, Al (Jefferson) might be the second-best player. … Kevin (Love) might be the fourth-best player…We’re setting our sights, appropriately, pretty high…” (Rand)

Again I have to say that as daunting and borderline impossible a taks (read: Either the T-Wolves win the lottery next year or Kahn proves himself to be the best GM in the league through multiple trades the Wolves win decidedly) as it is to acquire an even better player than Jefferson you have to love both the honesty and aggressiveness in this line of thinking. Again keep in mind that by only mentioning Jefferson and Love the odds are high that they are the only guys Kahn will be building around and that everyone else is completely expendable and tradeable.

  • He’d like to complement a core that he considers Al Jefferson, 24, and Kevin Love, 20, with players in the same “age range” who can all grow together. “It’d be great if we could figure out a trade and bring in somebody 25, 26, 27 who could help our team grow from within,” he said. “Otherwise, it is a very painful process.” (Zgoda)
  • It sounds as though he will be very calculating in terms of putting those pieces to use and won’t rush into dealing or signing players for the sake of just making moves. “I would hate to add a bunch of 30-year-olds to be the 8th seed and be right back where we are three years from now,” Kahn said. (Rand)

Wow have to love this understanding of how to rebuild a team in the NBA. How many times did the Wolves (and us fans for that matter) fool themselves into thinking they were one piece away, be it through trade or free agent signing, to being a championship caliber team. Sure we got close in ’04 until the inevitable Wolves bad break came in the form of a Sam Cassell injury, but this was pretty much the Timberwolves M.O. for the K.G. decade, just one more. Here Kahn understands both that in order to rebuild, you really need to rebuild, and that throwing together a team that can compete but not in a significant way is a waste. Could there be a better way to describe the McHale front office plan as “…for the sake of making moves.”? I don’t think so.

  • He wants his organization to be much more “extroverted” in its dealings with other teams and he wants to create a winning culture that will attract prospective free agents by being “upbeat” and “energizing.” He also said McHale’s biggest appeal as coach of such a young team is “he’s relentlessly optimistic and positive” and “able to communicate in a positive fashion.”(Zgoda)

This appears to already be taking effect as the rumblings around the league seem to be that Kahn and the Wolves are the most active team right now. As Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com reports:

No GM in the NBA is apparently more active right now than Minnesota’s David Kahn, as he’s apparently set on “making a big splash in his first draft” according to one NBA executive, and is “talking to everyone” at the moment. One rumor that is making the rounds has Minnesota sending Memphis Kevin Love in exchange for the #2 pick (and filler). Minnesota would then draft Ricky Rubio, which could help them significantly with their ticket sales, and still have the #6 pick at their disposal, which they could use to take someone like Jordan Hill.”

With what Kahn has been saying about building around Jefferson and Love, I’m leary of believing Kahn would move him even to make as big a splash as getting Rubio (Who I’m a believer in, but more on that later). Likewise ESPN.com’s Chad Ford shot down this rumor for a couple of reasons in his chat today:

There have been some rumblings around the league that they were talking to Memphis for what would be Kevin Love for the No. 2 pick. But from what I can gather, that’s pretty bogus. The Wolves do like Rubio … but there are all sorts of problems with them trading away Love … the most obvious is that Love can’t be traded back to the team that traded him in the first place for one year. So anything like that would have to happen after the draft. And, I’m not sure that Love is a perfect fit with Marc Gasol. They need more of a long, athletic shot blocker like … Hasheem Thabeet!

Keep in mind folks there are tons of rumors flying around right now and will increase to a crescendo next week with the draft. Some of them are real bona fide talks and a lot of it is pure misinformation teams are spreading for one reason or the other. That being said we’ll be sure to breakdown everything we can get our hands on regardless. ;)

  • He has designated the next 16 months as a transformative time for the franchise and has chosen that time frame because of what he calls its five “significant bubbles of activity”: The 2009 and 2010 drafts, when the Wolves could have a combined five first-round draft picks, the free-agency periods those two summers and the trading deadline next February, when they conceivably could have more than $26 million in expiring contracts belonging to Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, Ryan Gomes, Mark Madsen, Craig Smith and Bobby Brown. (Zgoda)
  • Kahn specifically mentioned Randy Foye and Mike Miller being in the last year of their contracts. He seems to place quite a bit of stock in that as a positive bargaining chip in trade possibilities. (Rand)

Wow that’s a lot of salary to be able to move during this next year. In fact the Wolves will only have 4 players, Jefferson, Love, Brewer, and Telfair on the books for
the 2010-2011 season. I’m nothing but excited to see if Kahn can prove to be as good as he already sounds with the flexibility we have and all signs point to it starting with a splash next Thursday night.

Howls on Curry canceling his workout with the Wolves…

A quick note on the news on Stephen Curry canceling his workout with the Wolves:

Obviously it looks like Curry wants to be a Knick and does not want to be T-Wolf.

So what should the Wolves do if Curry is the BPA (best player available) at #6 on June 25th? Personally I don’t think you can pass on him. Curry is not Steve Francis and is not the type of player who would put up such a fight that he would sit out and not play. He might drag his feet on the way to camp but sooner than later it’s in his best interest to play and be a team guy. Of course this would also allow Kahn to have a nice trade chip especially if the Knicks really want him as much as is being rumored. Could the Wolves trade Curry for say sparkplug and solid six-man Nate Robinson who the Knicks don’t have enough money to resign (once they give Lee a boatload of money)? Or a possible future 1st round pick and either versatile swingman Wilson Chandler or the #8 pick where they could take Flynn? Kahn won’t be able to fleece his old mentor Donnie Walsh the same as others have Isaiah Thomas in the past but you have to believe their friendship will offer plenty of trade talk and options shoud a situation like this come together on draft day.

EDIT 6/13/09: Kahn agrees the skipped workout is not enough to force him to not draft Curry.

Insights into Kahn's thinking and how that translates into building a contender…

Every Wolves fan should take a look at the notes over at T-Wolves Blog from Kahn addressing a group of season ticket holders. My initial reaction? YES! Finally somebody who gets it.

Kahn said there were five opportunities over the next 16 months to drastically change the team (for the team to “pop”):
1) The upcoming draft
2) This summer’s free agency
3) Next year’s trade deadline
4) Next year’s draft
5) Next summer’s free agency

Here’s to hoping we get the first splash right away at the draft in two weeks.

When asked about rumored trades, he mentioned Kirk Hinrich whom he described as a nice player who makes too much money. He said Hinrich is not what the team is looking for offensivelyThis is obviously interesting after discussing the possibilites of Hinrich on the Wolves. The key thing here is that Kahn is focused on the offense which is good (not that we don’t need defense too). Further proof was given in what he said this morning at a media breakfast:

“We need shooters,” he said. “We were the worst-shooting team in the Western Conference last year.”

Can’t argue with this either, isn’t it refreshing to have someone in the front-office at least show they understand!

Other thoughts I especially liked:

  • Wants to be hyper-aggressive on adding new pieces
  • Could have 7-10 new players/perimeter players by training camp 2010
  • For a championship caliber team, Al Jefferson and Kevin Love are, respectively, 2nd and 4th best players. The team needs to find players who can be the 1st and 3rd best players, according to Kahn.

Yes, yes and yes to these 3 points. Obviously the third point is a tall task getting a top level A player but it shows a lot about Kahn to say that. It’s a long cry from the “we’re fine” mentality McHale has seemed to have as well as the whole front-office and organization over the past decade. Nobody can argue that we shouldn’t be hyper-aggressive and no one can also argue against having 7-10 new players to go with Jefferson and Love. The real interesting thing here is no mention of Foye. Could he be on his way out? Obviously it would depend on the trade but does anyone really love having Foye on the team and would be really broken up if he were gone?

Let’s delve a little deeper into this description of a championship caliber team that Kahn is talking about and trying to build. With a couple of team bloggers already looking into “How to Build a Contender” over at the Daily Thunder here (Part I) and here (Part II) by Joe Newell and the original idea at Hornets 24/7 by Ryan Schwan.

As Ryan explains his idea:

It’s a little simplistic, but it seems to me that there are two ways to contend for a title in the NBA: Field a team with two Class A scorers, and surround them with specialists(see Shaq-Kobe or Shaq-Wade, 2nd Three-Peat Bulls) or field a team with one Class A scorer, and two Class B scorers, then fill in around the edges.(Ginobili-Duncan-Parker, Jordan-Pippen-Grant, Dantley-Thomas-Dumars, Hamilton-Billups-Sheed) The Hornets are currently built around a Class A scorer(Paul) and one Class B scorer(West), and one scorer(Peja) who they hoped would be Class B, but has fallen to Class C. To me, they either need to find another class B scorer on the cheap or try and upgrade their Class B scorer to a Class A one. The question is, however, who do I classify as a Class A or Class B Scorer? Class A are those players who are not only efficient scorers(points per shot of 1.3 or better) but whom retain that efficiency while taking around a dozen shots or more. Class B are those scorers who average between 1.2 and 1.3 points per shot, while taking the same number of shots per game.

I’ll spoil it for you but if you go over there you won’t find any Wolves on the list of the 29 GUYS Class A scorers in the league. You will find efficent big men (Howard, Shaq, Amare, Yao, Duncan etc.) some great shooters (Martin, Allen, Billups, Nash, Granger, Durant, Nowitzki, etc.) a handful of all-around scorers (James, Wade, Roy, Pierce, Salmons, etc.) and some guys who thrive in the paint and get to the line a lot (Paul, Harris, Ginobli, Maggatte, etc.)

Currently the Wolves have a Class B (1.19 so close enough) efficent big man in Jefferson and two players that WOULD be Class A if they got 11+ shots a game in Kevin Love and Mike Miller. In fact Miller had been a Class A scorer in Memphis until he came to MN and in the 14 games he shot more than 11 times for us last season he was indeed a Class A scorer with 17.7 PPG on an average of 13 shots for a PPS of 1.36. For Love in the 25 games he played the most minutes (27 mins+) he too was a Class A scorer averaging 16 points on 11 shots for a 1.44 PPS that puts him just above Lebron James. Not too shabby. So I have to agree with Kahn that Jefferson is at best a #2 player and Love is a #4. (I think you could argue Love as a solid #3 in the Horace Grant/Dennis Rodman role to two class A scorers like Jordan/Pippen). As for Foye he rates out similiar to Westbrook in Joe’s breakdown in Part I, basically average at best and not someone who should be shooting 14 times a game.

So the question now is, is Miller in the Wolves long term plans? Obviously his expiring $9mil expiring contract is one of our best trade chips, but if we were to find a way to get him more shots next season it could lead to some more wins for us. Likewise if Love can get the 30+ mins he should be getting we can expect him to be a Class A scoring big man next season. That being said Miller + Love are far from the same Class A scoring duo that Shaq+Kobe or Jordan+Pippen are on championship teams but with a very solid Class B big man in Jefferson (who’s efficiency could improve with defenses giving more attention to anyone else on the team) and the ability to still be able to draft or trade for another Class B or even Class A scorer the Wolves don’t sound as bad as a team that hasn’t been able to win 30 games in the last 2 years. As for Foye he’s starting to look more and more tradeable for the Wolves. Think about it, why are we beating ourselves up trying to find guys that will fit with an shall I say “awkward fit” combo guard like Foye. So let’s start to figure out some trade ideas involving Foye.

As for what to target in the draft, looking again at Joe’s breakdown in Part II of this year’s upcoming draft class both Harden and Curry stand out as the best scorers. Certainly the college numbers won’t be translating for sure (see Redick and Morrison) but it gives you a good idea for who to target and how much of a scorer they really are. A third player not on Joe’s list is Jonny Flynn who was at 1.39 PPS last season at Syracuse and would fit the Wolves need at pg quite well. As for Evans who I previously advocated for, he’s looking less attractive the more I hear, including turning down a workout for the Kings (ESPN Insider) against competition after saying he would take on anyone and everyone. Meanwhile if we did move Foye we can start from scratch and get a more traditional poing guard (like drafting Flynn) and a more traditional shooting guard (like by trading Foye).

State of the Wolves…

So here’s my State of the Wolves:

I like the format Draft Express used in their Off-Season Analysis a few years back so let’s go with that…

Draft Picks:

Picks #6, #18, #28, #45 and #47

Depth Chart:

PG: Randy Foye/Sebastian Telfair/Kevin Ollie/Bobby Brown
SG: Mike Miller
SF: Ryan Gomes/Rodney Carney/Corey Brewer
PF: Al Jefferson/Kevin Love/Craig Smith/Shelden Williams/Brian Cardinal
C: Jason Collins

I put the players in their most natural position here and only used everyone once. Miller could be argued at SF and Foye could be argued at SG but we’ll have more on that later. Notice how goofy this looks?!?!?

This is how the playing time went (Based on the Team’s Minutes per 82games.com) minus Rashad McCants+Calvin Booth who were traded:

PG: Sebastian Telfair (50%) – Randy Foye (24%) – Kevin Ollie (18%) – Bobby Brown (3%)

SG: Randy Foye (37%) - Mike Miller (22%) – Rodney Carney (19%) – Bobby Brown (3%)Kevin Ollie (2%)
SF: Mike Miller (36%) - Ryan Gomes (34%) - Rodney Carney (10%) – Brian Cardinal (8%) – Corey Brewer (6%)
PF:
Ryan Gomes (29%) – Craig Smith (29%) - Kevin Love (21%) – Brian Cardinal (14%) – Al Jefferson (2%) – Shelden Williams (1%)
C:
Al Jefferson (43%) – Kevin Love (30%) - Jason Collins (10%) – Craig Smith (7%) – Shelden Williams (4%) – Mark Madsen (2%) – Ryan Gomes (1%)

Initial Thoughts: The blessing of it is obviously the Wolves versatility at SG, SF, and PF. The curse of it is that we are stacked with a large group of quality “backup” type players (Save for Big Al and K-Love) at these 3 positions that are more like interchangeable parts with no defined role for each on the team. We have too much flexibility. Every player besides Telfair plays multiple positions with some consistency. Gomes is kind of a poor-man’s Odom (maybe a slightly better 3pt shooter) that is a nice player off the bench that gives the team flexibility to play small or big, Rodney Carney another nice 2/3 off the bench that played well with minutes down the stretch, and Mike Miller who had an up and down year with injuries but has the talent to be a starter with a high scoring efficiency from the wing. Foye splits time between the 1/2, Jefferson and Love between 4/5 etc. Jefferson is certainly capable of playing the 5 and with the news he’s looking to slim down this summer I think that will help his cause to be quicker on defense.

Background/Recap:

After an eventless year of rebuilding without KG in ’07-’08, the Wolves started this past season right where they left off with an 0-5 start that led to a 4-15 record which resulted in Head Coach Randy Wittman getting fired. Kevin McHale vacated the front office in a move to the bench that after a slow start learning his new philosophy resulted in a solid month of January at 10-4 that even gave McHale coach of the month honors. The run came to a crashing halt however with Al Jefferson tearing his right ACL on February 8th against New Orleans. The rest of the season was mostly a wash with Big Al out, but the Wolves used the time to groom rookie Kevin Love who by the end of the season established himself as a starting quality PF with the 4th best rebounding rate ever for a rookie. (See here for the evidence and here for the breakdown.) The only other news of note in the second half of the year post-Jeferson was the trade that sent Rashad McCants out of town to the Kings with Calvin Booth in exchange for Bobby Brown and Shelden Williams. (yawn…)

Ultimately the Wolves finished 24-58 which was bad enough to secure the 6th pick in the draft after being un-lucky yet again in the lottery.

Team Needs:

“The Timberwolves are a team without an identity.” (Funny this is a sentence that I didn’t need to change from Draft Express’ 2006 breakdown, ouch. Shows you the quality of GM Kevin McHale was and the general lack of vision within the organization). Even better look at what they had for team needs in ’06 as well.

1) A defensive minded center
2) A point guard
3) Athletic scorers

Amazing isn’t it! In fact I would contend that the Wolves have been in need of a defensive minded center, a pg (other than Cassell’s stint) and athletic scorers since forever. The biggest weakness we’ve had over the past decade in my opinion is that we have no one that can take the ball to the hoop and also get to the line. Here’s a mental exercise for you, picture the Wolves on offense in the half-court (not a fastbreak) and try and visualize one of the Wolves players driving past his guy to the hoop for an And-1. Anyone come to mind? Maybe McCants or Foye once or twice in the last two years but no Timberwolf has had “Can beat guys off the dribble” and “Gets to the hoop and the FT line” listed in their strengths since maybe Marbury was running the point over 10 years ago!

GM’s Strategy:

No one really knows what David Kahn’s draft strategy is or his vision of how to build a franchise. (Other than what you think you might be able to pull out of his open letter to the fans and his first couple of interviews here and here.) However he did have a significant role in building a team in Indiana that featured Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal which was a pre-season favorite to win it all before the brawl happened. (And was also with the team when they grabbed Danny Granger after the Wolves passed on him for McCants). So we will see what Kahn’s strategy is, the good news is that moving from Kevin McHale to ANY strategy is an improvement.

Personal Analysis:

First lets look at the 3 team needs:

1) A defensive minded center: Again I reiterate that taking a run at Chris, The Birdman, Andersen would be a good move this offseason. Likewise, Anderson Varejao also could fill this role and is a FA this summer. Both players would bring the energy, rebounding, and tough/active defense to the team that has been missing while we had a constantly rotating door of backup centers fill the roster. (A third option would be “The Polish Hammer” Marcin Gortat of the Orlando Magic who when given minutes has been just as good as Andersen/Varejao) Snagging one of those two would give the Wolves a very solid 3-pronged Front-line with Love and Jefferson where any two of the three could play well. Slot Jefferson in for 36-40 minutes, Love for 30-35 and 20-30 for Birdman/Sideshow Bob and you have arguably one of the top front-lines in the league all of the sudden.

2) A point guard: Certainly the team has a solid player in Randy Foye that some have argued is the teams point guard of the future. However looking at the breakdown of the Wolves 5-man units at 82games.com from this past season notice who the SG is on all of our best ones. Yes folks its Randy Foye. Honestly I’m conflicted on Foye. I think he’s comparable to Leandro Barbosa and Jason Terry and would be a great scoring 6th man guard that can play both 1+2 and would play starters minutes off the bench. Part of me says hes not the long-term solution at PG for the Wolves because I don’t see him creating for his teammates very often. The other side says that paired with the right back-court mate who can create his own shot to go along with a Big Man in Jefferson who is also good enough to score on his own and I think it could work out well with Foye at the point. I think that trading for Hinrich could work out quite well or drafting a player at #6 like Tyreke Evans who can create his own shot and get to the basket at will would also work well. Both players are bigger than Foye and could match up well with SG’s on defense. The other part of me (that says Foye should play SG) says the Wolves should be looking at Johnny Flynn at #6 who fills the role of a more traditional PG and would be an upgrade over Telfair.

3) Athletic Scorers – Again the Wolves haven’t had an athletic scorer since Marbury left town. Drafting Evans, Flynn, or maybe Stephen Curry would change that. Don’t see a ton of trade options for a player that fits this mold either.

Other Considerations:

It’ll be interesting to see what Kahn does in his first month on the job and how he starts building the team and shaping it into his vision of a contender. Personally I think they should bring back McHale as coach for three reasons,1) he connects with the players well can commands their respect, 2) as a result of that connection he seems to do well developing players (especially big men), and 3) because really there aren’t that many better options available unless you can convince a guy like Jeff Van Gundy to come to Minny or sign away a top assistant like Tom Thibodeau from the Boston Celtics.

Looking Forward:

Since we all like to play GM here’s my stab at what I would try and realistically do this summer if I were running the Wolves:

1. Draft Tyreke Evans with the #6 pick in the NBA draft and B.J. Mullens with #18.
2. Trade #28 for a future first round pick.
3. Trade Mike Miller to the Bulls for Kirk Hinrich
4. Sign Chris Andersen, Anderson Varejao, or Marcin Gortat with the full-midlevel exception.

I don’t think anyone could disagree that every one of these moves is completely fathomable for the Wolves to be able to make this summer. The only thing that would need a little luck is being able to convince The Birdman or Varejao to sign with us. The Birdman probably prefers the mid-level in Denver if they offer it and Varejao may command slightly more than the MLE. That being said Gortat might be had by the Wolves with their full MLE.

With these moves the Wolves Depth Chart looks something like this with the percentage of minutes broken down:

PG: Kirk Hinrich (40%) / Sebastian Telfair (30%) / Randy Foye (20%) / Tyreke Evans (10%)
SG: Randy Foye (40%) / Tyreke Evans (25%) / Kirk Hinrich (20%) / Rodney Carney (15%)
SF: Ryan Gomes (33%) / Corey Brewer (33%) / Rodney Carney (33%)
PF: Kevin Love (40%) / Al Jefferson (30%) / Craig Smith (20%) / Ryan Gomes (10%)
C:
Andersen/Varejao/Gortat (40%) / Al Jefferson (30%) / Kevin Love (20%) / B.J. Mullens (10%)

That’s a playoff teams folks! And a fairly good one at that. Notice also how the roles become more defined even and that we basically have a solid 3-player rotation both in the backcourt and in the frontcourt without giving up our flexibility? Then we can fill in at SF whatever player we need based on the matchups that night. This is a solid NBA team in my opinion that could compete in the West right away next year.

That’s my State of the Wolves right now, next up I’ll have a more in depth look at the draft and what the Wolves should look for later this week.

Feel free to leave your comments below or Twitter them to me @howlintwolf. Also I’m up and running over at Ball Hype as well so if you want to give me some love it’s always appreciated.