Tuesday, December 23, 2008

At Center Court with Nate from Canis Hoopus

Canis Hoopus is a clever name for a T-Wolves blog, if for no other reason than it lends itself easily to puns. So, for example, if the Wolves one day regain elite status in the West, the Canis Hoopus crew can celebrate each win of a streak with a post entitled Can-O-Whoop Ass. Or, under current circumstances, they have the option to exclusively refer to Kevin McHale as Super Doofus. You see it's easy. If only Minnesota had drafted---you guessed it---Kosta Koufos.

Am I always so cheesy? My sense of humor runs the gamut between smug intellectual esoterica to embarrassingly base juvenilia. But that's beside the point. We're here to talk T-Wolves with Nate.

Tim: As someone who follows the T-Wolves, I imagine this season has been a mixed bag of reactions regarding the rookie campaigns of Kevin Love and OJ Mayo. Tom Ziller wrote a fascinating article wherein he favorably compared Mayo's rookie campaign with 2003 draft class studs Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. What are your thoughts?
Nate: I'd encourage NBA fans to view the Mayo trade less in terms of Love v. Mayo and more in terms of Foye v. Mayo. Prior to the selection of Love, the Wolves spent their past 3 draft picks on perimeter tweeners: a 6'8" 185 pound wingman (Brewer), a 6 nothing 6th man/combo (Foye), and a 6'4" wanna-be superstar with top tier talent and an end-of-the-bench mentality (McCants). Last season the Wolves played Ryan Gomes at the 4 and they were obliterated. It's one thing to simply say that they needed to add a center; it's quite another to spring for Brook Lopez with the 3rd pick while doing nothing to move Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric, and Greg Buckner. This team was ridiculously lean in the front court (at one point they were looking at a Toine, Jefferson, Madsen frontcourt rotation) and they landed the best big available in a trade that also brought them a serviceable pro (Mike Miller) and cap relief. They made the trade because they were operating under the assumption that Foye and McCants would be serviceable pros. Unfortunately, they were wrong and fans are now looking at one of the worst backcourts in recent NBA history. Had the Wolves not selected Foye, Mayo's selection would have been a no-brainer from the get-go and we would not be comparing apples to oranges with Love and Mayo.

Love is going to be a solid pro. He has shown signs of being an elite rebounder while going through a coaching change, fluctuating minutes, and a change of culture (winning to losing) in his 1st professional season out of college. The ultimate test of the Love/Mayo trade will be how the Wolves utilize the upcoming draft (4 possible 1st rounders), Mike Miller's deal, and whether or not they will clean house in the front office. If they walk away from the draft with a starting point (Jennings, Holiday, Rubio) or a nice off-guard (Harden), all may be forgiven, especially if they can sign a nice free agent or make a decent sign-and-trade.
Tim: Whenever there is a big front office shake up, my mind races to the possibility of a Spurs executive being poached by the opposition. I've accepted that Dennis Lindsey and Dell Demps will eventually grab another franchise's reigns. How would something along those lines suit you? Is Minnesota an ideal candidate to become San Antonio of the cold north?
Nate: Dennis Lindsey is one of the GMs that we have on the radar at Hoopus. My colleague Wyn is currently working on a profile post and he is definitely right up there with guys like the Pacers' David Morway and the Rockets' Daryl Morey. That being said, nobody is sure what will happen with the team's front office at the end of the year. By moving McHale to the end of the bench, Wolves owner Glen Taylor may have removed him from the front office, but it remains to be seen what he will do with the remaining FO employees: Jim Stack, Rob Babcock, and Fred Hoiberg. Many Wolves fans have a bad feeling that not much will change in the front office and we'll be stuck with the same-old-same-old.
Tim: Prior to the Garnett and Allen trades, Boston and Chicago had shared in a model for failure. That is, the failed model of saddling a roster with a talented but inexperienced hodgepodge of youth. Boston broke free from the cycle, but Chicago is still mired in it. With Love and Jefferson on board, multiple first round picks in the 2009 draft, and lottery potential for the foreseeable future, do you worry that the lack of skilled veterans will ruin the Timberwolves?
Nate: I worry that the culture of losing will turn guys like Jefferson, Foye, Brewer, and Love into damaged goods. Rashad McCants has all the talent in the world. He's a 6'4" guard with excellent reach and strength, a beautiful outside shooting stroke, solid handle, the ability to finish with both hands, and so on and so forth. He's also a head case whose mind appears to have left his body this season as the result of one too many run ins with management. Granted, some of this is probably his own makeup but the type of losing atmosphere the Wolves have in spades can't be good for the basketball soul. Supposedly, the front office has some sort of "blueprint" that involves free agents and draft picks. I think this is a bunch of made-up nonsense but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Wolves take a run at a 2nd tier 2010 free agent (say, Caron Butler) with a sign-and-trade involving, perhaps, Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal's expiring contract, and a 1st round pick. They need a 1 and a 3 and if they could address one in the draft and the other in free agency, they're not as far away from winning as the 4 wins would suggest.
Tim: Related to question 3, what type of veteran players would allow Al Jefferson to take the cliched next step?
Nate: I'm not sure veteran players are what Big Al needs. He needs a proficient point guard and a starting-level wing player. Period. The Wolves are completely, 100%, totally devoid of a guard who can break down an opposing defense. They don't have a single starting-level guard who can run an effective pick and roll. They don't have an above-average guard who can push the pace and quickly get the ball into a halfcourt set. They don't have a SF who can break down defenders or draw away double teams from the post. They don't have a 3 who can provide some defensive flexibility at the 2/3. If Al is going to take the next step, he'll first need to start playing a little defense. He'll also need a real 1 and 3. One of the biggest misconceptions associated with the Wolves is that they need to surround the poor-defending Jefferson with a shot-blocking defensive center like Sam Dalembert or (perhaps) Hasheem Thabeet. If you take a look at 82Games' positional stats, you'll see that the Wolves are getting obliterated at the 1 and 3. You'll also notice that the team's best guard is currently Kevin Ollie. If this team can land a guy like Jennings, Holiday, or Rubio in the draft, and if they can land a guy like Butler, Tayshaun Prince, Trevor Ariza, or Josh Childress at the 3, Al will hopefully be able to take the next step.

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