To buy, to sell or to just sit back and watch?
Such a huge question. The playoffs currently feel like a lost cause, but every year we see teams go down swinging as their postseason hopes fade. Usually this comes in the form of irresponsibly trading away future assets for average role players. Conversely, Minnesota may decide to be the team to sell and start building a post-Kevin Love contingency plan. Few assets are worth much in return but the Wolves have $66 million in salary committed to next year, some breathing space would be appreciated. The most likely scenario in this case is also the least interesting. The Timberwolves may tweak the roster but it seems nothing major is impending.
Where is the most likely source of internal improvement?
This is a depressing question. The return of healthy players is the obvious and only good answer at this point, especially as any meaningful contributions from Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad still feel many horizons away. Ricky Rubio undoubtedly surged late last season, but as he was recovering from knee surgery it wouldn’t make sense to expect similar results this year. The only aspect aside from health that is due for improvement is simple luck. The Timberwolves have lost so many close games that it only makes sense that sooner or later their close game fortunes will turn and the game winning shots will fall in for once. This may seem too hopeful for seem but the Wolves been so impossibly bad in crunch time that their abysmal record will surely regress to the mean at some point.
Who are the trade assets?
With three more years totaling $21 million (the last year is a player option) Kevin Martin’s contract isn’t disastrous, but at the same time, an aging Martin will have far more value to a contending team in need of a shooter off the bench than a Timberwolves club vying for the playoffs. The thought would be that Chase Budinger in a starting role could provide at least 70 percent of what Martin does while the cap space from getting Martin off the books allows Minnesota to retool in other areas. The possibility of it setting back Minnesota’s already mediocre 3-point game however makes it risky. A more attractive alternative would be to get rid of the Jose Barea and Luc Mbah a Moute contracts, which will expire next year at $9 million between them. The difficulty will be finding takers but any deal which sends these deals away without having to add sweeteners should be value enough.
How much blame for Rick Adelman?
A good shooter can have a bad year from 3-point range, an accomplished GM can have a bad draft, but why is that head coaches don’t have good or bad years? It seems in the league that you’re a good coach or a bad coach, rarely do coaches get given credit for improving or criticized for an abnormal year. It’s very tough to measure the contributions of a head coach, we argue enough about the players whose every input is quantified and on display for all to see so assessing coaching is an even murkier picture. I think Rick Adelman is having a poor year. He’s an excellent NBA coach who has been through more than any man should need to in the public gaze this season. However, for strictly basketball reasons he deserves the criticism that any sports coach would receive in an underwhelming year. Failing to coax anything out of Derrick Williams, the stagnated development of Dieng and Muhammad, the invariable crunch-time confusion for the Timberwolves. The players have all individually received their due, it seems only fair to mention the coaching, regardless of the nature of the man in charge.
If Adelman retires at the end of the season, does the rebuild begin?
With a mutual option at the end of this season, both Rick Adelman and the Timberwolves’ organization will have to agree to bring the potential Hall of Fame coach back for another year. Adelman’s increasingly negative tone has been read into recently though the reality is that in coaching an under-performing team negativity is not to be unexpected. A situation could arise where Adelman leaving is the first of multiple dominoes to fall. Allegiances to Kevin Martin would weaken, who undoubtedly has a rare player-coach relationship with Adelman, having played for him on three different teams, opening up the possibility of further trade movement. Most importantly, a retired Adelman would be a blow to Minnesota’s playoff expectations next year. So with lesser expectations it will be even harder to convince Kevin Love to stick around. A new coach could mark a new era in Minnesota Timberwolves basketball.