Throughout the month of November, Hoops Rumors will look back at each team's offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.
Trades and Claims
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
When Kevin Love and the Timberwolves negotiated an extension for the All-Star forward back in January, the two sides agreed to a four-year deal with an opt-out after year three. The contract, which gave Love the opportunity to explore the open market two years earlier than if Minnesota had given him the max (five years), signaled that the T-Wolves had a limited window of opportunity to surround Love with a playoff-caliber lineup. Love drove this point home early in the offseason, when he publicly urged Wolves management to upgrade the team's roster, dropping ominous lines like: "My patience is not high" and "If I don’t make the playoffs next year I don’t know what will happen."
If GM David Kahn and the Wolves hadn't already been committed to making a splash this summer, Love's comments certainly seemed to act as further motivation. The Timberwolves were one of the most active clubs in the NBA this offseason, participating in four separate trades and using their cap room to land a handful of free agents.
Besides swapping Wayne Ellington for Dante Cunningham with the Grizzlies, a deal that saw both teams dealing from a position of strength, the rest of the Timberwolves' trades involved clearing out salary and future assets in order to land players that would help the team immediately. Minnesota gave up its first-round picks in both the 2012 and 2013 drafts in order to land Chase Budinger and to clear Brad Miller's and Wesley Johnson's salary from the books.
On the surface, giving up two first-rounders to clear a few million dollars in salary and acquire Budinger, a solid but unspectacular rotation piece, looks like a mismanagement of resources. But neither draft pick was expected to bring in a star -- 2012's first-rounder was No. 18 overall, while the future pick ticketed for Phoenix is top-13 protected for the next two years, meaning it'll almost certainly be a mid-to-late first-rounder. Additionally, clearing Miller's and Johnson's salaries helped the Wolves with their free agent signings, creating the necessary cap space to add players like Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Alexey Shved, and Greg Stiemsma.
Now, was it worth clearing room for all those free agent signings? Kirilenko's two-year, $20MM deal drew some criticism when it was announced, and there are certainly no guarantees on Roy's knees, raising questions about whether it was wise to commit eight figures to him. However, I don't particularly mind either deal. Kirilenko had a tremendous 2011/12 campaign in Russia, and the T-Wolves managed to protect themselves a little with the wording in Roy's contract. Those deals may not end up being bargains, but Minnesota isn't exactly a top destination in free agency, and the Wolves paid the necessary price to land a pair of players with upside. At two years each, neither contract will cripple the team's flexibility.
Approaching the offseason with the sort of win-now mentality that Kahn and the Wolves had may have seemed like an oddity for a team coming off a 12th seed in the West. But the 2011/12 T-Wolves were better than their 26-40 record, having hung around the fringes of playoff contention before an ACL injury ended Ricky Rubio's season. With a healthy Rubio and Love eventually coming back to play alongside the new additions and returning players like Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea, and the ever-improving Nikola Pekovic, the T-Wolves were a trendy preseason pick to end their eight-year playoff drought and make some noise in the Western Conference.
The summer of 2015, when Love can opt out and Rubio is scheduled to hit restricted free agency, is still a ways off, so I don't expect there to be a win-or-bust mandate on this year's team. But the Wolves' front office has made it clear with this summer's moves that the club is looking to contend sooner rather than later. Kahn and the Wolves have answered Love's offseason challenge. Now it's time for the players to take the next step.