From the Catbird Seat: Minnesota: Land of hoops?
I’m not really sure what to make of this, but the NBA free agency period is under way and Minnesota is becoming a destination point.
Not “desperation.” Destination.
As in, positive. A good thing.
At least in the eyes of NBA analysts.
As of Sunday night, the only signing the team had made was of Bloomington Jefferson graduate and former Kansas center Cole Aldrich from the Los Angeles Clippers for $22 million over three years. For now, his role is to back up Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng, but the team was also reportedly pursuing Pau Gasol as well, to play power forward to Towns’ emerging talent at center.
The Wolves’ young core is much-ballyhooed and, to be fair, the combination of young talent, new coach Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden, coupled with a new TV contract that gives the team piles of money to spend under an expanded salary cap makes Minneapolis a fun thought for players who don’t mind rotten winter weather.
Thibodeau is key to the whole thing, from my point of view. Having been given his break into the coaching business by the Wolves’ first coach, Bill Musselman, Thibodeau is easily the most intense coach the team has had since their original mentor.
He is regarded as a first-rate tactician, albeit one who is accused of overplaying his top players. He tries to win — all the time — and for a sports market where underachieving teams are the rule rather than the exception, that’s a refreshing attitude.
I get that people are high on the Vikings and I get why, but until they break through — which no Viking team has done since the 1969 NFL champions — they’ll be seen for what they are, which is football’s version of the Boston Red Sox until the Red Sox started winning things.
The Wild have brought in a no-nonsense coach as well and it’s anybody’s guess what the Twins are trying to accomplish. So Thibodeau is in the position where he can actually challenge the Wild’s winter sports dominance if he can only put a decent team on the floor.
And unlike the Wild, his team’s young players seem to actually be panning out, so there’s that to consider as well. And with other teams throwing silly money around on players, Thibodeau’s saving some of Glen Taylor’s coin on Aldrich isn’t a bad thing either.
There are some expectations for the Wolves this season, not the least of which come from guard Ricky Rubio, who has reportedly said he wants out of Minnesota if the team doesn’t make the playoffs this season.
There are a couple of reasons that probably won’t happen, at least not right away. First is that Thibodeau reportedly wants to work with Rubio (coach, just a thought: teach him how to throw that round thing through the hoop as a starting point).
Second, and more importantly: Rubio’s max contract was negotiated under the old television contract and is now a powerful incentive to the Wolves to keep him. With the new deals being signed, the marketable Rubio is also cheap — and if the Wolves do decide to move him, his contract alone makes him worth a king’s ransom.
Layden and Thibodeau won’t move Rubio unless and until they get exactly the right deal for him, perhaps even one that gives the Wolves the outside shooter they need so desperately. David Kahn has been rightly pilloried for how he ran the team as general manager, but this is a case where he deserves credit, even if he probably didn’t know he was doing the right thing at the time he did it.
That’s your Timberwolves — right for the wrong reasons, wrong for the right reasons.
Except now, that might be about to change.