It’s (finally) time to get back into continuing the Framework of a Franchise feature. For this one, I decided to do something for the guys at Canis Hoopus, who run a fantastic site, and do the Minnesota Timberwolves. As it turns out, they are also an excellent team for the new format of these pieces which you will see below.
What they have:
The T-Wolves’ Core:
Without a doubt, Minnesota’s long term future hinges on exactly two men: Al Jefferson and Kevin Love. Jefferson is a bona fide #1 player when he is on the court, particularly on the offensive end while Love is a capable NBA starter with a scary-high basketball IQ who will only improve with time. What makes having a core of Love and Jefferson so interesting is that their natural position is the same: Power Forward. As such, it requires a little bit of work to make it work. In my eyes, K-Love is straight Power Forward, meaning that it is the only position he projects to be able to defend sufficiently well (thanks to his limited height to guard C’s), while Jefferson is a natural PF who can play C when necessary. So keeping them as a core requires Love and Jefferson gobbling up all of the PF minutes and a pretty solid amount of the C minutes as well.
Other starter-tier guys:
While I love a great deal of the rest of Minnesota’s roster, there is not another guy on their roster that screams NBA starter on a playoff team. There is a flotilla of players in the next tier, but none of their 1-3 guys have shown enough to make this tier.
Besides the “interesting” Golden State Warriors, no lottery team has as many rotation-quality players as Minnesota. Needless to say, this is a little jarring to folks not familiar with what they have, but that’s just the way things are.
- Randy Foye looks to develop into a fantastic 6th man who brings energy and offense off the bench. Why he is not in the starter group is that the bench is a more natural base point for someone with his abilities (especially in today’s Western Conference) and because in some ways he is a man without a position since I am not sold on him as either a defender of SG’s or primary ballhandler.
- Ryan Gomes is a fantastic example of a guy who should be a rotation player on a great team but not a starter. He does so many of the little things that make good teams great naturally, but he is not the type of offensive or defensive player that warrants a starting role on a playoff-caliber team. Totally love the guy in that kind of 6th man/key swingman role though.
- Sebastian Telfair is growing into a fantastic NBA backup Point Guard. I wish he had a better jump shot that he used more judiciously, but his speed, energy, and passing skills make him a valuable commodity to almost any team/system in the proper role.
- Mike Miller was a recent 6th Man of the Year winner (2005-06 for Memphis) and coming off the bench to provide offensive firepower is where he is at his best. Like Ryan Gomes, I see Mike as a guy whose value actually increases as his role/MPG decreases (to a point, of course). He is perfect as the guy who makes opposing defenses pay for focusing on other players on the floor.
- Corey Brewer needs to show it on the court at the professional level, but the kid has oodles of talent if he can stay healthy and learn how to use it properly. What makes Brewer interesting is that I like him far better guarding SG’s than SF’s- seeing him play in person a few times taught me that he is more effective on the defensive end when he is guarding players who are smaller than he is so he can smother them with his range and wingspan (much like OJ Mayo and PG’s if the Grizzlies ever figure it out). He needs to learn from Battier about how to pick his spots on the offensive end, but Corey has the tools to be a guy who can hit open shots and score on the break.
- Craig Smith needs a little more time to create a true niche for himself, but I love what he brings to the table as a rotation player. The only real problem I have with Craig is that he forces the issue on offense more than a person with his skills should. Well, that and that he’s a PF on a team with Al Jefferson and Kevin Love…
Timetable of Contention
Obviously, the Wolves need a few years to procure the right talent and have guys grow into their long-term niches. Jefferson is close to where he needs to be (as is Love), so I’ll put the start of their timetable at the 2010-2011 season, which I see as the first possible playoff year, though it could grow beyond just an appearance if everyone stays healthy and one of the rotation players steps up into the next tier. Another thing that makes the T-Wolves distinct is that their timetable does not have an end date at the moment since their top players are incredibly young and under contract for a long period of time. That also allows management to be more patient and pick their spots when looking for exactly the right players to complete their team, though guys like Telfair, Smith, and Gomes will not be signed forever at their current prices.
Where to go from here:
Unquestionably, the Timberwolves’ front office (whoever that is long-term) should build around Big Al and Big Love. This requires different decisions for various positions and players. On the big man front, there really are not a ton of minutes beyond the big two and they should go to a guy who is ideally a strong defender as either the lead guy on top big man scorers at either PF or C (like Yao or KG) or weak side man against teams without a primary threat (like Marcus Camby). Al and Kevin are both good rebounders, so that part of the potential big’s game is less important, though it still has value of course. Some guys I would consider include Marcus Camby (a little older than optimal, but whatever), Kendrick Perkins, and Jerome Jordan, who is wholly underrated right now as a late 1st guy.
In terms of PG-SG-SF, it all hinges on what they see as the future for Randy Foye. As a starter, he is an incredibly hard guy to have complements for, since he absolutely cannot guard SF’s (thus making any SF need to guard the position full-time) and is shaky guarding SG’s as well. One guy I immediately thought of as a possible fit is Shaun Livingston (or the dream that is Ricky Rubio), since he can defend PG’s and SG’s while leading the offense. If Foye comes off the bench, options are much more open since he would be playing with different guys more frequently, but it still affects PG and SF personnel decisions. One of the things I like most about Minnesota is that their young talent is all under contract for favorable contracts in terms of both salary and length. This works well for keeping them around or trading purpose, whichever is desired for that guy. Personally, I would look to either move Foye for a non-PF in the near future to get a guy who is further from free agency since that can be a problem for a team in cold weather and a non-major media market. Furthermore, moving Foye makes keeping Telfair and Gomes more practical since there are a wide variety of SG’s that make sense playing with them, with Brewer fitting into that SG/SF mix as well.
Additionally, the T-Wolves should be netting a pretty good pick in this draft which could provide a decent player even if it ends up the worst draft in recent memory. What would be ideal for them is to get a guy who is a reliable starter at PG, SG, or SF, with Ricky Rubio, James Harden, and Kevin Love’s old friend/rival Kyle Singler making sense for that. Minnesota can also wield their multitude of draft picks (in the next two drafts: Their own #1 in 2009, Boston’s 1st in 2009, Utah’s 1st in 2010 (or 2009 if they rock the house the rest of the year), and Miami’s 2009 #1) with their bevy of young players to get even more talent.
Minnesota is a team with a ton of potential because of their unique combination of talent and reasonable salary as long as they have management that can harness it into the right on the court and off the court combination.
Now, in previous Frameworks I have laid out a more specific plan in terms of players and transactions of what I think the team in question should do in the long term to fit within their Timetable of Contention. That will follow this, but I’m putting it in a font color where you have to deliberately highlight it to read it, so read it if you like that sort of thing and don’t if you don’t.
1. Sign Shaun Livingston (no matter whether Foye stays or not) to a three year front-loaded deal, first two seasons guaranteed and a mutual/team option for the third season. Having a mentor big on roster like Adonal Foyle wouldn’t hurt either.
2. Draft the best PG, SG, or SF available. My best guess is that the guy who will be around there is Kyle Singler, whose wholly underrated passing ability would work incredibly well with the team. Of course, if Rubio is around he must be taken, but he probably won’t be.
3. Trade a combination of assets (including Randy Foye and likely Craig Smith) to the Bulls for Kirk Hinrich. It is rare for a legitimate NBA lead ballhandler to make it onto the open market, and the ascension of Derrick Rose has made Hinrich available, which the T-Wolves should act quickly on if they cannot get Rubio (the only draft-eligible one).
4. Try out a ton of guys for that third big man slot, but my favorite is Jerome Jordan, as mentioned above.
5. If they can, trade for DeAndre Jordan- he and Kevin Love are old friends and a mentor like McHale could really help turn him into a big man who is worthy of minutes on a playoff team. Plus, he could work if the team goes more uptempo with Telfair leading the breaks.
6. If Mike Miller is not in the trade discussed above, move him for a player with a 2010-unfriendly contract and a solid rotation player (could be the DeAndre Jordan move above). The other option is for Minny to use the cap space created by him, Madsen, and Cardinal expiring like the Clippers did, and that would be fine too.
7. If Pelkovic wants to come over, make it happen. He’ll be a very useful rotation player in the NBA, either for the T-Wolves or another team who would trade for him.
Ladies and Gentlement, your 2010-2011(and beyond) Minnesota Timberwolves:
PG: Kirk Hinrich / Telfair? (probably opts out and leaves in 2010) / Shaun Livingston
SG: Drafted/signed guy (Ideally someone like Joe Johnson, but probably more like Redd or ) / Corey Brewer / 2010 drafted swingman
SF: Kyle Singler / Ryan Gomes / 2010 drafted swingman / Corey Brewer
PF: Kevin Love / Al Jefferson / Pekovic / Ryan Gomes
C: Al Jefferson / Nikola Pekovic / Jerome Jordan
For those of you that read all the way to the end (or just scrolled down), here are the links to my other Framework of a Franchise pieces:
Golden State Warriors
Utah Jazz & New Orleans Hornets
Seattle Sonics (*tear*)
New York Knicks (along with the intro to the series itself)
As always, I welcome any comments/criticism/feedback in the comments section. It’s much more fun to discuss it here than to force me to follow your snark all over the Internet (and trust me, I will)