Not content with locking up sharp-shooting wing Chase Budinger, the Minnesota Timberwolves finalized a four-year, $28 million contract with former Oklahoma City Thunder shooting guard Kevin Martin that could be worth up to $30 million with certain incentives.
Martin came into the NBA under current Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman in Sacramento and had arguably his best season playing for Adelman in Houston in 2010-11, which probably explains the motivation for signing him. But to sign Martin and Budinger together, Minnesota will likely need to relinquish their rights to Andrei Kirilenko, essentially moving him out of town. I'm not sure that's a good trade-off.
Minnesota desperately needed shooting, sure, but they will greatly miss Kirilenko if he is indeed gone. His all-around contributions as a cutter, passer and team defender are impossible to replace with just one guy. While Kirilenko is not a great perimeter shooter, he makes up for it by helping in so many other ways. The Timberwolves may have been nervous about giving him a long-term contract at age 32, but this is a team that badly needs to show progress next season before the 2015 opt-out date in Kevin Love contract approaches. It's hard to argue that Martin will help this team more than Kirilenko would next season.
Minnesota could replace some of Kirilenko's contributions by using the Room Exception starting at $2.6 million on a wing defender or trading a spare guard like Luke Ridnour or J.J. Barea for one, but that player won't be able to do everything Kirilenko did for the Timberwolves last season. This isn't a fantasy league where you can fill one player's contributions with three different alternatives. Only five guys play at once, and they all must play off each other. Having someone who could plug so many holes at once like Kirilenko allows others to play their games. That dynamic goes away when he is replaced by someone who is a specialist himself.
Instead of Kirilenko, the Timberwolves have prioritized perimeter shooting by acquiring Martin. Shooting was indeed a major weakness for Minnesota last season, but a lot of it would have been improved internally with Budinger and Love back healthy. At this point, signing Martin over Kirilenko is addressing one team weakness while creating another. A five-man starting unit of Ricky Rubio, Budinger, Martin, Love and Nikola Pekovic is defensively deficient. The Timberwolves would need to be an elite offensive team to make up for their poor perimeter and interior defense.
In an ideal world, Martin fares better with a larger role in the offense after being relegated to spot-up shooting in Oklahoma City and the Timberwolves improve their defense by flipping Barea or Ridnour for a decent wing defender like Milwaukee's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or Washington's Trevor Ariza. But expecting the 30-year-old Martin to return to his 2010-11 level is expecting way too much, and that spare wing defender would come with deficient perimeter shooting that'll cramp the offensive spacing.
That's why I'm not a big fan of this signing.