Tag Archives: Ricky Rubio

Looking at the Timberwolves During the Free agent Frenzy

As we near 48 hours of staring at Twitter for the latest updates in free agency, the Timberwolves are one of the few teams yet to steal the spotlight. Sure, Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones will eventually sign their rookie-scaled contracts and Nemanja Bjelica may agree to a multi-year contract. Those would generate some fireworks, but Minnesota already held the rights to those players, and they already have 10 guaranteed contracts. Kevin Garnett will also resign re-sign, and Robbie Hummel looks to be coming back as well. There are still minor splashes that can be made, but the Timberwolves already have their core in place.

That doesn’t mean we can’t take a thing or two away from what’s already happened across the league and apply it to the Timberwolves, though. Some of it may be repetitive as we’ve learned just how much money is being thrown around because of the rising cap after the 2015-16 season. Those two changes to the NBA landscape were mentioned often in what I wrote below, but let’s take a look at how they affect the Timberwolves anyway:

The Long-Term Contracts

Minnesota’s two largest annual salaries currently take up over a third of the salary cap, but by 2018 that would be down to nearly 20 percent. Ricky Rubio holds the Timberwolves’ largest contract guarantee, and his four-year, $55 million contract starts now. As with most major contracts, the reaction to his on Twitter was polarizing, but it looks better after last night regardless. At this point, the biggest worry is Rubio’s health, but that’s more because of the length of his contract than his injury history so long as Flip doesn’t run him into the ground. I’m weirdly not too worried about that.

The much larger worry comes from Nikola Pekovic. $35.8 million for three years is a lot to absorb from a player who may never crack 1,000 minutes in any of those seasons due to chronic ankle issues and an Achilles debridement, but Pekovic’s contract looks a bit better now that the quality in players above or around eight figures got a little worse after last night. The year total on Pekovic’s contract remains bad, though, and an asset would still have to be attached or a smaller, troubling contract would have to be taken back in a trade.

Rebuilding without sacrificing some of the future is important. We’ll see if Minnesota can do that while handling Pekovic’s contract. At this point, a reasonably healthy, effective 2015-16 campaign would take some of the load off the frontline while making him more tradeable. $23.7 million for two years looks better than $35.8 million for three. With room to maneuver going forward and how far Minnesota is from the playoffs, I’m not sure moving Pekovic is necessary anyway. Just eat the contract if nothing on the trade market is attractive.

The Rookie Contracts

If no rookie contracts are traded, the Timberwolves will be paying less than $30 million to Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyus Jones, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Adreian Payne, Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng, as well as the choice to keep them all for the 2016-17 season for a slightly higher price. That was already important before free agency, but it’s even more crucial now that we’re past July 1, though they have a lot of players to develop.

Minnesota will have to eventually address the second contracts of the youthful bunch, but a good chunk of money will be off the books by then. Looking ahead to the summer of 2016 isn’t that helpful given what could happen by then, but Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger will either hit free agency or have been traded, and among team options Bennett’s $7.3 million for 2016-17 is still up in the air. That’s about $20 million possibly off the books going into 2016-17 when Muhammad, Dieng, and Bennett will be the first rookies to come off their first contract.

Who knows how much of that money is really going to be thrown at Muhammad and Dieng if they’re still around. (I’m assuming Bennett’s gone.) Muhammad’s such a fascinating player as a possible small ball power forward, but he’s yet to play a full season. Dieng’s played a more meaningful role up to this point, but will be 28 years old in 2017-18, the first season of his second contract (same for Payne when that time arrives).

That’s down the road, though. Right now, Minnesota is down two protected first-round picks to dangle, but they get to enjoy having most of their core on the cheap with team options. Not bad for a rebuilding team.

The In-Between Contracts

How about the roller coaster that is Kevin Martin’s contract? In the summer of 2013, Martin was 30 years old with injury history, and his value on the court was noticeably impacted by the change in the rip-through move, but four years and $28 million was still perfectly understandable. The Timberwolves had to build a playoff contender around Kevin Love and, with Martin, looked to be one of the most efficient offenses.

Well, the gamble didn’t pay off. The Wolves missed out on the postseason and Love was traded. Another rebuild was on the horizon, though not quite at the level of just 16 wins, and Martin was due $7 million per year up to 2017. So. Much. WELP. Fortunately, Martin’s contract looks a lot better now. Even if he’s not able to be traded or if Flip Saunders just doesn’t want to make a move, the $7 million player option for 2016-17 shouldn’t be exercised with how much players are making on the open market.

Normally I’d prefer aging players to play for playoff contenders, but Minnesota could use a guy who can soak up scoring possessions. That’s a brutal process to watch when it comes to Martin, but Wiggins could learn a thing or two from his foul-drawing, among other scoring-and-definitely-not-defensive things.

The idea of Chase Budinger is better than actual Chase Budinger. How much would he have made if his first four years were from 2013 to 2016 rather than 2010 to 2013? Budinger’s a free agent after this season’s $5 million owed, but this team is weirdly deep and I’m not sure how many minutes are there for him.

There’s also Garnett and whatever he resigns re-signs for. By the way, Anthony Davis’ five-year, $145 million contract has nothing on what KG signed for during the 1997-98 season:

One day the Timberwolves may find themselves in a similar position with Wiggins, Towns, and/or maybe they’ll spread money around multiple players on the market. Cap space allows for a ton of possibilities as we’ve seen over the last 48 hours, though sometimes that does not end well. The draft and free agency each carry risk, and right now Minnesota has done well in the former. They’re currently on the sidelines when it comes to the latter, but with how decent their contracts look outside of Pekovic they’ll eventually have the chance to make some major moves of their own.

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The rise and fall of Derrick Williams through trade rumors

May 17, 2011

Despite having the most lottery balls, Minnesota ends up with the second overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. It all but leads to the Timberwolves either drafting Derrick Williams or trading the pick.

May 19, 2011

The Pacers are making seriously play for the No. 2 pick with Danny Granger, Michael Beasley, and Ricky Rubio also being involved.

Royce Young of CBS’ Eye on Basketball with a nice take on why Rubio and Beasley were involved:

I can’t say that I quite understand why Rubio and Beasley were also included in the deal, but hey, it’s David Kahn and I’m not going to start posing questions that have no answers.

However, Kahn all but laughed off the rumors:

Talks between the two teams would continue though. Oh, yes, they would.

June 21, 2011

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reports more discussions between the Pacers and Timberwolves:

With an eye on drafting Arizona’s Derrick Williams, the Indiana Pacers have discussed a package including center Roy Hibbert (notes) and the 15th pick for the Minnesota Timberwolves’ second overall pick, league sources said. Nevertheless, the overture hasn’t gained traction in Minnesota.

Thinking results-oriented leaves me dizzy. 2011 Roy Hibbert really wasn’t the same defensive monster he is today.

Larry Bird squashed any rumors of a trade centered around Hibbert anyway, according to Jeff Rabjohns.

That same day, though, Taylor Zarzour of the CBS Charlotte wrote about how the Bobcats should trade everyone for Derrick Williams.

June 23, 2011

Adrian Wojnarowski reports the Hawks’ interest in the No. 2 pick, dangling Josh Smith as bait.

In a lust to draft center Enes Kanter, the Atlanta Hawks are trying to engage the Minnesota Timberwolves in discussions to trade Josh Smith(notes) for the No. 2 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, sources told Yahoo! Sports.

So far, the Wolves haven’t been forthcoming on a potential deal, but sources say Atlanta was still trying to discuss a deal in the hours leading up to the draft.

The same key components of the trade pop up later in Bill Simmons’ 2012 NBA Trade Value column.

February 15, 2012

Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports on Minnesota pursuing Pau Gasol:

In other news involving NBA big men, a source said Wednesday that Minnesota continues to pursue a possible trade for Lakers forward Pau Gasol, dangling rookie Derrick Williams, who is from the Los Angeles area, and draft choices. The only players considered untouchable by the Timberwolves, who are seeking to add a veteran by the trade deadline, are Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. The Timberwolves believe it could be enticing for Gasol to play on the same team as fellow Spaniard Rubio.

I can’t say I remember that trade rumor from the 2011-12 season, but it would come back ten months later.

June 28, 2012

This seemed like Kahn being Kahn more than anything else.

July 5, 2012

But Kahn would stop at nothing for Nicolas Batum.

July 6, 2012

Darren Wolfson reports about a different sign-and-trade scenario, this one involving Philadelphia:

According to the source, the way to get Batum here is still via a sign-and-trade. David Kahn, the Wolves’ president of basketball operations, will continue to talk with the Portland Trail Blazers throughout the weekend.

One scenario involves a three-way trade with Philadelphia. Andre Iguodala would go to Portland, Derrick Williams would go as part of a package to the Sixers and Batum would come to Minnesota. So far, Portland is balking.

December 6, 2012

We’re into Derrick Williams’ second season now. I’ll always remember his rookie campaign when he slammed home alley-oops from Ricky Rubio, who was also a rookie. They both sent the Target Center into a frenzy I hadn’t seen since Game 7 of the Western Semis back in 200-fricken-4. It was exciting as hell.

But everything else about Williams’ game was inconsistent including what position he would play. You could see the confusion when he was on the floor, and, as a result, his stock start to plummet. He was becoming just a trade piece to something involving bigger names.

From Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press:

The Los Angeles Lakers recently rejected a Timberwolves trade offer for forward Pau Gasol that would revolve around Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic and forward Derrick Williams, according to an ESPN.com report citing sources with knowledge of the Lakers’ thinking.

The report claimed that the Lakers also turned down an offer from the Toronto Raptors.

It seemed like the biggest piece the Lakers would’ve taken back was Nikola Pekovic, versus Derrick Williams. That would’ve been flip-flopped ten months earlier.

February 20, 2013

Paul Millsap would’ve been a terrific rent for Minnesota, but by then it would’ve been a lopsided trade if no other players or draft picks were involved.

June 26, 2013

Chad Ford brings back memories of two years ago, when Indiana was rumored to have baited Danny Granger, then Roy Hibbert to move up to No. 2 to get Derrick Williams:

The Wolves continue to try to move up higher in the draft to land either Victor Oladipo or Ben McLemore. The latest rumbles have them reaching out to the Magic, Bobcats and Suns offering Derrick Williams and the No. 9 and No. 26 picks in return for Orlando’s No. 2 pick, Charlotte’s No. 4 pick or Phoenix’s No. 5 pick.

November 12, 2013

One tidbit from Adrian Wojnarowski’s column about the Knicks chasing Kevin Love:

Kevin Love is on deck to be recruited to New York in 2015, and that’s among the reasons the Timberwolves are so determined to make deals to climb deep into the playoffs these next two years. Young Minnesota players Derrick Williams and Alexey Shved are available in deals for veterans to help these T’wolves now, league executives told Yahoo Sports.

By now, Williams’ trade value is at an all time low, with returns ranging from Iman Shumpert to…

November 25, 2013

At last, the real trade that would end Derrick Williams’ campaign in Minnesota:

The Timberwolves now have a dream starting five of Lucs and Kevins: Kevin Martin, Luc Mbah a MouteKevin Garnett, Kevin Love, and Luc Longley. Or something like that.

November 26, 2013

And it’s official, from the Wolves press release:

The Minnesota Timberwolves today announced the team has acquired forward Luc Mbah a Moute (BAH-ah MOO-tay) from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for forward Derrick Williams.

“We are excited to acquire a solid veteran player in Luc Mbah a Moute,” said Flip Saunders, Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations. “Luc is known as one of the premier defensive players in the league with an ability to guard multiple positions. He adds a lot of energy, grit and a high basketball IQ to our team. We thank Derrick for his contributions to our organization and wish him well in Sacramento.”

Best of luck to Derrick Williams. Minnesota never felt like the best fit for him.

What in Kevin’s name is going on here?

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Kevin Love and Kevin Martin, two-fifths of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ starting lineup, scored 64 of the team’s 109 points in a nine-point victory at New York last night, giving the team a 3-0 start to the season. What was even more impressive from Martin and Love were the 64 points coming from only 31 field goal attempts, including Martin’s 30 points on only 12 shots party thanks to sinking all five of his three-point attempts.

Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer, and Nikola Pekovic round out the rest of Minnesota’s starting lineup that’s blitzed the opposition in the first halves of each of their first three games, outscoring opposing lineups by 34.3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. For the most part, they were responsible last night for putting the Knicks in a 21-point hole after the first quarter.

When taking the last 24 minutes of the game into account though, the scoring of Minnesota’s starting unit takes a steep drop thanks to sloppiness we saw against the Knicks who, down 15 to start the fourth quarter, got within two with 4:48 left. That’s when the two Kevins carried the Wolves offense from there, scoring eight of the last nine points and 24 of the last 27. That two-man combination, along with the Love-Rubio duo, has all sorts of potential as a versatile one-two bunch to give defenders problems all season.

There’s one set I’ve noticed over the first three games though that’s especially intriguing when involving specifically Love and Martin. Love, a step above either elbow, will get the ball from Martin and have the opportunity to hand the ball back as Martin goes around him and to the baseline. Handing it off gives Martin a good look at a baseline jumper or Love can wait a little longer and allow him to post up, particularly against a smaller guard like last night when he was effective against Raymond Felton. This all happens with an entire side of the court initially spaced out for just those two to operate.

But Love can also fake the handoff to Martin and take a dribble behind the arc for a shot of his own. If that isn’t there –and if a pump faked three by Love somehow fails to draw a defender in the air– Pekovic will come sweeping across the lane, like in a few other plays that run through Love, for a post up near the rim.

The most notable Martin-Love variation of that play actually came last night when it nearly caused a turnover. Unfortunately for Spike Lee, it still led to two points:

Letting Love operate above either elbow has been a staple in the Wolves offense since Rick Adelman came to Minnesota. The last two seasons had Luke Ridnourgiven his effectiveness with shots along the baselineas the guy best for working off him (in my couch potato opinion). There’s also been variations to the play over the years such as a guard setting a pick on Love’s defender, allowing a cleaner look at a Love step-back three-point attempt, or Love setting a screen and allowing a Wolves guard to dribble into a mid-range jumper.

Let’s see how that all works with Martin now, who was due last night for some solid shooting after going 10-of-30 from the field in the first two games.

For Love (29.7 points, 14.7 rebounds, 13 free throw attempts per game), it looks like he’s back to his pre-2013 self, the one that made Second Team All-NBA as a 23-year-old. Having that version for an entire season should put Minnesota back in the playoffs.

Minnesota Timberwolves and their five weeks of hell

On December 15, the T-Wolves squeaked out an overtime victory against Dallas, increasing their winning streak to four games. The faces of the franchise–Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love–were on their way back into the rotation.

Rubio dazzled fans in his first game of the season with eight points, nine assists and three steals in just 18 minutes of play. Love didn’t play that night but would be available for their next game, rookie guard Alexey Shved became the most intriguing player on the T-Wolves (like a smaller version of Hedo Turkoglu), Nikola Pekovic wreaked havoc in the paint, Andrei Kirilenko fitted in seamlessly, and the second unit was one of the highest-scoring in the league.

The Timberwolves were 12-9 and seventh in the Western Conference with a winnable game at Orlando two days away. Healthy again, it was perfectly acceptable to see the Wolves make a run at home court advantage in the first round. It also would’ve been the first time Minnesota finished the season above .500 since 2005. If that doesn’t feel forever ago, this will: Michael Olowokandi, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell were on that team.

Well, the Timberwolves blew a 15-point third quarter lead against the Magic and lost. It started a five-week, 17-game stretch that would decide their season beginning with Miami, Oklahoma City and New York and ending with Houston, Atlanta, and Brooklyn. The overall winning percentage of all the teams they would play was .600.

The Timberwolves sputtered. They started the stretch with a record of 12-10 but ended 17-22, losing seven of their last eight games. Their losses weren’t pretty, either, losing by an average of 11.7 points.

The injuries continued to pile up. Kevin Love was gone again, this time until March after another surgery on his hand. Shved and Pekovic, two players who had upped their game, were also out due to nagging ankle and quadriceps injuries, respectfully. A total of six players from their opening day rotation were out. Josh Howard, signed mid-season for depth on the wings after Chase Budinger and Brandon Roy went down, was another casualty. For Howard it was a hyper-extended knee. Even head coach Rick Adelman missed time due to his sick wife and has yet to return.

Beyond the injuries was a frustrating trend where the Timberwolves either built a nice lead in the first half and blew it in the second or were blown out from the start of the game. Minnesota’s last in third quarter points (21.7) and 21st in fourth quarter points (22.9), according to TeamRankings.com, and it’s where teams have cut their deficit. Minnesota held a 14-point halftime lead at Atlanta, a 17-point one versus lottery-bound New Orleans, and led late against New York and Houston only to blow the opportunities in the final couple of minutes. A 5-12 stretch should have been 9-8.

And when the Timberwolves lose a lead it’s tougher than usual for them to get it back. They’re dead last in three point percentage and they don’t score well in transition. According to TeamRankings.com, Minnesota is 23rd in the league at 10.7 fast break points per game. Toronto sits in last place at 9.0 while Houston is first at 18.4.

Minnesota also doesn’t have a consistent crunch time scorer that can step up when the shot clock is winding down. This was most evident versus New York and Houston. Barea’s capable of slicing into the lane and getting a shot off or creating space for a three as he did in a victory against Oklahoma City, but that also comes with a bad side of his streaky scoring and a clear mismatch on the other end of the floor. Brandon Roy was supposed to help in crunch time but his season and career are likely lost, to the dismay of NBA fans everywhere.

On defense, they’re only average at turning teams over. In block and steal rates, they’re 12th and 14th, respectively. Both rates could rise as Rubio and Greg Stiemsma log more minutes, but that means a hit to several offensive numbers.

What Minnesota has been great at is getting to the line, but even that will take a hit as long as Pekovic is sidelined. Kevin Love also has a lot to do with their free throw rates, doubling most teammates with a team-leading 8.3 free throws per 36 minutes. As stated earlier, Love will miss significant time.

This isn’t meant to rip Minnesota to shreds. The last two weeks have especially been brutal, but how far could they really go while being bit by the injury Godzilla? They’re probably doing the best they could through the first half of the season.

And you know what? Their record is better than the Lakers’. Granted, the Lakers have gone through a few injuries of their own but they also happen to boast four future Hall of Famers, have resources Minnesota could only dream of having, and also inherited a dynasty several decades ago. (Sorry about that last one, but I had to.) It really just looks like Minnesota has run out of gas and so have I, falling asleep while watching last night’s game versus Brooklyn.

I see Minnesota finishing 2013 around 30-52, showing signs of hope when most of the team is back in April but continuing their downswing until then. They just can’t play a good full game. Here’s my prediction for Minnesota before the season even started.

The good news is they play Washington (9-31) and Charlotte (10-32) over the weekend. It’s a great opportunity to get some momentum before heading into a six-game home stand that will last 10 days. That includes facing the Clips, Spurs, and Knicks, but at least they won’t have to travel. If the Timberwolves can get on a roll and prove my 30-win prediction wrong, I wouldn’t complain. This season has been impossible to predict accurately with all of the injuries.

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