The Timberwolves expected to contend for a playoff spot this season, but injuries and disappointing play have dropped the team into the cellar of the Western Conference. The team is currently 11-41, which is good for second place in our Reverse Standings, thus guaranteeing the Wolves a top-five pick in the 2015 draft if they hold that position. The franchise has a great passing point guard in Ricky Rubio, a few nice long-term pieces in Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad and a potential star in Andrew Wiggins. The Timberwolves have a good nucleus and the future looks bright, but the light at the end of the tunnel is a few seasons down the road.
The team also employs several veterans, including Thaddeus Young. The Wolves chose to acquire Young instead of a top-10 protected first-round pick as part of last summer’s blockbuster Kevin Love trade. That pick, which originates from Miami, has a decent chance of ending up in the lottery. The decision was a blemish in an otherwise good trade, a rarity for a team dealing away a star player. The team simply overestimated the talent on its roster and thought it could make the playoffs this season.
Young thought he was coming into a situation where he could help a winning team, but instead, the forward will be on one of the worst teams in the league for the second consecutive season. Young subtly requested a trade from the Sixers last season, in part because of the team’s direction. Although Young hasn’t requested a trade this season and the Wolves haven’t implemented the same kind of tanking strategy as the Sixers, which I previously examined, the situation remains unappealing.
Young had a rocky start to the season, but he has played better since the start of 2015, averaging 14.3 points and 1.9 steals per game. His role has been overextended at times this year. As with many non-stars in the league, Young’s usage rate and player efficiency rating (PER) have an inverse relationship. When his usage rate stays below 20.0, the league average, the forward has experienced his best seasons in terms of PER, with his rating peaking at 18.93, which is well above league average. As his usage rage has risen about that figure, he has experienced his worst seasons in terms of PER, with his rating falling all the way to 14.90 this season. Still, the talent is there and most contending teams could always use another contributor come playoff time.
The Nets were interested in acquiring Young as part of a bigger trade that sent Brook Lopez, whose value I examined last month, to the Thunder. The Nets were interested in flipping Kendrick Perkins to the Wolves as part of a three-way trade, though it’s unclear if Minnesota would have required more to part with Young. Only netting a veteran on an expiring contract in exchange for Young would represent a severe drop-off in the 26-year-old’s value, considering what Minnesota passed up to obtain him. Last season, as our own Chuck Myron pointed out, Young’s value was at its peak. This season, his value might be at its low point.
Young will make slightly more than $9.41MM this season and more than $9.71MM next year. He has an early termination option at the end of this season that could void the final year of his deal, which could make a trade even more tricky. Getting a team to give up any sort of valuable asset for the forward could be problematic given his ability to hit the free agent market during the offseason. Any team that comes close to acquiring him would probably want to suss out which way he’s leaning on the option. Most suitors would probably shy away if they get the impression that he’ll opt out, although that’s just my speculation.
The Raptors could be a potential fit after they were “sniffing around” the league for an upgrade at the power forward position. Players such as Taj Gibson, David West and Kenneth Faried have been mentioned in connection with Toronto. Young would most likely cost Toronto much less to obtain than any of the trio but it is questionable whether Young is an upgrade over current starter Amir Johnson. Toronto would give Young a situation akin to what Jeff Green stepped into when he was traded to Memphis. Green has played well as complementary option and the Grizzlies have gone 12-2 since acquiring the Georgetown product.
Young has proven he can be a productive player when he has talent around him. Just this season, in games with Ricky Rubio in the lineup, Young has averaged 15.4 points per game while shooting 47.9% from the field and posted a plus-minus of plus 23. In games without Rubio in the lineup, Young has scored 14.1 points per game while shooting 43.7% from the field but has a plus-minus of minus 241.
Many teams would love to acquire the forward but only for the right price. Young’s value has taken a severe hit this season and it may be a great buy-low opportunity for some willing franchise. Yet, as is the case with the Nuggets and Arron Afflalo, if the Wolves can get a return that rivals what they gave up for Young, they would be wise to jump on that opportunity.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.