The Minnesota Timberwolves are supposed to be preparing for a return trip to the NBA Finals this summer. Kevin McHale is supposed to be looking for another player that will help keep the Wolves on top of envious contenders. Kevin Garnett is supposed to be dedicating himself to ensuring that last season’s Finals appearance wasn’t his last. Instead, the Wolves have spent the summer trying to figure out what went wrong in a season that had them goin’ fishin’ before the Playoffs even started. And what have the Wolves done to rekindle the fire that led them to the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago and what was supposed to have been a trip to the Finals last year? For starters, they named former Sonics assistant Dwane Casey head coach. But besides that, nothing. Well not “nothing” so to speak, but drafting Rashad McCants and Bracey Wright, re-signing Eddie Griffin and Mark Madsen (neither is official just yet), and signing undrafted rookie center Dwayne Jones and renowned NBA Draft bust Nikoloz Tskitshvili is nothing compared to what what Minnesota needed to do this off-season in order to compete out West again.
Let’s take a look at the Wolves’ projected depth chart as of today-
PG – Cassell/Hudson
SG – Hassell/McCants/Wright
SF – Szczerbiak/Ebi
PF – Garnett/Griffin/Thomas/Tskitishvili
C – Olowokandi/Madsen/Jones
As it stands now, the Wolves have 11 players under contract for next season: Cassell, Hudson, Hassell, McCants, Szczerbiak, Ebi, Garnett, Tskitishvili, Olowokandi, Jones, and Hoiberg (who’s likely out for the season due to a heart condition). Griffin and Madsen have both reportedly agreed to contracts with Minnesota in principle, so expect to hear official announcements by the team sometime next week. Kevin McHale also plans on signing 2nd Round Pick Bracey Wright and bringing back John Thomas another season to help shore up the front line. There’s also been a lot of talk that McHale is in serious negotiations with both Maurice Evans and Damien Wilkins, although you’d have to think the team is only after one or the other, and they may be outbidded considering Eddie Griffin’s new contract will supposedly eat up much of their mid-level exception. Either way, it appears as though McHale is targeting one more player in free agency with his remaining money and then that’s it for the Timberwolves’ free agency dealings. What? That’s it? McHale could have gone after Marko Jaric, but the team wasn’t willing to part ways with Eddie Griffin. So you’re probably asking yourself, why haven’t the Timberwolves been active in trade discussions? Owner Glen Taylor made it known that he did not want to pay the luxury tax for a team that isn’t competing for a title, and so he’s reluctant to give up the team’s expiring contracts (Cassell, Olowokandi, Hoiberg) which will put them under the cap next season. And whether he’s open to trading any of those guys or not, I’m not sure there’s a team out there who would take on a loud-mouth, injury-prone point guard, a lackadaisical, underachieving center, or a sharpshooter that won’t take a single shot next season.
So what in the hell is Minnesota’s plan?! And why wouldn’t this team be doing anything and everything to make Kevin Garnett happy while he’s in the prime of his career?! The truth is, the Wolves’ have perhaps less flexibility to improve their club than any other team in the league this summer. Think about it– they really had to use their mid-level (or at least most of it) on Eddie Griffin. Though they do have 3 expiring contracts to flaunt around, those don’t exactly come in handy during the summer. It’s not like teams are willing to free up cash for the 2006-07 season when the 2005-06 season hasn’t even started yet– they have tickets to sell and seats to fill. And as far as Cassell and Olowokandi go, Minnesota can ill-afford to lose either of these guys considering their back-ups (or lack thereof) are just plain frightening.
It’s unfortunate to see because I would love to watch KG compete for a championship again (just for the record, Garnett and Iverson are tops on my list). But there just isn’t much Kevin McHale can do to improve the team. Here is what’s looking like the best case scenario for the Wolves heading into the 2005-06 season…
-Follow through with what appears to be their plan– hope that Cassell, Olowokandi, Hudson, and Szczerbiak can remain happy and healthy; that McCants and Ebi can make significant contributions off the bench this year; and that Eddie Griffin can make “the leap”. No matter how well this goes, Dwane Casey won’t be able to take this team to the top of the Western Conference. But if the Wolves can stay in the middle of the Playoff pack, they could position themselves to make a deal in February when hopeful contenders become pretenders and begin looking to free up cap space for the summer. Unfortunately since Cassell is the only ‘true’ point guard on the squad and Olowokandi the only ‘true’ center, they’ll have a difficult time moving one of their tradeable assets without taking a hit themselves. It’s possible Hudson steps it up this season and makes Cassell expendable, or even a chance of Eddie Griffin playing up to his potential and forcing Casey to play ‘small ball’ with KG holding down the 5. I’m not going to bother exploring potential trades they could make next February because it’s impossible to speculate would could take place 6 months from now. Either way, I don’t place too much faith in this plan. With the current roster they have right now, you clearly have to put Minny behind Denver, Phoenix, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. That puts them right in a pack with Seattle, Sacramento, the Clippers, Golden State, the Lakers, and Memphis. 6 teams duking it out for 3 spots. Bottom line– Wolves could end up in the thick of a Playoff race, but will a package of any of their players bring in enough talent to help them compete for a title? I highly doubt it.
Looks like it could be another long year for Kevin Garnett who must be realizing that his best years are going wasted. If there’s ever been a player who deserves a right to demand a trade, it’ll be KG next season if the Wolves once again perform at a mediocre level. He’s done everything the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise could have ever expected out of him and then some, yet they’ve been unable to accomodate his needs by surrounding him with the talent necessary to exploit his extraordinarily unique abilities on the basketball court. Problem is, a player like Kevin Garnett is impossible to find equal value for, thus he’s essentially untradeable. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen– if KG’s frustration from last year boils over into this season, I definitely think it’s possible that he approaches management and demands a solution. And since there’s little Kevin McHale can do to satisfy his needs, I believe there is a possibility that KG packs his bags for another city. Here are a couple of trade possibilities to think about…
Minnesota gets Paul Pierce, Tony Allen, Mark Blount, and a future 1st Round Pick.
Boston gets Kevin Garnett and Fred Hoiberg.
Minnesota gets Tyson Chandler, Ben Gordon, and Andres Nocioni.
Chicago gets Kevin Garnett and a 2nd Round Pick.
Minnesota gets Devin Harris, Josh Howard, and Keith Van Horn (expiring contract)
Dallas gets Kevin Garnett
Minnesota gets Ron Artest, Jamaal Tinsley, Fred Jones, and Scot Pollard (expiring contract)
Indiana gets Kevin Garnett and Fred Hoiberg
Minnesota gets Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, and 2 First Round Picks
Clippers get Kevin Garnett
As far fetched as it sounds, it’s certainly a possibility, although there’s no way it happens unless KG goes to management and demands a trade. And more than likely, a third team would likely have to be involved in a megadeal in order for the Wolves to get back an ample amount of young prospects. If they were to ship off Garnett, it would officially be rebuilding mode in Minnesota since Cassell, Olowokandi, and Hoiberg are all gone after the season anyways. I suspect that McHale would try to trade Szczerbiak and Hudson as well.
Either way, things aren’t looking so hot in Minnesota right now. The Wolves are in trouble and I truly believe we’re in store for another season that is going to cause a rise in KG. The man isn’t happy with merely making the Playoffs anymore. So if February rolls around and the Wolves are a mere two games above .500, don’t be shocked to see Garnett’s name surface in trade rumors.