Usually, when an NBA head coach goes on record to borderline plead his team's front office to give him some veteran help, we dismiss the sideline stalker. Especially if he's running a rebuilding club, full of players in their early 20s; why muddle the roster with players that are going to be past their primes by the time those youngsters hit their respective primes? Especially when that means paying veteran players veteran monies that push a team into luxury tax mode once the youngsters outgrow their rookie contracts, and start making their own "veteran monies."
With Minnesota's Rick Adelman, though, we can understand. The Timberwolves coach didn't exactly beg for veteran help in his last media availability session of the season on Wednesday, but he wouldn't mind a roster upgrade. And, for once, we think it pretty sound to bring some big brains and graying hairs to work alongside Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams; even if the oldest (Love) among them was only alive for the last five months of the Reagan Administration. Here's Adelman, via the Pioneer-Press:
"We can't wait," Adelman, the Wolves' first-year coach, said Tuesday. "You hope your young people get better, but that's not a given. Other people you can get, in free agency or trades, are givens. We have to be aggressive in all those areas."
As we've sadly noted in these pages over the last few years, even veterans glommed onto via free agency or trades are not givens. Players can disappoint, even if all the statistical hallmarks and history point to something you can rely on.
The Wolves, though, are in an interesting situation. Love's contract extension is set to reach double-figure marks in millions per year next season, but the team could clear house once it says goodbye to Martell Webster, the disappointing Anthony Randolph, the retiring Brad Miller, and Michael Beasley's massive qualifying offer sheet of over $8 million. That would create a roster full of young'ish vets and guys on rookie contracts, all making below the league's average salary, alongside Love.
It would also leave the team with a salary cap hold that would leave potentially $12 million or $13 million for free agents to take up this offseason. Or, if free agents passed on deciding to spend half their winter months in Minnesota (that's not a shot, friends from the north; it's their loss), it would allow GM David Kahn to deal for teams looking to shed payroll, and hand over usable vets.
Spending for the sake of spending? It's usually not the best move, in this league. But with these Timberwolves, and this coach, this might be the way to go.
Yes, the team still has plenty to learn, and a ways to go before it can make a dent in the playoff bracket. But though Love won't turn 24 until a few weeks before training camp, he's a franchise stud that doesn't have much left to add to his game. What is he going to do — start putting together 40-point and 30-rebound games, instead of 30 and 20 games? Win the dunk contest after winning the 3-point contest? This isn't to say he's tapped-out at age 23, he can still keep improving defensively. But he's All-NBA First Team material right now, and the Wolves wouldn't be wrong to take advantage.
Williams and Rubio still have quite a lot to learn, but with the team's current depth and some offseason help, this might not matter by the time the playoffs start in April of 2013. Though Rubio will be at (technical) full strength by the time 2012-13's training camp starts, it's very possible that the entire season will be spent in recovery mode as he both regains confidence, and fearlessness. With Luke Ridnour and Jose Juan Barea in place, and in their primes, the Wolves can sustain. Nikola Pekovic, a player that might be the NBA's most improved (though he'll finish about 92nd in Most Improved Player award voting) can hold down the middle.
So what do the Timberwolves need? In a word, "wings." Love, take me down to the streets.
Good ones, too. Not the ones that have dotted the roster for ages, back to the days when Trenton Hassell or even the undersized (but not under-nicknamed) James "Hollywood" Robinson were forced to hold down the fort. Outside of one solid year from Latrell Sprewell and the hope that Anthony Peeler or Terry Porter could hack it at the two, Minnesota has long been the NBA's laughingstock at the wing. Somehow, without naming names, the last three seasons have dug into depths previously unseen by teams that don't lose 67 games a year.
(Even though Minnesota did lose 67 games, two years ago.)
"We need better ball handling throughout the lineup, not just the point guards, and better perimeter scoring," he said. "We don't have that. I don't think we realized how hard it was going to be to replace people. We had made real strides until the all-star break. Then we fell apart. You have to evaluate how much better people can get and where do we go as far as adding depth to this team."
It seems strange to say, given the sheer amount of All-Star level off guards and small forwards that seemed to dot the NBA (and miss out on All-Star games, even, because of lack of roster spots) in years past, but the NBA really doesn't have a lot of go-to wings to go around. The NBA's seemingly average player — that 6-7, 220-pound guy that could pass, shoot sometimes, and dribble — has gone away. And the Wolves, reeling from years of Martell Webster and Wesley Johnson, need that position to come back.
More importantly, they need to pounce now. Sure, there will be some cap space in 2014 even if the team has to outbid potential suitors vying for Nikola Pekovic as he enters restricted free agency, but the group is in place to pounce. And, after years of deservedly ripping David Kahn for his on-record goofiness, he is to be credited for supplying such flexibility. Even if he didn't draft Love. Even if he hired Kurt Rambis.
He's hired Rick Adelman, smartly, and the results have been terrific. And though you're right to dismiss most head coaches that want to replace a stable of 22-year-olds with a batch of coachable 32-year-olds, Adelman is spot on, in this regard. Let's get these up and comers some help.