in the Usenet Draft is the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Wolves lost their first round pick in order to
try to pay Joe Smith a lot of money (I'm not sure
why). In the
real NBA draft, the Wolves would pick at 46.
Their Net GM is the honorable Ryan Fortson who
Brown, SF, 6'7" Olkaloosa-Walton CC
Minnesota Timberwolves 2000-2001 Season: Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble
Key Additions: Chauncey Billups (fee agent - mid-level exception); LaPhonzo Ellis (free agent - one-mil exception); Felipe Lopez (signed as a free agent after being released by Washington)
Key Losses: Malik Sealy (died in a car accident following the 2000 Playoffs); Joe Smith (errr, we'll talk about that later)
2001 Free Agents: LaPhonzo Ellis, Felipe Lopez, Tom Hammonds, Sam Mitchell, Reggie Slater, Sam Jacobson, Andrae Patterson
Record: 47-35, 4th Place Midwest Division, 8th Place Western Conference
This season began with the tragic death of Malik Sealy after being hit by a drunk driver while returning from Kevin Garnett's birthday party late last May. Sealy was widely acknowledged as one of the uniters in the locker room and a friend to all on the team. His funeral was attended by everyone on the roster. Sealy was not only Garnett's childhood idol but also one of his best friends on the team, despite being many years older. At the time of his death, Sealy was blossoming into a quality starting shooting guard along the lines of an Aaron McKie. While not a great shooter, Sealy did have the ability to hit clutch shots. More importantly, he was a defensive presence that the Wolves did not have prior to Sealy and have not had this year.
The other big loss, admittedly self-inflicted, was Joe Smith, KG's other really close friend on the team. Joe was prevented by the league from re-signing with the Wolves following the publicization of the secret agreement between the Timberwolves and Joe for a mega-contract when he obtained his Bird right following what would have been his third season this past year. Details are murky, but here is my understanding of what happened: The NBA had just come off of a strike costing them the first third of the season, so the free agent signing period in January of 1998 was already compressed. On top of this, Minnesota was faced with losing Tom Gugliotta for nothing. (It is widely believed they had an offer of a sign-and-trade with the Lakers for Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell. In retrospect, they should have taken this deal, but at the time Campbell was viewed as an underachiever and a big salary drain and Jones's agent threatened that there was no way he would resign in Minnesota. There were also salary concerns for the future because Jones and Marbury would be due huge raises. Furthermore, Minnesota (naively) believed that Gugliotta would not turn down more money from the Wolves to go to the Suns. Yes, they should have been more on top of how much he hated Marbury, but this was more than just former Celtic McHale not wanting to help the Lakers.) Consequently, there was strong incentive to get Joe Smith, who still showed promise of being a decent player, at any cost. It is probably the case that McHale gave him a verbal commitment to take care of him eventually, but this was not enough for Joe's oily agent at the time, Eric Fleisher. So, Fleisher goes to team owner Glen Taylor, who had just had a heart attack and was about to undergo open-heart surgery, and convinces him to put this secret agreement in writing. (One rumor says that Fleisher was afraid Taylor would die and the new management would not honor a verbal agreement. How he planned on enforcing an illegal agreement is unknown.) McHale then signs/endorses the illegal contract, perhaps because he thought the damage had already been done. Fast forward to this past summer. Joe Smith has switched agents. Fleisher sues Joe, apparently because he thinks he should be entitled to some money from Joe's new contracts, including this mega-contract he still has pending. (The "mega-contract" ranged from $40 mil up to the max of $83 mil depending on certain incentives. It would have been much closer to the lower end if it had ever been carried out.) During discover, this written illegal contract comes to light and is forwarded (probably by Fleisher) to the league office. You know the rest. Big investigation ensues. The Wolves challenge the inevitable before an arbitrator. Joe really wants to return to Minnesota and even encourages an appeal after the initial ruling is against Minnesota. After getting struck down again, both Joe and the Wolves give up. Joe signs for the mid-level exception with Detroit. The Timberwolves are fined $3.5 mil, Taylor is suspended until September 1 (he can still be involved in certain team matters like negotiating anew contract for Coach Flip Saunders), McHale is suspended until August 1 (later shortened to July 18 when the free agent signing period is moved up), and the team loses its first round draft picks for each of the next five years (the pick for 2003 is later restored when Taylor and McHale agree to go quietly).
. . . and then the season starts. Considering all of the offseason distractions, the T-Wolves played remarkably well. The Western Conference was the most competitive conference in the history of the NBA. The team started reasonably well before facing their seemingly annual December slump. This was followed, though, by eleven straight wins in late January and early February leading up to the All-Start Break. There was hope that Minnesota might even be able to move into the fourth slot and get home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs. Most of the power polls even placed the T-Wolves in the top 3 or 4 teams in the entire league. This winning streak was created not by talent, since other than KG the Wolves do not have great talent and certainly not in the top 5 in the league. (Brandon, though, was playing probably some of the best basketball of his career.) Rather, the winning streak came from solid team play. After the All-Star Break, though, the team play declined. Or maybe the relative lack of talent finally caught up with them. They slipped down to the bottom of the playoff ladder, but did not have too much trouble fending off late charges by Houston and Seattle.
Overall, Minnesota took a slight decline from their performance of last year, but that is understandable. The dramatic improvement of Dallas and Sacramento left Minnesota with the 8th playoff slot and a first round date with San Antonio. Minnesota managed to win Game 3 in Minnesota (and should have won Game 1). However, for the third straight year the team was eliminated 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs, marking the fifth straight year that they have been unable to make it out of the first round. Yes, this is getting tiring. Yes, something needs to be done. Despite the tedium of yet another early exit, it should be remembered that considering the circumstances the team really did quite well. Whether they can get the talent (either through trades or through internal development) necessary to advance is yet to be seen. One hopes that with Portland imploding, Utah getting older, and Phoenix seemingly adrift, there may be a chance for the T-Wolves to move up in the conference. (And if Sacramento loses Webber, there is an even greater chance.) Indeed, Flip Saunders has said in interviews that the team is a lot closer to being a contender than many people realize. In fact, this is one of the reasons why he turned down a 5-year, $30 mil offer to coach the Trailblazers. OK, he did re-up here for an estimated $25 mil for the same time period. Still, there are clearly pieces of the puzzle missing, so let us look at what options there may be in the draft (or mostly elsewhere). It does, though, show that he is committed to the team and believes it can succeed. (Saunders' new contract requires Saunders to give up being GM and concentrate only on coaching.)
- Jerome "Pooh" Richardson (10th)
- Gary Leonard (34th)
- Doug West (38th)
- Felton Spencer (6th)
- Gerald Glass (20th)
- Luc Longley (7th)
- Myron Brown (34th)
- Christian Laettner (3rd)
- Marlon Maxey (28th)
- Chris Smith (34th)
- Tim Burroughs (51st)
- Isaiah Rider (5th)
- Sherron Mills (29th)
- Donyell Marshall (4th)
- Howard Eisley (30th)
- Kevin Garnett (5th)
- Mark Davis (48th)
- Jerome Allen (49th)
- Ray Allen (5th; traded same day with Andrew Lang to Milwaukee for Stephon Marbury)
- Paul Grant (20th)
- Gordon Malone (44th)
- Radoslav Nesterovic (17th)
- Andrae Patterson (46th)
- William Avery (14th)
- Louis Bullock (42nd) (traded to Orlando for cash)
- Igor Rakocevic (51st)
McHale took over starting with the 1995 draft. He showed great courage in taking Garnett, the first highly touted high school player in quite some time, with the #5 pick. This was clearly the pick that turned the franchise around. And to think that many people predicted Minnesota taking Ed O'Bannon there! At the time of the trade, Marbury said that he wanted to play in Minnesota, having become friends with KG at a summer camp the year before. Had Marbury stayed, this trade definitely would have been worth it, though in retrospect it might have been better to stick with Allen. The next two picks were made by a team desperate for a center. Grant has still not played an NBA minute, mostly because of ankle and foot injuries, and was eventually shipped to Milwaukee in the Marbury deal for salary cap reasons. He is now out of the league. Malone, to put it bluntly, did not have the intelligence to play in the NBA, as he could not grasp the complexities of the pro game. Nesterovic and Patterson both show promising futures for the Timberwolves. Indeed, some say Nesterovic, who played most of the year in Italy, would have been a lottery pick this year if he had not entered the draft last year. With Szczerbiak and Avery, many basketball commentators thought that Minnesota had the best draft in 1999. Szczerbiak has been more than solid for a #6 pick. Indeed, it is becoming apparent that he is to be the Wolves' second cornerstone behind KG. He has faced increasing expectations with each season and so far seems able to fulfill them. Avery has not played much, but has shown great promise in limited minutes. However, he really should be further along by now than he is. Why Bullock, a short shooting guard but a very good three-point shooter, was drafted only to be traded is unknown, especially since Todd MacCulloch, who has had a very serviceable if not spectacular first year with Philadelphia, is unknown. The team did not have a first round pick last year because of the trade to get Dean Garrett and Bobby Jackson from Denver via Toronto in a three-way trade. Picking Rakocevic ("Rako") in the second round might pay off eventually if he turns out to be a player. He has been dubbed by some in Europe as the "white Jordan." (Of course, most people compared to Jordan have failed miserably [exhibit one: Harold Minor].) From what little information I have been able to find out, he seems to be an aggressive player and a good shooter. Unusual among European players, he is also supposedly a good defender. At 6'2", he sounds like a shooting guard in a point guard's body. Rako really wants to play in the NBA and might turn down more money in Europe to join the Wolves this upcoming season (he is still under contract to a Yugoslavian team and would have to be bought out) or the one after that. It is too early to tell, though, if he will ever be a quality NBA player. Plus, after the Bullock pick and frustration over another first round loss, this pick seemed to many fans to be thrown away. In sum, then, McHale does relatively well with high draft picks, but things get a little dicey after that.
Management and Coaching
This has not been a banner year for the Timberwolves' management. Because of the Joe Smith fiasco, the team has put itself in a serious hole for the next few year due to a loss of first-round draft picks. On the one hand, if the Wolves do well, these picks will be low enough that they would be unlikely to produce anyone of value. After all, there are several teams this year that want to get rid of their picks. This, though, signals how the picks might yield their best value - as trade bait. In essence, Minnesota is prevented from including a first round pick (a common inducement) in trades for the next five years. (It is not entirely clear how the rule against trading picks in consecutive years applies to Minnesota's pick in 2003, but my inclination is to believe that they cannot trade the pick.) Plus, KG's salary is going to put them well over the cap for the foreseeable future. This limits the team to salary cap exceptions, trades, and minimum salary players. Or in other words, GM-ing with both hands tied behind one's back. Consequently, Minnesota might be forced to rely on internal development and getting lucky with second round picks and free agents looking to play on a close-knit team. Either that or trade an established mid-level player (trading KG is unthinkable) for a draft pick or a player with potential.
On the plus side, coach Philip "Flip" Saunders seems finally to be getting the respect as a coach that he has deserved for many years. It is hard to imagine another coach getting as much out of his players as Saunders does with the current roster of Timberwolves. Just this off-season, there were rumors that the Cavaliers wanted to hire Flip as their new head coach (Saunders is from the Cleveland area), and Portland went so far as to bring out Flip and his family for an interview. (It is Taylor's policy to let those who are unhappy explore other options, so he gave permission for Saunders to do the interview. This may have worked out well, as Flip's decision to stay with the team might renew his confidence in them now that he has had other options.) Saunders stresses team play, consistently turning Minnesota into one of the better passing teams in the league. There was some grumbling after he was unable for the fifth year in a row to lead the Wolves out of the first round of the playoffs. This is a glass half-full v. half-empty type of situation. The Flip backer can look at his ability to lead a team with limited talent into the playoffs for five straight years.
Team Strengths and Weaknesses
The T-Wolves pride themselves on their team play. They are perhaps the best team in the league at ball rotation. They also have one of the better shooting percentages, a fact made more amazing when you realize they have very few layups. They also play team defense, which too often results in ball rotation that leaves an opposing player wide open for a three-point shot. A strong defensive player inside would help lessen the need for rotation defense because that player could contain anyone who got by the defender on man-to-man defense. Barring major personnel changes in the off-season, I expect Minnesota to be playing a lot of zone defense next year to compensate for their lack of dependable interior players. These criticisms aside, it is clear that the team is very well coached and gets the most out of its limited talent level. The team has a very young nucleus (Brandon [and sometimes Peeler] is the only starter over 26), so there is reason to hope that the team will be able to develop from within. Considering their loss of draft picks, this could be quite important indeed. Hopefully, McHale can use his magic to tutor Nesty and any other big men the Wolves acquire. A lot will depend on whether Wally can develop into a dependable second scorer and whether Avery and Nesterovic can at least by respectable.
The most glaring need that Minnesota has is interior defense and rebounding. This season made it clear that while KG can perform competently there, the team would be better off if someone else took over these duties. And I'm not just talking about being unable to defend Shaq, which no one can do. Several teams were able to abuse Minnesota inside. Considering that, it is surprising that they were not outrebounded more often than they were. The Wolves were soft at both the center and power forward spots. These positions simply need to be addressed if the team is going to be a contender. The other big weakness is free throw shooting. Not making them - the team is in the top five in FT% - but not taking enough shots - the team is in the bottom five in attempts. Most of this comes from not having an interior scoring threat, which forces the team to rely on ball rotation and outside jumpers. Having a player better able to slash to the basket would help with this, but this help will be minimal if the slasher does not have an inside player to dish the ball to. Needless to say, it would be ideal if the offensive and defensive problems inside could be solved by the same player, but since they are in need of both a center and a power forward, some specialization would be acceptable.
Players (stats can be found at www.nba.com/timberwolves/stats.html)
I'll give a brief overview of their performance so far and then some suggestions for this summer and improvement in general. Minnesota will definitely have a summer league team this year. Players on the current roster that have agreed to participate are: Avery, Lopez, Jacobson, Rasho, Andre, and Rako.
Radoslav (Rasho, Nesty) Nesterovic (7'0", 248 lbs, dob: 5/30/76, years NBA: 3, Slovenia): After showing some promise in the 1999-2000 season, Rasho seemed to regress this past season. I still think he has the potential to be a decent center in the NBA. His footwork is good and he has the ability to make mid-range jumpers, though he could use a bit more consistency there. His rebounding is decent at times and he can be an above average shot-blocker if he can keep himself out of foul trouble (which is something he struggles with). His biggest problem appears to be a severe lack of confidence. You can see it on his face when he plays. It is sort of a vicious circle. After making a mistake (usually a stupid foul) he is so afraid of being taken out of the game that Flip has no choice but to take him out of the game because he withdraws into a shell. I'm not sure what goes on during practices, but I'd like to see Flip leave Rasho in games more often and let him learn it is OK to make the occasional mistake as long as you learn from it.
For this summer: Go to the Minnesota State Fair every day it is in town! Why, you ask? Because every food item there is fried (and on a stick). Yeah, I'd rather you add muscle, but we've been there, done that, and it didn't seem to work out. Time to got to Plan B - add the other kind of bulk. I think you have decent enough footwork to sustain an extra 25 pounds, even if it is in the form of fat. Just don't go Stanley Roberts on us (physically or mentally for that matter). Also, watch the Wizard of Oz, especially the parts with the Cowardly Lion, so that you can learn courage.
Dean Garrett (6'11", 250 lbs, dob: 11/27/66, years NBA: 5, Indiana '88): Wo unto the Timberwolves when Garrett comes into the game. Wo, I say. It is usually a sign that the Wolves are getting creamed. For some reason, he doesn't even play when we are up big. Occasionally, Garrett comes in against stronger centers because we basically don't have anyone else. He has very little inside game, but can sometimes hit from about 10 feet out. He had a good season a few years ago when Marbury was here to dish him the ball on drives and Gugliotta was taking attention away on the defensive boards, but now that both of them are gone (Brandon does not drive the ball and Joe is not enough of a threat rebounding), Garrett has become essentially a non-player. Plus, because he spent almost 10 years playing in Europe before breaking into the NBA, he is relatively old and unlikely to get any better. He is signed for two more years. Wo, indeed. [Note: This is the review of Garrett I wrote after last season. Nothing has changed. If anything, everything said here has gotten worse.]
For this summer: Thank whatever god(s) you pray to that you had one good season. You sucked before and you sucked afterwards. He'll probably be used as cap filler in a trade if necessary. OK, there are worse big men in the league, so maybe I shouldn't be that hard on Dean, but he is clearly not the answer at center - he just is not that talented.
Reggie Slater (6'7", 255 lbs, dob 8/27/70, years NBA: 6, Wyoming '92): By height, Slater is more of a forward, but by body shape he is more of a center. The Wolves tended to play him as an undersized center, especially toward the end of the season, even giving him a few starts at that position (KG handles the initial tip-off). Slater is a hard worker and knows how to put his bulk to good use. He can't really shoot, but he knows that is not expected of him. Slater is a good player to have on the team because of his (lumbering) hustle. He is a decent back-up center or power forward if all you want is box out defense, but he should probably not be placed in a starting position except as last resort (which was pretty much the case for the Wolves for most of the season).
For this summer: I'm not sure what to suggest; I think he is making the most of the moderate talent and body size he has. I guess I'd suggest he work on his mid-range shooting and free throws. He is a free agent, but he probably won't draw much attention, so I imagine he will be back.
Kevin (KG, Da Kid, Big Ticket, The Franchise) Garnett (6'11", 220 lbs, dob: 5/19/76, years NBA: 6, Farragut Academy High School '95): KG is unquestionably the cornerstone of this franchise. Because of the troubles with the team, his reputation slipped a slight bit in the eyes of many fans, but I would
hazard that he is still one of the top 5 players in the league. He is one of the most versatile players in the league, which he showed by becoming one of only a few players in NBA history to average more than 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists in consecutive seasons. Plus, he is an excellent shot blocker. Plus, he still has room for improvement and is only going to get better from here. Many thought Garnett would demand to be traded after the Malik and Joe situations, but he instead reiterated that he wants to retire a Timberwolf. KG, along with Sam Mitchell, is the only player who has been with the team for all five of its first-round exits, so that has to be wearing on him. Still, this recent Olympian (he has been playing basketball for the past two years essentially without a break) is committed to the gradual development process of the team. This past season, KG switched from SF to PF, a change which he handled relatively well, but which did seem to burden him at times. Garnett, despite his 7'0" height, is really more of a true SF and just does not have the strength to contend with many of the power forwards in the West. He is quick enough (and has a large enough wingspan) to handle pretty much any SF in the league. He also has enough range on his shot to play away from the basket when necessary and has been known to make the occasional 3-pointer. That said, it would be nice if he added enough strength to drive to the basket more, of for no other reason than to get to the free throw line more. The other area in which he needs to improve is his ability to take over games, especially in the fourth quarter. He gets points consistently throughout the game (and rarely strays very far either way from the 22-point per game level), but he too often becomes silent late in games.
For this summer: Dude, get some rest. Try not to even touch a basketball for about a month. KG needs to recharge both physically and mentally. When he does start working out again, he needs to get stronger. Even if we add an inside player, this is the part of his game that KG needs to work on most. Not only will it add another dimension to his play, it will also make him more dependable in the fourth quarter - both in the sense that he will not be as tired and that he will be harder to defense.
Wally (Wally World) Szczerbiak (6'8", 245 lbs, dob 3/5/77, years NBA: 2, Miami (Ohio) '99): Wally World is starting to catch on in Minnesota. His play improved throughout the season, on both offense and defense, and then really exploded in the playoffs. In fact, he at times was the only Wolf in that series that seemed to be playing with heart. Wally's emotions can get the best of him at times, though. During practices this past season, he got into fights with both Garnett and Brandon, leading some to suggest that Wally would be traded. However, the tensions seem to have been smoothed over, and, frankly, this team could use a bit more passion at times. On the court, this passion translates into Wally being able to score in bunches when he gets hot. In fact, he rarely seems to slump. So why doesn't he get more shots (he is currently the third option on the team)? Some say it is because Brandon hates him, but I think it has to be a coaching decision. Wally does still have the propensity to drive the lane unadvisedly at times and get himself into difficult situation. His basketball knowledge is improving, though, and he seems well on his way to being the complementary star to KG that can help this team advance. I expect him to play more of a role in the offense next season. The question is where he can play, especially if KG plays more at SF. I do think Wally can handle the role of SG. He is quicker than most people realize. Szczerbiak is one of the better pure shooters in the league. He was pretty much the only outside player to shoot over 50% from the field (he does need to improve his 3-point percentage and number of attempts). He does have a few problems on defense, but those come mostly on defensive rotations - his man-to-man defense is actually pretty good. The ability to play zones should help Wally out on the defensive end. Plus, his size gives him an advantage over many shooting guards in the league.
For this summer: Work on three-point shooting. I think Wally definitely has the skill to become an awesome three-point shooter, but he needs to develop more consistency at it, especially if he is going to become our second scorer, which I seriously hope is the plan. Wally is already one of the best shooters in the league and just needs to lengthen his range by about three feet. Shoot, no, make 500 three-pointers a day. Defensive footwork could use some improvement too, though I don't think he is as bad as others do.
LaPhonso (Phonz) Ellis (6'8", 240 lbs, dob 5/5/70, years NBA: 9, Notre Dame '92): Ellis played a solid supporting role for the Timberwolves this season. In fact, he finished third in the Sixth Man Award. Ellis is a solid defender and dependable rebounder. He is willing to do a lot of the dirty work that others on the team are reluctant to do. Amazingly (given his history), he stayed healthy throughout the entire season. Great player at the beginning of the year, but definitely got tired out toward the end of the season. I'm willing to cut him some slack since 1) he played a full season for the first time in . . . well, ever; and 2) he is really more of a SF/PF and they played him a lot at center, where he really got beat up.
For this summer: Work on conditioning. I think the Wolves will probably split the mid-level exception between Ellis and Lopez, which is probably a good move.
Sam (Sam-I-Am) Mitchell (6'7", 210 lbs, dob: 9/2/63, years NBA: 12, Mercer '85): Mitchell is really starting to show his age. He cannot play very many minutes any more and the minutes he does play are not very productive. He is losing consistency on his outside baseline jumper, which was once automatic for him. He can still help out defensively, but it is probably time to give younger players a chance. That said, Mitchell does provide a valuable service to the team by mentoring younger players. I hope (and somewhat expect) that after his playing days are through he is offered a position as an assistant coach.
For this summer: Sam, I love ya, but it's time to retire. You can become an assistant coach or a scout - your pick. As a player, though, you are spent. I like your veteran leadership, but we can get that from having you as a coach. Time to let other players learn the game.
Tom Hammonds (6'9", 225 lbs, dob: 3/27/67, years NBA: 12, Georgia Tech '89): Hammonds was "injured" for most of the season and barely played. Even if he had been on the active roster, he probably barely would have played, despite Minnesota's glaring need for interior strength. Hammonds does not have the quickness to be a solid NBA player. Kind of ironic, then, that he drag races in his spare time. Rumor is he plans on retiring.
For this summer: Go back to drag racing. I wish you luck there. We needed muscle inside this season, which is your only skill, and we still kept you on injured reserve all year. Hint, hint.
Andrae Patterson (6'9", 240 lbs, dob: 12/12/75, years NBA: 3, Indiana '98): Andre was on IR for the entire year, though he could have been "healthy" if necessary. He showed limited promise in his first season, but has not really played since then. I suppose he must be showing something in practice if they are keeping him around.
For this summer: Summer league. You think you can help us out as an inside scorer and defender? Prove it. Please.
Terrell (TB) Brandon (5'11", 180 lbs, dob 5/20/70, years NBA: 10, Oregon '90): Brandon is a very good point guard and the type of distributor seemingly needed in Flip's ball distribution offense. His assist number slipped a little from last year, but were still in the top ten. Brandon was very consistent from about 20 feet, where he took a vast majority of his shots, making him usually the second offensive option on the team. The contributions that Brandon made to the T-Wolves in bringing offensive consistency cannot be underestimated. Still, many Wolves fans are looking for any opportunity to trade Brandon, who along with Wally are our only tradable assets, for interior defense. There are several reasons to want to trade Brandon. For one, his demeanor and playing style are rather quiet, which is somewhat of a letdown from the high-energy and often combative Stephon Marbury. Some doubt that he has the desire and drive to be a leader at point guard. Another rap on Brandon is that he is extremely frail and often injured. There is some truth to this, though perhaps not as much as is the perception of him. Brandon gets frequent minor injuries which lead to games missed here and there. He rarely drives the lane and seems to shy away from physical contact. Defensively, he has trouble with quicker point guards. Brandon's relatively good year make him at the height of his tradability. Minnesota signed him two seasons ago to a 6-year $56 mil contract, which will hinder chances for trading him. Realizing the limitations with the current roster, it is likely that Flip and McHale will try to trade Brandon, despite protestations about how happy they are to finally have consistency on the team. (More on the rumors later.)
For this summer: Start looking for a home somewhere else other than Minnesota. He's going to be traded. At least I hope so. He's a nice guy and could be a quality point guard for a team that utilizes more of a half-court offense, but our talent is better suited to a transition game. Brandon just is not the right fit for this team. You know it; I know it; the American people know it. Who he gets traded for has been and will be the subject for much debate.
Anthony Peeler (6'4", 208 lbs, dob 11/25/69, years NBA: 9, Missouri '92): Peeler is a very streaky player who reminds me somewhat of Vinny "Microwave" Johnson from the Pistons championship teams. However, he frequently does not know when to stop hoisting up shots and is by far the most prone on the team to take bad shots. His defense is not especially good. Peeler is a quality reserve but really should not be starting. His abilities as a streak shooter give him some slight trade value, so he might be packaged for a pick or as part of a larger deal.
For this summer: Assuming you are not traded, watch some video tapes on learning to play under control. Peeler is like the anti-Brandon in terms of playing style. Yeah, I like that he can get hot, but just as many times he shoots stupid shots that take us out of the game. Oh yeah, he should get used to coming off the bench, because if he is our starter (which he was for part of the season) again it is a very bad thing.
Chauncey Billups (6'3", 202 lbs, dob 9/25/76, years NBA: 4, Colorado '97): Billups came on strong in December when Brandon was out for a couple of weeks. There was even talk that he could take over the starting point guard job, making Brandon tradable. Since that time, Billups has seemingly lost confidence and played fewer minutes. However, given that Brandon will be strongly shopped around, and not for a point guard in return, it is likely that Billups could very well see extended minutes at point guard. I am not sure he is a starting point guard in the NBA and would prefer to see him backing-up both guard positions, but I feel he can do acceptably at the point guard, especially if Avery develops to the point where he can fill quality minutes at the position. Billups is a decent shooter, though not as good as Brandon. He is also a decent ball-handler, though again nowhere close to Brandon's level. However, Billups is a much better penetrator than Brandon, which may make him a better fit for the type of talent we have. Were it not for my desire to trade Brandon, I would probably not be trying to justify Billups as a quality NBA point guard, but I sort of feel I have no choice.
For this summer: Learn the offense well enough that he has the confidence to run it. If Brandon goes, he may very well be the starting point guard (though actually I'd be inclined to give the nod to Avery and have Billups back up both guard spots off the bench). Billups looked good at the beginning of the year, but seemed to lose his way later on. His main problem is that he needs to learn to play more under control.
Felipe Lopez (6'5", 195 lbs, dob 12/19/74, years NBA: 3, St. John's (N.Y.) '98): Lopez was cut from the Wizards at the trade deadline (to accommodate all the players brought over from Dallas for Juwon Howard) and chose to come here over the Lakers. At the time, he said it was because he felt he might have a future with the T-Wolves playing a good number of minutes per game. Was his decision to forego a ring the correct one? Well, he did put in several games with quality minutes toward the end of the season, but was for the most part closed out of the playoffs by Saunders. His primary purpose for much of his playing time was to serve as a defensive presence, a job I feel he accomplished better than anyone else at shooting guard. He was a decent shooter, and even showed a bit of range, but probably should not be expected to be a major scorer in the near future. To be honest, he reminds me a bit of Malik Sealy, who was known as a defensive stopper before blossoming as a scorer later in his career. Lopez is a free agent, so there is no guarantee that he will be back, and the fact that he was cut from an awful Wizards team, so perhaps his talent is truly limited, but I would like to keep him around for another year and see how he develops.
For this summer: Summer league. Felipe, there may be a chance that other teams will offer you more money (though if we dip into our exception for you that is unlikely). However, none of those teams will let you be their starting shooting guard next year. We might (depending on what happens with Wally). I know you did not get many minutes in the playoffs, though frankly you should have gotten more, but once Flip integrates you into the offense that should all change. Yeah, I know there is a chance we will trade for a big-time off-guard, but I hope not. Our real
need is inside, and I would rather upgrade there than upgrade you. You might also want to work on improving your slashing ability; that would really help us. And if you do that, definitely try to get your FT% over .600.
William (Young Will) Avery (6'2", 180 lbs, dob 8/8/79, years NBA: 2, Duke '99): William Avery has shown potential at times but has not gotten many minutes during games. Those times he has played, he wavers back and forth between competence and playing lost. He is quicker than Brandon and probably a better defender. I honestly think Avery, who would have been a college senior this year (and probably should have stayed in school), will develop into a good point guard and a quality starter, but there is definitely no guarantee. His lack of playing time leads to a great deal of nervousness in his abilities to take over (or even to back-up Billups) if Brandon is traded.
For this summer: Summer league. Of all of our players, Avery will probably benefit the most from summer league play. I think he has the talent to be a competent and perhaps even successful point guard, but he needs way more practice running an offense in game situations. He also needs to work on his shooting in game situations, as his shot selection and ability to make shots definitely leaves something to be desired. If we trade Brandon, there's a good chance Avery will see serious minutes next year, so he'd better get ready for it.
Sam Jacobson (6'4", 219 lbs, dob 7/22/75, years NBA: 3, Minnesota '98): Jacobson latched on with his hometown Timberwolves after being drafted and cut by the Lakers and then cut again by Golden State. He spent much of the time on injured reserve and did not show a great deal during the few times he got game minutes. He's cheap, but other than that I see no real reason to believe he will develop into a quality player. He might be better served going over to Europe to get some game minutes.
For this summer: Summer league. Pray we trade away some of our off-guards and don't add any either through trade or the draft. Otherwise, it might be time to start looking for another team on whose pine to ride.
Todd Day (6'2", 197 lbs, dob 10/7/70, years NBA: 9, Arkansas '92): Started the season with the team as a bench player. Saunders put him into the game with some frequency, but eventually gave up as Day never really seemed to know what he was doing. Day was legitimately injured, but the team was in no rush to get him off of IR. He was eventually cut. The team went with Jacobson over Day because Jacobson is younger and might possibly develop into a player, which Day never will.
For this summer: Other teams' camps? Europe? He won't be back with Minnesota.
Kedrick Brown (6'7", 225 lbs.,
Olkaloosa-Walton Community College): I was hoping that either Hunter, Hassell, Alvin Jones, Johnson, or Cisse would slip down to me, but it didn't happen. These players not only fill a need, but also IMHO have real potential. Another player I think has potential to be a real surprise is the other K. Brown. Kedrick is one of the better athletes outside of the lottery range and is known for his offensive and defensive presence. Of course, the downside is that his proving grounds were against other community college players. But in a day when a high school player might be to top pick overall, do we really know more about them than we do about community college players? Kedrick made a verbal commitment to LSU but decided, partially for family reasons, to enter the draft. There is some rumor that the Celtics promised Brown they would pick him at #11, and I've seen two mock drafts that have him going there, but I think it is more likely that he will go late in the first round or early in the second. Portland has supposedly said they would draft him at #19 (a pick Minnesota might trade for [see below]). That said, he could easily develop into one of those players that years from now teams are kicking themselves for passing up (especially if he slips a bit in the draft). Given their lack of draft picks, Minnesota cannot afford to be in that position.
What role does Brown play on the Wolves? If Lopez is not resigned and the Wally at shooting guard experiment fails, Brown would be our only big guard. He also brings needed athleticism and jumping and slashing ability to the team. I doubt he'd start, at least not next season, but I would not be surprised to see him contribute solid minutes off the bench and do well with them. That is, I would if Minnesota actually had a pick in a position where they would take Brown, which would probably also mean that they could not take any of the above mentioned players. Since they don't, I don't want to get myself too worked up over Kedrick.
Brian Scalabrine (6'9", 250 lbs, USC): Frankly, I'm surprised that he has lasted this long (not that I am knocking anyone's selection). He is fairly good offensively for a power forward and even has range. His big question marks are on defense, though, which is where Minnesota needs the most help. He is also not an especially good rebounder. Scalabrine just is not quick enough to inspire much confidence in his ability to be a quality starter at the NBA level. I am very tempted to pick him, but in the end I'd rather take the gamble on Kedrick.
Samuel Dalembert (6'11", 232 lbs, Seton
Hall): Probably the best center prospect remaining, but he did not exactly excite too many people at Seton Hall. To take him would be to draft too much for need. Plus, he is too thin to be the defensive presence we need.
Martin Rancik (6'10", 230 lbs, Iowa St.): Played well in the pre-draft camps, but he is probably more of a small forward than a power forward.
Kirk Haston (6'10", 240 lbs,
Indiana): Another player who helped himself in the pre-draft camps, Haston could be a good back-up power forward, but does not have near the athleticism necessary to be dependable. Thus, there is a real possibility he may flame out quickly.
Michael Wright (6'8", 238 lbs, Arizona): Strong body that he knows how to use well, but probably a little too short to be a dependable NBA power forward. If I'm going to take a risk, I'd rather it be on K. Brown.
The Timberwolves would have drafted 18th were it not for the Joe Smith Fiasco. As it is, all they have left is the #46 pick. Kedrick Brown almost certainly will not be available there. I have reservations about using the "best player available" philosophy as low as #46, since few players picked that low make teams. Then again, the Wolves did skip Chris Porter, who played some decent minutes in Golden State, for a European PG/SG who may never play in the NBA (not that he was a need either), so there may be some merit in ignoring need even this low in the draft. More often than not, though, anyone is an educated guess at this point, so why not draft for need and hope for the best? That said, I predict they will take
Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje. He's a center, early mock drafts had him going late in the first round (suggesting he at least has potential, even in light of his recent slide due to poor performance in camps), and I like the name. He may not still be available when Minnesota picks, but there is a chance he will be. Of course, my real prediction is that they will try their hardest to trade Brandon for a draft pick, but that is outside the parameters of the Usenet Draft.
Possible Offseason Moves
All indications are that management is going to make a serious effort to trade Terrell Brandon this summer. I said they would make an "effort," they are not going to trade TB just for the sake of trading him. Here's my evidence for thinking they will trade Brandon: 1) They need to. I've already discussed this. 2) Saunders has said on the radio that there is a strong possibility that the team will make major changes this offseason. He said that because there are several teams doing major restructuring (like Portland), this will give Minnesota the opportunity to take advantage of this freewheeling atmosphere. It is not a good idea to say the team is going to make major changes and then not do anything. This tends to make the fans unruly. 3) Saunders said he expects Wally to be an 18-20 point scorer next season. These shots have to come from somewhere and the most likely candidate is from Brandon. Of course, this could just mean that Brandon is going to be told to shoot less. But if they are not going to use Brandon's mid-range jumper, then they would be much better off with a point guard who could drive and dish (and defend). 4) The team has leaked that there are a few players in the draft that they are really after and that if they slip a few spots they might make a move for. Brandon would need to be traded for a high pick. They might be able to get a low pick for Peeler. They also apparently have not ruled out attempting to buy a pick. 5) Rakocevic, our second round point guard from last year, is playing on our summer league team. 6) Saunders has said that KG and Wally will both be playing new positions next season. This can only mean shifting KG back to small forward and Wally to shooting guard. (As a side note, I do think Wally can handle this position, especially if there is a zone defense or an interior defender to help him out.) If we are going to be making this shift, then Saunders must be planning on bringing in a power forward, because we sure as heck do not have anyone currently who could play the position. Ellis is not strong enough to be a starting power forward, and Slater is too slow. Plus, both are free agents. Saunders may simply be planning on bringing back Joe Smith or Christian Laettner, but I hope that he has further plans than that.
Joe has been dying to come back and would probably accept less money to play in Minnesota with its strong family atmosphere. However, there is a rumor that David Stern will give us back the picks in 2004 and 2005 if we do not re-sign Joe, so that might be our best path. Laettner was a pain in the neck (or some other unmentionable body part if you prefer) when he was here previously, but he has supposedly calmed down since then. He would no longer have to compete with KG for leadership of the team. And perhaps most importantly, his wife is from Minnesota and wants to move back. All this said, I don't really want to risk Laettner disrupting team chemistry. Both Joe and Christian would probably eat up our mid-level exception, which I would rather use to retain both Ellis and Lopez if possible. If these two players could not be re-signed for the exception, then I would probably go for Joe, though if the rumor about the picks is true I might shy away from this.
There are several prevailing rumors for what we might get in return for Brandon. I think the most likely is that we trade Brandon to Portland for Dale Davis and perhaps the #19 pick. I was initially cool to this trade, since Davis is not known for being a good scorer inside, but his solid defense and rebounding is making me start to warm to this idea. Brandon is from Portland and operates a couple of barber's shops there, so he would probably welcome the trade. Portland and Davis seem to have had a mutual parting of the ways, as evidenced by the Blazers trying to trade him to the Knicks for Van Gundy. Portland would have to trade away Stoudamire, but I think this is something they want to do anyway, and they can probably find a taker for him. With the #19 pick, we would probably go for someone like Steven Hunter or maybe Trenton Hassell as insurance at shooting guard. Center is more of a need, though, and there will probably still be some solid prospects left at #19.
Other possible trades include Brandon to the Clippers for Olowokandi and Maggette if the Clips get Eddie Curry in the draft. A sign-and-trade with Toronto for Antonio Davis would be incredible, but he looks all but signed by Orlando. There are also rumors of a trade with the Heat for either Brian Grant or a re-signed Anthony Mason. Riley has reportedly decided he would rather go with Mason than Grant, and a half-court point guard like Brandon would fit well within his system. I'd rather have Grant than Mason; Mason is too mercurial a personality for the Wolves. Maybe Brandon to Seattle for Baker, especially if they move Payton. We've done well so far with reclamation projects. There is also the ever-present rumor of Brandon to the Knicks for Allan Houston. I think Houston duplicates Wally too much, so I would rather try to get an inside presence for Brandon, even at a bit of a loss.
Sources inside the Timberwolves have suggested that there are certain players in the draft that we would make a move for if they are available through a trade. My guess are these players are Kwame Brown, DeSanga Diop, Trenton Hassell, Richard Jefferson, and maybe Steven Hunter. Then again, these are essentially the players I would target, so what do I know? If we trade Brandon for a pick, who knows where he might go. Some have suggested Brandon (and maybe someone else) might go to Atlanta for the #3 pick, since Atlanta supposedly is sick of youngsters and wants a veteran presence. The same goes for Golden State and #5. Boston has supposedly expressed interest in Brandon in exchange for some combination of their three first round picks (and probably Kenny Anderson for salary reasons). All of these trades would require us to take back salary to make them work under the salary cap; I'm not going to speculate on all the possible permutations this would create. The point is that there appears to be a strong chance that a major move involving Brandon is going to be made, either on draft day or when the free agent signing period begins. Then again, all of the local commentators have said they would be surprised if Minnesota makes a major move, so perhaps it would have been better to be conservative in my predictions. But what fun would that be?