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What the Wolves need now

Ricky Rubio
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Amid all the Wolves-related chatter since the end of the season, the notion of Ricky Rubio’s value to the franchise seems to remain a debatable topic of conversation.

We have entered into the mocking phase of the National Basketball Association calendar year. As less than a handful of elite teams remain hell bent on grasping a championship, the other 27 or 28 NBA franchises have begun scrambling their wits and resources with new coaches, extensive scouting and film study on collegiate and international players eligible for the June 23 draft, and financial spreadsheets and personnel dossiers on upcoming free agents and trade targets that can be added or subtracted in July.

In other words, as a tiny fraction of the franchises lay it all out on the court before millions of viewers, the vast majority feverishly work behind the scenes, revamping their grand agendas in secrecy.

It is a time when even idiotic speculation is accorded a hearing by fan bases starved for information; when heated debates rage over scenarios that will never come to pass; when the words “mock draft” become a deliciously delirious double entendre.

Over the decades, the Minnesota Timberwolves have generally had wiser fan bases and dumber front offices that your typical NBA outfit, which has added a frothy, tragi-comical element to these late spring shenanigans.

I usually opt for hibernation on Wolves-related issues in May. I’d much rather marvel at the postseason blossoming of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the mixture of mania and precision infusing LeBron James in Cleveland or the charismatic teamwork of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx instead of tracking down footage of 7-foot Croatian teenager Dragan Bender playing for Maccabi FOX, Tel Aviv, in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague.

This long history of ignorance spares me the embarrassment of even trying to project the future production and fit of kids on the basis of video highlights and lowlights. I make enough mistakes pontificating about players I’ve watched extensively, up close and in the flesh, at the NBA level.

But it has been at least 12 years since followers of the Timberwolves could be as viably optimistic about the fortunes of the team as they are for the 2016-17 season. The Wolves already boast the most coveted collection of young, inexpensive talent in the NBA. They have just hired the most respected coach on the market, Tom Thibodeau, to fast-forward their development, adding President of Basketball Operations to his job titles to broaden his clout.

The big things — cornerstone talent, and a proven, purposeful director — are in place. Consequently, it is easier to identify where weaknesses exist on the current roster and how they might be addressed in the months before the opening tip in late October. Put simply, it is simultaneously more fun and less fraught to contemplate these Wolves. And so, I succumb to the temptation — with the caveat that I have nearly zero direct knowledge about any of the potential draft choices and am thus relying on the consensus expertise that has developed around each player.

Avenues of improvement: add or grow?

For all the justified goodwill attending the Wolves current state of affairs, it helps to remember that the team’s won-lost record over the past two seasons is 45-119. To make the playoffs in 2016-17 — an ambitious but reasonable goal for this franchise — Minnesota will almost certainly have to win more than it loses over an 82-game slate.

To accomplish such a remarkable improvement, the agenda-setting process facing Thibodeau and owner Glen Taylor this offseason seems logical enough. Where are the weaknesses? Are those deficiencies better addressed through the growth and mentorship of the current personnel, or by additions to the roster? And where adding players is the chosen remedy, is that better undertaken through the draft or free agency?

The primary weaknesses on the Wolves were apparent to even casual observers: wretched team defense and anemic three-point shooting. Depending on your source, the Wolves ranked either 27th (nba.com) or 28th (basketball-reference.com) in the number of points yielded per possession last season, the most credible measure of a team’s defensive prowess. When it came to shooting treys, they ranked 29th in frequency and 25th in accuracy from long range.

Thibodeau burnished his stellar reputation as both an assistant coach and a head coach on the basis of establishing a gritty, claustrophobia-inducing defensive identity. In his evaluation and interaction with some of the Wolves’ young, hyper-athletic swingmen, it will be fascinating to see how much he is able to banish the defensive cluelessness of Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad and the defensive indifference of Andrew Wiggins from their current profiles.

Thibodeau is less accomplished as an offensive tactician, including his wielding of the three-point weapon. During his five-year tenure coaching the Chicago Bulls, his teams never finished in the top half of the NBA in three-point attempts, although their accuracy from long-range always ranked higher than their frequency.

The good news is that the Wolves could immediately improve this aspect of their performance with some common-sense tweaks in the offense. Breaking down the frequency of the team’s shots by distance, it is remarkable to notice that in increments of 0-3 feet, 3-10 feet, and 10-16 feet away from the basket, Minnesota attempted field goals in roughly the same mix as the NBA average. The blatant outliers occurred in percentage of long twos and threes.

The Wolves launched a higher percentage of long two-pointers (shots attempted from 16 feet out to the three-point arc) than any other team — 23.9 percent of their total shots, way ahead of second-ranked Indiana, at 21.9 percent, and grossly above the NBA average of 16.2 percent.  By contrast, their 20.2 percent of three pointers taken in the shot mix was lower than everyone but Milwaukee (18.9 percent) and way below the NBA average of 28.5 percent.

Was this strategy an appropriate accommodation of the personnel on last year’s roster? No, not really. Yes, the Wolves were marginally more accurate on long twos, 40 percent, than the NBA average of 39.8 percent. But that’s not enough of an edge to overcome the points they sacrificed denying treys, even when you consider that their three-point accuracy of 33.8 percent was lower than the NBA average of 35.4 percent.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that turning more of those long twos into three-point attempts will improve the team’s offensive efficiency, beginning with Zach LaVine, who sank 35.1 percent of his long twos versus 38.9 percent of his threes last season. And for a team that finished dead-last in the number of corner three-pointers taken, it might be nice to emphasize that feature next season, given that LaVine, Ricky Rubio, Wiggins and Muhammad all shot better than 40 percent from the corner in their scant opportunities last year.

The point is that with the addition of Thibodeau and some meshing of strategy with the skill sets and growth of their young core, the Wolves have a chance to improve upon their two main weaknesses with just a marginal overhaul of the roster. Of the two flaws, however, team defense would appear to be the more intractable problem, even with Thibodeau in charge.

Draft and free agency

Okay, time to dive into the sordid netherworld of the mock drafts. For the first time in the history of the NBA lottery, the ping pong balls did not alter the order of the draft based on won-lost record, meaning that the Wolves, with the league’s fifth-worst winning percentage last season, will have the fifth pick.

If Minnesota does not trade up or down from that slot, the mock consensus has the Wolves drafting either shooting guard Buddy Hield of Oklahoma or point guard Kris Dunn of Providence.

Both are 22 years old with at least three years of college experience (Hield has four), meaning they are not “projects” needing an inordinate amount of time to develop. Both are athletically gifted, with the 6-4 Dunn being more physically dominant for his position than the 6-5 Hield. When it comes to addressing the Wolves needs, the consensus is that Hield is most attractive for his three-point shooting and Dunn for his rugged defense.

My personal preference is an emphasis on defense, especially perimeter defenders who can guard athletic wingmen or “stretch” power forwards. A deadly three-point shooter like Hield would certainly be nice, but if he can’t defend on the wing, than his value depends on Thibodeau’s faith in turning Wiggins, LaVine or Muhammad into more competent defenders while honing the offense to emphasize their development from three-point range.

Dunn’s defense would be welcome too, but mitigated by the fact that the Wolves already have a quality defender at the point in Ricky Rubio. (More on that in a moment.)

Using the fifth overall pick in the draft as leverage for a bigger deal regarding a veteran is also very appealing. The draft “experts” don’t appear to believe that the more established wing stoppers and stretch-four defenders are worthy of being taken among the first five players. But there may be some further back in the draft that could help the Wolves.

Jerry Zgoda of the Strib has reported that Thibodeau hit it off with 6-8 forward Ben Bentil at a pre-draft camp in Chicago last week. Bentil, 21, is a defensive-oriented wing defender who is expected to return to college if it doesn’t appear he will be taken in the first round. Acquiring a veteran while moving back to draft Bentil might be an option here.

A hot scenario among the Wolves fan base has the Wolves packaging their top pick, LaVine, and Gorgui Dieng, for Chicago star swingman Jimmy Butler. It has been fueled by the mutual love Butler and Thibs had for each other when the coach was running the Bulls, and by the recent report that Thibs had hired Butler’s strength coach for the Wolves next season.

These are exactly the kind of rabbit holes I avoid entering. There are too many variables for a deal this consequential to be bandied about seriously without more evidence that both sides want it to happen.

In the realm of pure speculation, I’d rather throw out some names of unrestricted free agents that might be both a good fit and interested in joining the Wolves. One would be forward Luol Deng, a past Thibs favorite in Chicago who has broadened his defensive expertise to guarding stretch power forwards during his time in Miami. Deng is also a capable three-point shooter, a respected veteran, and a player well versed in Thibodeau’s systems and methods on both sides of the ball.

Another possibility is multiple all-star Al Horford, a center-forward who seems ready to part ways with Atlanta. As a longtime mentor and role model to cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns, Horford is another tremendous character guy in the locker room, a burgeoning three-point shooter, and an ideal complement to the Towns-Dieng front court rotation that may or may not have Kevin Garnett around to shore up the defense next season.

In the inflationary world of NBA contracts, Horford and probably Deng will command maximum salaries. The key negotiation point would be how many years they need — Deng is 31, Horford is 30, and both have logged a lot of hard NBA minutes thus far in their careers.

As a backup plan, a more physical but limited role player, like burly center Zaza Pachulia, would be a cheaper option as an unrestricted free agent signing.

Defending Rubio. Again

Amid all the Wolves-related chatter since the end of the season, the notion of Rubio’s value to the franchise seems to remain a debatable topic of conversation. So let’s go another round.

There have always been Rubio detractors within the Wolves organization, which partially accounts for the disastrous LaVine experiment at the point and the commentary of Kevin Lynch on the Wolves’ postgame broadcasts, where Rubio is criticized more than any other prominent member of the roster. The fact that Thibodeau did not mention Rubio at his introductory press conference, and that the point guard Dunn is frequently cited as a potential draft pick for Minnesota, fuels the notion that Rubio’s standing within the organization remains tenuous.

I am well-acquainted with the anti-Rubio arguments and have some empathy for them. Accurate long-range shooting and reliable scoring in general are crucial components of successful franchises in the modern NBA. The point guards of the four remaining teams in the playoffs are Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry. Rubio can’t hold a candle to any of them in terms of scoring, and he never will.

Furthermore, this deficiency becomes more pronounced in the playoffs, where teams relentlessly attack weaknesses until adjustments are made over the course of a four-to-seven-game series. For all his improvement as a shooter last season, Rubio does not exude confidence and swagger in that aspect of his game (to be fair, neither does Lowry). The crucible of the NBA playoffs, where Rubio has no experience thus far, will up the pressure to produce and gnaw at his self-esteem.

All that said, addressing concerns about Rubio at the point in the playoffs should rank around 48th on the Wolves priority list. I believe Thibodeau is smart enough to realize that. He mentioned other Timberwolves at the press conference because they were sitting in the audience in front of him (Rubio was already back in Europe).

As for picking Dunn, why not ensure that Thibs doesn’t burn out the injury-prone Rubio with his relentless defensive schemes; ones in which Rubio seems uniquely suited to help him execute? The Wolves can’t afford to flip the keys to a physically overmatched Tyus Jones too often, which will cause Thibs to rely too extensively on Rubio without a quality backup.

If Dunn lives up to his pedigree and becomes a potential two-way star, well, that’s a great problem to have. Rubio, whose relatively inexpensive contract will expire before Dunn’s rookie deal would evaporate in 2019-20, remains a tremendous asset.

Now I’ll stop damning Rubio with faint praise and begin the rebuttal. During his five years with the Wolves, the team has compiled a dreadful won-lost record of 142-252, or a whopping 110 games below .500. Yet in the 8,748 minutes Rubio has logged during that tenure (46 percent of the total playing time), Minnesota outperforms their opponents by two points per 100 possessions according to basketball-reference.com. In the 54 percent of the time he is not on the court, the Wolves are 7.2 points per 100 possessions worse than the opposition, for a net impact of 9.2 points.

Why is Rubio so valuable? Despite his notorious 36.8 percent shooting from the field, the Wolves offense is 5.2 points better when he plays because of the timing and vision of his passing and his ability to generate transition opportunities with steals and on-ball defense.

Yes, he’s been injury-prone, playing more than 70 games only twice in those five years. But in those two healthy seasons, including last year, he ranked in the top five in assists and the top three in steals. His career assist-to-turnover ratio is 8.3-to-2.8.

The steals are one reason why the Wolves have allowed 3.9 fewer points per 100 possessions when he plays compared to when he doesn’t. He actually has become a better defender by gambling less in recent years and playing more rugged positional defense. The glorious sense of anticipation that fuels his offensive ball movement contributes to him denying dribble penetration and positioning to the man he is covering.

I don’t see how Thibodeau doesn’t already know, and cherish, all this.

Which brings us back to the big issue: Accurate shooting.

Fortunately, with his typical genius basketball IQ and competitive drive, Rubio has figured out a way to diminish this ugly aspect of his game, to an extent that will hearten his defenders.

The three most efficient ways to score in the NBA are right at the rim, from three-point territory and at the free-throw line. Last season, Rubio increased his shooting accuracy at the rim to a career-high 51.7 percent. More importantly, he took far more three-pointes and drew far more fouls than at any point in his career. His three-point shooting was still below average at 32.6 percent, but higher overall than if he’d been clanking two-pointers at a slightly better rate. And his free throw percentage was a career high 84.7 percent.

The most comprehensive NBA statistic for shooting prowess is true shooting percent (TS%), which factors in two-pointers, three-pointers and free throws. According to nba.com, Rubio’s TS% was 52.9 percent in the 2015-16 season. Among other point guards, that was better than Derrick Rose (47.9). It was better than John Wall (51.0). It was better than Ty Lawson, Elfrid Payton, Rajon Rondo, Dennis Schroeder, Cory Joseph, Michael Carter-Williams, and Raymond Felton. Among shooting guards, it was better than Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Danny Green, Monta Ellis, Marco Bellinelli and many others.

Rubio’s 52.9 true shooting percentage was the same as the player who just won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award for his scoring off the bench — Jamal Crawford of the Clippers.

In other words, if Rubio’s shooting is the problem, the Wolves are in very good shape indeed.

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Comments (24)

Offensive numbers

Britt, you touched on it at the end of the column, but my biggest question mark for this team going forward (offensively) is whether we will continue to get to the FT line. Say what you will about Sam Mitchell, but he did a great job teaching this young group of guys to be aggressive. Plenty of coaches say they do that, but Sam really got it done last year.

I think there are a few too many variables at play with the Wolves to be able to read the tea leaves. Obviously there are big name free agents who will be enticed to come here due to Thibs, which is a situation we haven't been in since, well, Rick Adelman brought K-Mart here. But there are lesser names that Thibs has coached that could find a home here which might impact our draft plans: Aaron Brooks, Tony Snell, Taj Gibson, etc. And of course those possibilities will impact our draft plans. I think we need a reliable veteran PG for when Ricky rests or gets hurt.

And of course, all these things impact what we do elsewhere. For example, LaVine, Dieng, and the pick is *way* too expensive for Jimmy Butler, but if Thibs can mitigate our loss of depth through other acquisitions, it might not be a terrible trade.

Personally, I hope we're all-in on Rubio. His outstanding individual defense is only going to look better if we can get his teammates to buy in to Thibs' defensive system.

As for the draft, I wouldn't mind moving down if it gives us the right flexibility. If the goal is to make the playoffs, we should reduce our reliance on rookies and get more minutes to players in their prime (even role players).

too many variables

Thanks for chiming in Anton.

I resisted writing a piece before we know anything about the way Thibs will operate after a year off scouting other franchises and a new team at a different stage than his tenure in Chicago.

I agree that Mitchell was good at fostering aggression but I actually think Towns and LaVine in particular can get to the line more than they did last season. Rubio and Wiggins are close to maxing out in that regard, IMO, but there is room for growth.

On the other hand, if they space the floor properly and turn some of those long twos into corner treys, the FTs will diminish as the efficiency grows.

Agree about backup PG. And I would like to move down in draft also, if it secures more of a veteran presence. But not for more young assets. They can be too much of a good thing.

It will be interesting...

It will be interesting if the new coach shares your enthusiasm for RR.

Since the coach has an eye for defense, he probably understands how the opponent is trying to defend the wolves. I think he will notice, as does any casual wolves observer, that RR is not even guarded most of the time. The opponents want him or even beg him to shoot. Plus - since he is not even guarded most of the time, that further complicates offense for fellow players.

I think this new coach will understand the obvious limitations of RR and move in another direction.

The problem with dumping

The problem with dumping Rubio is finding someone to replace him who's better. That player doesn't seem to exist in the draft, as Dunn shares Rubio's shaky outside shooting and turned the ball over a lot at Providence. Can you move the #5 and/or Rubio to find that guy? Maybe. But I like Rubio as the floor general for a team that already has scorers in Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine.

Agreed...

Who do you replace him with?

The other thing that really hasnt been touched on is the leadership that Rubio provides. He is a floor general who is also, apparently, a leader in the locker room. I've seen Rubio numerous times (on TV and in person at the games) put his arm around the younger players and talk to them about what they did wrong or where they needed to be. Thats leadership. You see his desire to win also.

I dont think you have to look any farther than our hapless Minnesota Twins to see what happens when you remove clubhouse leaders from the equation. Going back to when the Twins traded MIchael Cuddyier or as recent as the absence of Tori Hunters leadership in the locker room, you can see what happens to teams when they dont have that leadership quality that only certain people seem to be able to give to teams. Those people are worth more than just their production on the field. The Twins have not realized that yet. I am hoping that Thibs and the Wolves realize that Rubio brings value off the court as well as on it.

Had been wondering when you

Had been wondering when you would surface again. Been eager to hear the Britt debrief on where things stand. Good stuff and thanks as always.

There are a lot of rumblings out there of late that Thibs and company will be very aggressive. Things could get pretty divisive among the fan base depending on who gets moved but I will give those guys a hefty dose of benefit of the doubt equity to start things off.

We just had a little Twitter back and forth on Rubio's shooting so I thought I would lay out again a few thoughts here and debunk a bit of a myth out there that Ricky has not improved as a shooter. For starters, I wish there were an additional shooting metric that somehow accounted for 2 point shooting range, as it is quite true that not all 2 point shot attempts are created equal either. One of the most overlooked things in regards to Ricky's shooting progression has been where he shoots the ball on the floor, and also just how much inside scoring drives overall shooting percentages skyward for many players.

In comparing this season to Adelman's final year, a fair barometer to assess complete seasons, Ricky in 2014 attempted 41% of his shot attempts at the rim vs. just 21% this past season, at about a 50% clip each year. Nowadays Ricky has replaced those shots with additional long 2's and also far more 3 point attempts which, while having a higher value, deflated his overall percentage and mask some real improvement given his fg% between the two seasons is within 1 percentage point. If Ricky had identical shot distribution to Adelman's final year, his raw fg% would have been over 40%.

You mentioned free throw shooting as a driver for fewer inside FG's. Possibly true, but his FTA/g in various game/possession views aren't overwhelmingly different YoY and his increase in FTr is simply a factor of fewer field goal attempts overall in my view. It is clear he attacked the basket far less on offense (which is probably wise given the ankle situation). None of this is a knock on anyone. I am definitely a Rubio supporter and think it was very important for him to get more involved on offense outside of the paint, even if it wasn't the highest value shot attempt.

If you need more Britt

he has a weekly podcast with David Brauer now. There usually is a Wolves discussion, although not last week.

yup, but

Don't forsake the column for the podcast. Brauer is my best friend in town and it gives us a great excuse to see each other and yak on a regular basis. But it is a lark--Minnpost is my paying gig.

In other words, I'm lookin' for synergy in my brand, man.

Plug for the podcast...

I enjoy it immensely. I could do with the Fbombs as I listen to it with my kids in the car as they are big NBA and Wolves fans, but its a great vehicle for "building your brand" as you say and getting us all more good NBA insight.

my wish list...

...would include a back PG. I like Rubio and Tyus plays hard but I think we need a better backup. I'd like to see a starting PF that would allow Dieng to move to the second team so our second unit would be stronger. I know you love Garnett but even the most optimistic scenario only seems to put him on the court for ten minutes a night and that didn't work out the last two years. You didn't mention Pek and I guess his health for next year is unknowable but I'm sure no one is optimistic. He doesn't totally fit with an young athletic running team.

I think you are right about the crucial defensive changes that are needed. I'd hate to trade Zach. When he got on a streak he was sure fun to watch and I hope/think he is trainable on D. I've been souring on Shabazz this last year. He has a lot of physical talent but he's not much of a team player. I like team first guys; that's why I love the Lynx so much. It's all about the team. I worry about Wiggins. When he first came here there was a lot of talk about him being a "lock down" defender, but I don't hear that anymore. I worry how he will react to a hardnosed coach who won't baby his feelings like Sam did.

But all that is small potatoes. I really think we are on the rise this time, barring injuries. I'm thinking the next couple games will point at who is going to face Cleveland. I'm pulling for OKC because I always pull for the underdog. Nice to see Love getting compliments for his defense last night. He finally seems to be meshing.

Good list

I agree that backup PG, starting or backup big man (either center that allows Towns to roam or stretch four that allows Towns/Dieng space to operate inside, and overall defensive stalwarts are the needs.

I am not optimistic about Pek. I had disdain for Bazzy's defense last year, felt same way about LaVine, although LaVine's improvement on some decision-making elevates him above Bazzy, flipping my feelings from two years ago.

I think Wiggins will be fine but the good news is we'll know soon enough. Glad to see Love integrating better, though it will apparently never be smooth. And I'll take KG at $8m for another 558 minutes if that is what it takes--not sure Thibs agrees.

I'll take Tim Duncan at $ 4 M

I''ll take Tim Duncan at $ 4m over KG at $ 8 in 2016-17. $ 4 m is what TD played for this year.

Its pure speculation that KG was shut down this year because of the Wolves record

I see KG's best role as a player coach with the emphasis on coach. He suits up as a player maybe 15% of of the games as a injury fill in.

But why

Not a great use of a roster spot, IMO. Love KG more than most anybody, but his sun has set.

Why? Towns.

When it comes to opinions about KG, most people forget how closely he's worked with Towns. How likely is it that Towns wouldn't notice the front office trying to push out his mentor and the main reason this franchise has had any success? It's these types of things that, if they happen too often, lead to situations like Love's. Whatever scrub they'd get to fill the 15th roster spot isn't worth more than KG.

Thank you

This needs to be said. Especially considering they've got an owner who's willing to press the cap in order to win (Sprewell, Cassell).

What this team needs is wins!!!

This team needs to learn how to win and put an end to the 10 plus years of missing playoffs. Enough of all this can Rubio play or not, is LaVine a starter, can Wiggins play make to go along with scoring, can Tyus play, ect.... It is time to win or you have to look at the players and say they are not good enough. Very simple, the time for talking is over, the time for winning has to start now.

This team has three immediate

This team has three immediate needs: a backup PG, a functioning PF, and a 3-and-D wing.

You ought to be able to get the backup PG via free agency. Until Mario Chalmers destroyed his Achilles this spring, that was the sort of name that would have fit in nicely here -- capable of playing starters minutes if you need it and won't break the bank to acquire.

It would be nice if the Wolves could get one of the other two with the #5 pick, but it doesn't look likely. Hield and Murray can give you the 3, but the D is a huge question mark with both guys. People seem to be talking about Ellenson at PF, but Bjelica is likely to be the better player next year.

I'm inclined to see what you could get by packaging Bazzy and the #5 to try and solve those problems, or moving back into the 8-11 range in the draft (and picking up a veteran along the way) where you could bring in a Valentine or Labissiere, who might be as good as the options at 5,

Thanks for the feedback

Sean--

There isn't a lot I disagree with in this. You have identified the needs, and are further into the off-season scrum than I ever want to be. But I appreciate the comments

So happy to find another

As a person that is firmly in the Ricky camp, it is good to find another soul in Minneapolis that actually sees and understands what he does for the team as a whole while on the court and you had the numbers to back it up. Which gives me new ammo to go at the detractors. Thanks! Ricky's three point shooting is an issue but if you can find another shooter to add to the starting line up, you not only will make Ricky better but KAT will have an easier time in the post and would have to spend less time running pick and role at the top of the key.

I hope they find some vet help at a wing and big guy. Hopefully, one of them can shoot from deep and then a back up PG like Dunn in the draft would be perfect. I really feel like the right vet that is either a starter or a bench guy that can lead the second team would be obvious answer to winning more than losing next season. You look at the last time the Clippers came to town and put the "mens league" beat down on our kiddos---we need a little bit of that old man nasty on this team.

I would like to avoid giving any max level deals out to the likes of Horford or Deng, just to maintain the flexibility to nail down all of these first round picks that are going to come up way too quickly.

Any word about Pek possibly retiring? That extra spot on the team would be helpful.

Pek and retiring

I think even with insurance, Pek would leave substantial money on the table if he retired. He's not foregoing $12 m this year and will likely try to play enough to ensure he gets $12m the following year. It is Thibs' job to wring out competence or shut him down.

Very hard not to go max on folks like Horford and Deng. And if you want to be competing with the big boys, you have got to maximize your resources. Why not pay people now and get close to the cap and worry about bumping over it if and when the time comes. Taylor has shown a willingness to do that in the past when he has a capable team.

Thanks for chiming in.

Insider info seems scarce now

Lacking that makes it difficult to know how it will all fit together. Honestly, I don't see anyone driving this win-now mentality more than Taylor; Thibodeau had room for youth in Chicago (though it's not clear how much of that was dictated by the front office), and Layden has hopefully seen up close the importance of talent on rookie-scale deals. Also, not having a first-round pick gives me bad memories when you think of how frequently they either haven't had one or had to lose a lot to keep theirs. The top tier of coaches often make a huge difference, and Thibodeau would fit in that category; high expectations should be placed on role players like LaVine, Bazz, Dieng, and Bjelly.

If they pick, there are enough decent options, and they can go in a few different directions. I don't understand the love for Dunn or Hield when we consider how little it matters that they're "experienced" college players. LaVine's further along as a pro than Payne in their second years despite being 4 years younger. They should take someone who wouldn't be expected to play much next season.

Beyond that, I'd rather have them overspend on a short-term deal for rotation guys than trade their pick for one. There are lots of role players available: Deng, Noah, Nene, Kent Bazemore, Nic Batum, Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin, Marvin Williams, the aforementioned Pachulia, Donatas Motiejunas, Jamal Crawford, Lance Thomas, Allen Crabbe, Mo Harkless, Trevor Booker, and Jared Dudley. All would be upgrades.

My fingers are still crossed for a KG return. If Taylor pushes him to the side again, he's a pretty big hypocrite when it comes to loyalty. This is the only link to any franchise success; they need to make it work either on the court or somewhere in the organization. KG did show up to Towns' ceremony on Monday, so maybe that's a good sign.

The Butler rumor needs to fade away. Unless the Wolves are giving up Wiggins or Towns, there's no way the Bulls trade Butler to Thibs.

Identifying weakness

Without naming possible replacements in this silly season of speculation, I think it's possible to see where Thibs has to make changes: the small forward and the power forward. I won't try to throw in solutions from the draft or free agency or trades, but it seems to me that Thibs has to move Wiggins to shooting guard. Dieng can join Lavine on the rotation. If this team had a veteran small forward and a better long shooter at the 4, we could win. And in general, I'd like to see the team get better shooters, and Murray is the best shooter I've seen in a long time, because he works tirelessly to get to the right spot. If he is available at the fifth pick, I'd take him even if he's the 11th man. But the 3 and the 4 solutions will take some brainy dealing. And if it means losing Lavine to get it done, cool.

Worldwide fans of Ricky Rubio

I know little about the Timberwolves and basketball to me is trying to throw a ball into a high-up hoop. I do know however that there are worldwide followers of Ricky Rubio since his youthful days in Spain. How do I know? Because I met an English teacher in Azerbaijan in 2012 who was following Rubio's move to the NBA. I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer and half way around the world in Central Asia teacher Akbar's face lit up when I said I was from Minnesota. He knew that that's where Ricky Rubio now played.
It still brings a smile to my face remembering that simply knowing the name of a young European basketball star and being from Minnesota brought me instant credibility in a foreign country.

a final thought...

....before this thread disappears. Seems like all this season the Rubio detractors have had a lot to say on Britt's articles. I am glad to see a lot of his supporters this time. Barring injuries I think he will play a very important role next year with his example and leadership. Can hardly wait.