The Minnesota Timberwolves are slowly rising in the Western Conference playoff picture, but to really make a dent, they needed to take a risk. Well, taking a risk is exactly what they did with their biggest free-agent signing. Will that risk pay off? We analyze their offseason moves.
SIGNED BRANDON ROY
This is exactly the kind of risk a team like the Timberwolves has to make in order to reach the upper echelon of the league. There's a decent chance that Roy's knee problems are just too much to overcome and the money will have been wasted. There's a equally decent chance that he is healthy, recovers 80 percent of his previous form and becomes the team's second-leading scorer and top perimeter threat. The reward of that happening far outweighs the risk that the two-year, $10 million deal will be a complete waste.
Let's assume that Roy remains relatively healthy, as he has thus far in his Timberwolves career. One interesting question will be how new coach Rick Adelman incorporates his skill set. Adelman is a proponent of the "corner" offensive system, described in detail in this Bright Side of the Sun post. For the system to work, the guards have to be adept at moving without the ball. It's a great system for Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, but Roy may have to adjust a bit. In his last days in Portland, he was much more of an isolation scorer. Here, he will need to focus more on his off-ball game and work harder to get open shots off screens. He's capable of doing this, and in fact, the shift in emphasis might extend his career, but I expect an adjustment period as he reconditions his playing style.
Eventually, Roy should be a very good fit for Adelman's style. If he can adjust quickly, and if he can stay healthy, the Timberwolves got a major steal.
SIGNED ANDREI KIRILENKO
The good news: Kirilenko should help the Timberwolves' leaky perimeter defense, and a two-year commitment is understandable for a guy his age. What concerns me a bit: Kirilenko's NBA career stalled because he was asked to play too much small forward, and in Minnesota, he's going to likely play a lot of small forward with Love and Nikola Pekovic manning the interior. He will help, don't get me wrong, but I'm not as bullish on the signing as several others.
TRADED FOR CHASE BUDINGER
There are times when it's good to have your head coach acting as the de facto general manager. The acquisitions of Roy and Kirilenko, for example, have a better chance of working because both players, in theory, are good fits for Adelman's system. But there are also times where it causes you to overpay for a player that "fits the system" when more could have been done with the asset. I think the Budinger trade was an example of that.
Budinger fits Adelman's system well because he actually played for Adelman in Houston. He's an excellent spot-up shooter, pretty efficient and has the ability to drive to the basket when defenders close out on him. But he's had trouble seeing consistent playing time throughout his career because he is defensively deficient and he's limited in other areas. The 18th pick isn't the most valuable asset in the world, but there's more that can be done with that than acquiring the eighth or ninth man on a non-playoff team last year.
In the short term, Budinger should outperform the players picked in the late teens in last year's draft, but if the Timberwolves really wanted to, they probably could have gotten him for less. If they were so concerned about adding another guaranteed contract in the draft, they could have dealt the pick for a future pick and gotten more value on the asset. I'm just not a huge fan of trading a first-round pick for a role player.
SIGNED ALEXEY SHVED
Shved was talented, but often erratic for Russia in the Olympics. He might prosper in more of a free-flowing system like Adelman's, but I wouldn't expect him to contribute a ton this season. That's potentially problematic because the Timberwolves may need him right away with Rubio sidelined until December or January.
SIGNED LOU AMUNDSON AND GREG STIEMSMA
Two energy guys that can help turn the tide of a few games with their activity. It's nice to have players like this coming off your bench. One of the two will back up Pekovic. The other will be relegated to spot duty.
TRADED FOR DANTE CUNNINGHAM
The Timberwolves dealt Wayne Ellington to get Cunningham, and I think it was a sneaky-good move. Cunningham never really had a chance to establish himself with the Grizzlies because of their deep frontcourt, but he was productive when he played, posting a league-average PER, supplying solid defense and emerging as a good cutter and offensive rebounder. It wouldn't surprise me to see Cunningham supplant Derrick Williams in the rotation (though that may say more about Williams and his poor fit in Adelman's system than anything).