The chatter surrounding Corey Brewer has quieted down over the past few weeks, but the 28-year-old swingman remains one of the most intriguing trade candidates in the league. It would be no surprise if talk picks back up after a week from today, when most offseason signees become eligible for inclusion in trades. Wolves coach/executive Flip Saunders insisted recently that Brewer is too valuable for his team to give up for now, a statement that largely prompted rumors surrounding Brewer to cease. But as the injury-wracked Timberwolves slowly return to health in the weeks ahead, the specter of a trade will grow. Still, unless Brewer begins to play better, it would be in spite of the performance the former seventh overall pick has displayed this season, and not because of it.
Brewer has made his reputation on defense over the course of his career, but his numbers this season haven’t backed it up. His defensive box plus/minus, a Basketball-Reference metric, is negative 0.2, well off from his career high of 1.2 last year. The Timberwolves give up an egregious 113.7 points per 100 possessions when Brewer is on the floor this season, and only 107.1 when he’s not, according to NBA.com. Of course, those points per possession numbers have as much, if not more, to do with the four other players on the floor with Brewer, and it’s obvious that the Timberwolves, at 4-15 this season, don’t have much with which to surround him. Such analytics have given greater insight into just how well players are performing on defense, but defense remains tricky to measure. Ill-advised gambling too often shows up in a positive light in a traditional metric like steals per game, but by that measure, Brewer is matching what he did last season, when he recorded a career high 1.9 SPG, and he’s creating those turnovers in fewer minutes this time around.
There’s little debating that Brewer’s shot has been off so far this year, however. He’s just 5 for 31 from three-point range, though the long ball has never been a strength for the career 29.1% three-point shooter. Wisely, he’s taken fewer three-pointers this year, but he appears to have replaced them mostly with long twos, as Basketball-Reference shooting data shows. He’s shooting just 15.2% from between 16 feet from the basket and the three-point line, according to that data. Brewer is never going to help an offense with its spacing, but his outside shooting so far this year has been an hindrance to his team. Brewer’s made up for it in some measure with a career-high 1.4 offensive rebounds per game, but many teams place little value in offensive rebounding, preferring instead that their players hustle back and set up defensively.
It was somewhat odd to see Houston emerge as a more likely destination for Brewer than Cleveland at one point late last month. The Rockets trail only the Grizzlies in stinginess when it comes to points allowed per possession, according to NBA.com, so Brewer’s defense, assuming it perks up, would only add to a strength. His poor outside shooting would also run counter to Houston’s organizational emphasis on the three-pointer, and his choice to shoot more long two-pointers so far this season would certainly meet with resistance were he to don red.
Still, the Rockets had reportedly been anxious to make a move to bolster their depth after a summer of moves that depleted it, and it seems as though they’ve held aspirations of acquiring a rotation-caliber player whom they can package in another trade at the deadline. It’s not impossible to package players together in a trade without aggregating their salaries, but aggregation makes it a lot simpler, and it’s a tool the Rockets would only be able to use with Brewer if they acquire him by December 19th, two months before the trade deadline. So, in that regard, it makes more sense for Houston to trade for Brewer, though the team would still risk getting stuck with a player who doesn’t fit if GM Daryl Morey can’t find a deadline deal to his liking that involves Brewer. Even so, Minnesota’s need for healthy players in the short term might not lapse in time to meet that December 19th timeframe, and Morey seemed to back off an aggressive pursuit of a similar swap that would have sent out Omer Asik two months before last year’s trade deadline.
Cleveland seems a more natural home for Brewer. Reports have indicated that the Cavs have shown interest in Tayshaun Prince and Andrei Kirilenko in addition to Brewer, signaling Cleveland’s apparent interest in a wing defender. The presence of Kevin Love and Mike Miller would help offset Brewer’s lack of outside shooting, and Kyrie Irving is hitting treys at a sizzling 42.2% clip in 90 attempts so far this season. Still, it seems Cleveland’s primary focus is on finding a rim-protector, making Brewer a secondary target.
The Rockets and Cavs have trade exceptions they can use to absorb Brewer’s nearly $4.703MM salary for this season, but the Kings and Celtics are the only other teams with trade exceptions large enough to use on him. The Lakers and Pacers have disabled player exceptions sizable enough to accommodate his salary, but the presence of his $4.905MM player option would nix that, since disabled player exceptions may only be used to acquire players on expiring contracts. Teams would reportedly like Brewer to waive that player option, but that seems a long shot unless he were to have the chance to head to a contending team.
The Mavs give up the most points per possession among teams with reasonable title chances this year, followed closely by the Raptors and then the Cavs, so perhaps Brewer would be attractive to Dallas and Toronto, assuming his defensive slip isn’t a long-term phenomenon. Brewer has been with Dallas once before, as a largely forgotten presence on the 2011 title team, and the Mavs lack a swingman who has provided consistent minutes at both the shooting guard and small forward positions so far this season. The Raptors would receive the immediate benefit of plugging Brewer in for the injured DeMar DeRozan, but he might prove too much of a drain on minutes for Louis Williams and James Johnson. Of course, there haven’t been reports linking Brewer to either the Raptors or the Mavs, so they’re merely speculative suitors.
The Wolves seem destined for the lottery this season, and while Brewer is indeed valuable as a stopgap for now who can can provide Andrew Wiggins with a veteran presence and mentor him on the finer parts of NBA defense, he doesn’t appear to be a long-term asset for the team. Brewer’s statistical declines might already be dampening interest from around the league, but it seems that he’s nonetheless a wanted commodity. It would behoove Saunders to strike upon this prior to the deadline if he can net a return capable of accelerating the rebuilding process in Minnesota.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.