Nothin' but Net: Understanding the Wolves
Philadelphia, PA – Let's examine two players based on essential data.
Player A: Career averages of 17.3 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 81 percent from the foul line, 45 percent from the field and 35 percent from the 3-point line.
Player B: Career averages of 11.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 74 percent from the foul line, 53 percent from the field and 0 percent from the 3-point line. (He's taken the same number of 3-pointers as the entire cast of "The Love Boat.")
Player A: 24 years old; 5-year career; 2-time All-Star; Most Improved Player; top 10 in MVP voting once; All-NBA Second Team once; Olympic Gold medalist.
Player B: 27 years old; 3-year career (played 13 mpg in rookie year); 1-time Player of the Week; bares a striking resemblance to a villain in a superhero movie.
Player A: when, at 23 years of age, and after a 20.2 ppg/15.2 rpg campaign, and in the midst of a 26.0 ppg/13.3 rpg season, was not offered max money, rather a 4-year, $60.8 million extension.
Player B: when, at 27 years of age, and after two seasons that were solid, but well off the pace of Player A, inked a reported 5-year, $60 million free-agent contract with incentives that could be worth $8 million more.
If you couldn't tell, based on the headline, and recent NBA news, Player A is Kevin Love. Player B is Nikola Pekovic, both of the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that spent wildly this offseason, but more on that in a bit.
The above comparison doesn't seem fair. Love, when healthy, is a dominant power forward, in a league devoid at the position. LeBron James is a hybrid, or freak, but among natural "4s" in the NBA, Love has no equal. Yes, he is way beyond Blake Griffin in almost every facet of the game with the exception of raw athleticism.
The notion that Love, at 24, is not a max money guy is preposterous. However, it's important to remember that it was David Kahn, the very unemployed former president of basketball operations, who whiffed on maxing out Love. (Kahn is the same guy who drafted three point guards in the first round of the 2009 draft. Maybe he didn't understand how the process worked.)
Flip Saunders is now back in the Wolves family and in charge. So far, it appears that the Love/Flip relationship is relatively solid. Make no mistake, Love won't forget the organization and owner Glen Taylor, refused to give him a fifth year, but it looks like he's not holding it against Saunders and the current team.
"Pek!!!!!!!!!!!!! My brother is back!!!!!," Love tweeted on Thursday afternoon.
It would certainly seem that Love is excited to have Pekovic back. Eighteen exclamation points is not subtle. Saunders believes the same.
"What I've been impressed about Kevin Love is that more than anything else, Kevin wants to win and as we talked about Pek, you have to do what you have to do," Saunders said. "As Kevin knows, I think he really understands and believes that I haven't been here for things that have been done in the past and I don't' care, so as he said, we are just moving forward on the basketball and every other thing."
A lovely sentiment for sure, and yes, Love would like to make the postseason. But, regardless of who occupied the corner office, Love isn't soon to forget getting shafted financially and embarrassed publicly.
And Saunders has done all he can do to put a winner around Love.
The Wolves finished dead last in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage and 28th in 3-pointers made for the previous season. They needed shooting desperately, so Saunders signed Kevin Martin and brought back Chase Budinger to help with the lack of long-range touch. (Love is also a serious threat from back there.)
Martin is 17.8 ppg scorer and 39 percent 3-point shooter in his career and his best days were alongside Adelman in Sacramento. Those days are in the rear- view mirror as Martin managed only 14.0 ppg last season with the Thunder, but did shoot a personal best 43 percent from beyond the arc. Granted, Martin became a bench player and should probably start at shooting guard for the Timberwolves.
Budinger is a lifetime 36 percent 3-point shooter. Hoorah!
These were definite signings to fit needs, so Saunders deserves credit for that. There is a price.
Martin, Budinger, Corey Brewer (underrated replacement for the also underrated Andrei Kirilenko) and Ronny Turiaf account for almost $60 million. Tack on Pekovic's contract for the same, that's significant coin.
But it's not prohibitive, in terms of spending this year and down the line.
"We still have some flexibility. We're in pretty good shape," Saunders said of the team's payroll for this upcoming season. "If we had to do it, or wanted to do it, we could get some type of deal and we are nowhere near where that hard cap would be."
And here's the most important aspect of the summer binge.
"I do want to emphasize a point - the signing of Pek will not hinder with Ricky Rubio down the road or with Kevin Love," Saunders added.
Rubio, a future superstar with a breathtaking style, is still under his rookie contract.
Saunders did his part in this offseason to right wrongs. When you mess with a man's checking account, it's not easily forgivable. But the Wolves are showing Love they goofed and intend to atone for it.
This current Minnesota roster could easily make the Western Conference playoffs. The Denver Nuggets took significant steps backward in the offseason and the Los Angeles Lakers are older than fire.
But more than anything, the Wolves offered Love a future with significant summer potential. Next up, Minny has to offer Love max money.
- The Philadelphia 76ers finally hired a coach - Brett Brown, a trusted basketball resource formerly of the San Antonio Spurs. In his introductory press conference, Brown sounded two things - New England-y and aware. He preached patience because he believes in the plan, which of course is to stink until they can get good through the draft. Brown was also very candid. He admitted he wouldn't have taken the job without a four-year contract guarantee and even still considered staying with the Spurs. This plan will take time Sixers fans, but at least it's a plan. Mediocrity is the worst thing you can be in the NBA. Philly won't be that any longer.
- Sixers ownership, led by Josh Harris, bought the NHL's New Jersey Devils. The Sixers won't be moving to Jersey. Philadelphia is too big a market with too rich a basketball history.
- Did I have to write "the NHL's New Jersey Devils?" It's known the Devils play professional hockey, right?
- Movie moment - Who's going to see "Jobs" this weekend? No one? Can't possibly take Ashton Kutcher seriously?
- TV moment - I can't believe Sandra Oh is leaving "Grey's Anatomy." If you've been on a ship that has semi-gracefully sank to the bottom of the ocean for a decade, wouldn't you do the decent thing and stay on board until it ran to the bottom? That's called loyalty.