The Extra Pass: The Minnesota Timberwolves are on the clock

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10 days before the trade deadline. 30 games left in the season. One contract year remaining.

To say this is one of the most important time frames in the history of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise isn’t overly dramatic or hyperbolic. It’s reality.

Minnesota has never won a championship. 25 years, no rings, and an overall winning percentage below 40 percent. There isn’t much of a history to be forgotten when making statements like the one above.

In fact, very few transcendent talents have ever even suited up for the Wolves. When you think back of all the players over the years, only the two Kevins really spring to mind.

The first Kevin, of course, showed tremendous loyalty and stayed with the team for 12 years. At the peak of his powers, Garnett was able to turn Minnesota into a consistent winner, but he wasted his prime on bad rosters that were mangled by management. Wally Szczerbiak was genuinely one of the best players Garnett got to play with. Yes, it was that bad.

The second Kevin has dealt with worse, though. Whether it was a coach who wouldn’t play him early in his career, management that wouldn’t pay him coming off his rookie deal, or the same failure to put enough talent around him, Love hasn’t even felt the small success of a playoff series to tide him over halfway through the same amount of time KG spent in Minnesota.

Garnett was loyal to a fault, sure, but at least he had some semblance of hope that the Wolves could reach the next level with him on board. He had reason for his faith.

The same can’t be said for Love, and so the Wolves are essentially on the clock to somehow change that.

That means there’s 10 days to make a franchise-altering trade, 30 games to make up a seven-game deficit in the standings, and just one contract year left before Love can bolt in free agency.

History won’t be kind to Minnesota if they fail again with such a talented power forward in tow. We may remember the details of why Minnesota has struggled now with perfect clarity — David Kahn, all the injuries and bad luck, all the losses that should have been wins — but if Minnesota loses such a tremendously talented player after just six seasons? It will be a complete failure on every level.

So what should Minnesota do? Each potential course of action comes with great risk. Trade future draft picks for an impact player now, and maybe that handicaps the rebuilding period if Love ends up leaving anyway. Trade Love now before he can leave for nothing, and maybe it’s the Al Jefferson era all over again.

That being said, doing nothing at all might be the most indefensible decision available. Without Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic in the lineup, the Wolves lost by 18 at home to the Houston Rockets, a team that didn’t seem that far off in the distance just a few weeks ago. But the game illustrated a point: the Wolves are getting weaker, the West is getting stronger, and Love’s big games aren’t making much of a difference anymore.

It begs the question: how much longer will Love accept this as his fate? One more full season? Less?

We’ve seen in the past that superstars can get out of situations they don’t want to be in. Carmelo Anthony did. Deron Williams and Chris Paul did, too. Love wasn’t always on that level, but he is now, even if he’s still a flawed defender and a generally high maintenance player. Regardless, he’s good enough to have every team want him at any price. He holds all the cards here.

Flip Saunders and the rest of Minnesota’s front office know this. They are at the mercy of his pending decision. At this pace, though, Love’s patience is going to run out well before his contract does. There are excuses available for Minnesota’s lack of success, but none are going to be good enough to keep Love around. He needs real reasons to want to stay.

Love may be short on those right now, just as the Wolves are short on time.

10 days, 30 games, one more year. Minnesota, you’re on the clock.

Watch Lonzo Ball dodge relentless stream of LeBron James questions (video)

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Shortly before the draft, Lonzo Ball was asked in a televised interview to pitch LeBron James on joining the Lakers – and did.

A couple months and a tampering investigation into the Lakers later, Ball learned his lesson.

Sports Illustrated:

Rohan Nadkarni’s questions were all in good fun, and he couldn’t trick Ball into tampering, anyway. The NBA has essentially decided it won’t punish players for tampering with each other.

Ask Ball an honest LeBron question, and he’ll give an honest answer.

Report: People close to LeBron James ‘fairly confident’ Dwyane Wade will join Cavaliers

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Will the Bulls and Dwyane Wade reach a buyout?

Apparently, not only do people close to LeBron James believe it’ll happen, they have a read on Wade’s destination.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

As of right now, people close to James are fairly confident that, at some point this year, Dwyane Wade is going to end up on the Cavs.

Earlier in the podcast, Vardon even listed the only five people he believes reports should source as close to LeBron:

  • LeBron
  • Rich Paul
  • Maverick Carter
  • Savanah James
  • Adam Mendelsohn

So, that something about the proximity of this information to LeBron. Given Wade’s friendship with LeBron, Vardon’s sources could have inside information on Wade’s plan.

But hold your horses on Wade to Cleveland.

Though they could buy him out sooner, the Bulls are incentivized to keep Wade past the trade deadline. His $23.8 million expiring contract could prove useful in a trade. If no trade comes up and Chicago is out of the playoff race, as expected, a buyout would make far more sense. Now, eliminating that trade chip and sticking a large amount of dead salary on the books would be problematic for the Bulls – unless Wade cuts them a big discount. He doesn’t sound inclined to do that.

Even if Wade gets bought out, he has been rumored to follow LeBron to Cleveland for years. It obviously hasn’t happened yet. Wade’s friendship with LeBron is the primary lure – but it also might push Wade to signal a desire to team up while he can’t commit then go a different direction when push comes to shove. It can be hard to tell friends no.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Wade ends up with the Cavaliers. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if this is just wishful thinking by people close to LeBron.

Clippers’ Jerry West: ‘I did not want to leave’ Warriors

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A report emerged last spring that Jerry West was nearing a deal to stay with the Warriors as a consultant. Instead, he took the same job with the Clippers.

West, via Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, via NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Frankly it was very sad, OK? It really was. A place where I thought that if I was going to work another year or if somebody wanted me to work another year, I thought I could contribute; I did not want to leave. I did not want to leave. I was very happy there.

But those things happen sometimes. Obviously to be around a bunch of players that were as together as any I’ve seen and I think more importantly the talent that was on that team and to see the joy. There’s a lot of joy there. I think those are the kind of environments where people really prosper.”

“It was time for me to leave. I’m in Los Angeles again. For me, I’ll have a chance to go in the office a little bit and watch some of the people that have been hired, to watch our coaches coach. I’ve often said I’ve done some crazy things in my life because of the timing and maybe the timing was right.”

The Clippers’ appeal appeared to be their salary offer – reportedly $4 million-$5 million annually. And maybe that factored.

But it sure sounds as if there’s more to the story.

With Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, Celtics continue ascent – just not as steeply as hoped

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Celtics landed the No. 1 pick and signed the top free agent to change teams.

Given that, it feels like their offseason should have gone better.

Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are nice, and I won’t lose sight of that here. But…

Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3 to draft Tatum. Count me among those who believed there was a significant drop from Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball to the next tier – and the tier after that.

The extra first-rounder the Celtics acquired has also only lost value since the trade.

It’d convey from the Lakers if they pick 2-5 next year. But they added two players, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, better than they were expected to get. Los Angeles looks less likely to stumble into a top-five pick – especially without incentive to tank.

If not the Lakers’ pick this season, Boston will get the higher of Sacramento’s and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-rounders (or lower if one is No. 1). The Kings signed a couple veterans, George Hill and Zach Randolph, to help them in 2018-19. Sacramento’s young players will be more developed by then, and mirroring the Lakers this year, there’s no incentive to tank. (Philadelphia is also on the rise, but the Celtics probably already knew that.)

There’s still a chance Boston winds up with a high pick – or even wins the trade with a middling additional selection. Tatum, as the Celtics have claimed, might be a better prospect than Fultz outright.

I originally thought the trade was about fair. Developments swing the pendulum away from Boston, though perhaps I’m overly colored by my relatively dim evaluation of Tatum. (I expected the Celtics to draft Josh Jackson when the trade was made.)

Boston’s next big move, signing Hayward, also comes with a major caveat. To get Hayward, the Celtics had to downgrade from Avery Bradley to Marcus Morris.

The reasons are clear: Bradley is earning $8,808,989 in the final season of his contract. Morris is locked up for two more seasons at $5 million and $5,375,000.

Not only was that salary difference essential for clearing max cap space now, Bradley will enter unrestricted free agency with Isaiah Thomas next summer. The raises necessary to re-sign both likely would’ve pushed the Celtics higher into the luxury tax than they’re willing to go. Thomas and Morris should be affordable.

Morris is a fine player, but it looks like he’s caught between better combo forwards (Hayward and Jae Crowder) and higher-upside/younger combo forwards (Jaylen Brown and Tatum). How much will Morris matter in Boston?

Bradley certainly did plenty, defending the better opposing guard so the undersized Thomas didn’t have to. Marcus Smart can handle some of that responsibility, but that cuts into the time he can play in relief of Thomas at point guard and the time he can defend forwards.

Getting Aron Baynes for the room exception was solid. He might even start for the Celtics, eating up minutes against big starting centers. I suspect Al Horford will play center in most pivotal minutes, though.

Signing Baynes was one of Boston’s several respectable moves – drafting Semi Ojeleye in the second round, signing 2016 first-rounders Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic and paying to take a flier on Shane Larkin.

But the real needle-movers were signing Hayward, a 27-year-old versatile star, and adding a highly touted talent in Tatum. Even in the less-flattering greater context, those are huge additions.

Offseason grade: A-