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NBA PM: Timberwolves In A Better Position?

After six years of trips to the lottery with Kevin Love, the Timberwolves could end their 10-year playoff drought soon with his departure.

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Are the Timberwolves Actually Better?

For a small-market franchise like the Minnesota Timberwolves, losing a star the magnitude of Kevin Love has been regarded as the worst-case scenario for some time because their options to find another star are limited. That’s partially due to the fact that they’re difficult to acquire in the first place, but mainly because the Timberwolves are not a desirable destination for top-tier free agents. The weather there is tough to endure and the franchise is in the midst of a decade-long playoff drought. Their lack of success in recent years seriously works against them. Even during Kevin Garnett’s dominant 12-year stint, they were only able to get out of the first round of the playoffs once.

Nobody lacked faith in the Timberwolves’ ability to compete more than Love, hence his eagerness to move on. The chances of him re-signing as an unrestricted free agent were basically non-existent, so the Timberwolves were really backed into a corner of having to trade him with little leverage or watch him walk away in the offseason while only receiving cap space that they were going to have trouble maximizing the potential of in return.

Yet, there’s more reason for optimism than ever before.

Yes, the Timberwolves have been down this road before with the aforementioned Garnett, where they load up on young guys in exchange for a proven superstar in hopes of taking a couple steps back in the present to take several steps in the future. That never happened, but look at the difference in the packages they received for Garnett in comparison for Love.

In the 2007 Kevin Garnett trade with the Boston Celtics, the Timberwolves received: Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair and two future first-round picks that turned into Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington and cash.

In the 2014 Kevin Love trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Timberwolves received: Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young and a $6 million trade exception.

It’s important to note that, as always, hindsight is 20-20. At the time, Green still had a lot of potential, Jefferson was capable of filling the No. 1 scoring role and if that draft pick is used on Stephen Curry instead of Jonny Flynn, Love is probably still committed to the Timberwolves. Love’s departure has a lot more to do with the decisions that were made by the previous regime, not anything that wasn’t done since Flip Saunders took over.

While facilitating this deal, Saunders did manage to muster some leverage in the form of the Golden State Warriors. There was a lot of leaked information and public denial over what the Warriors were willing to give up, but make no mistake about it: They wanted Kevin Love badly and likely would have done whatever it would have taken to acquire him short of trading Curry. A deal with the Warriors could have pushed the lottery-ridden Timberwolves closer to the top eight next year, but the deal with the Cavaliers was always more desirable for them.

The Timberwolves are very well aware of the limitations mentioned in the introduction. The two biggest stars they’ve had over the last 20 years were both acquired on draft night. They drafted Garnett, and traded O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love shortly after making the pick. That’s basically their only route to getting a star. As stated above, free agency isn’t a realistic option for them, nor is the trade market given that stars only become available when their deals are expiring and often control where they end up. The 2015 NBA Draft class and the 2016 high school class look to have serious star power, but rebuilding through the draft just isn’t a vision they can sell to a fan base that is 10 years removed from being able to cheer on a playoff team. They can’t embrace that kind of full-fledge rebuilding process right now, especially with an increase in the age limit coming and a possible change to the lottery system as well.

By acquiring Wiggins and Bennett in the trade, they bypass what would have been two brutal years – on par with what it took the Cavaliers to land them – to land two prospects with their potential. The trading of No. 1 overall selections is rare; two, even though one of them is coming off of a historically disappointing season, is unprecedented. And Young is a proven, versatile player who helps ensure that the dropoff from the Love era will not be that great – if there is one at all.

It’s unfair to put much of the blame on Love at all, because he did miss a significant amount of time due to injury and he did all he could when healthy, but the best record the team had during his six year tenure was last year’s 40-42 campaign. Outside of that, they went 31-51, 26-40, 17-65, 15-67 and 24-58 – hardly an un-clearable bar for the trio replacing him to surpass.

Keeping Love would have required giving him a maximum, five-year extension worth over $120 million. That’s a steep price to pay when there’s no guarantee things are going to be much better than they were the last two years and given that they are in a conference where .500 basketball sends you to the lottery, not the playoffs like in the East last year. Wiggins and Bennett are on rookie contracts for the next several years and Young, the second-highest paid player on the team now at $9.4 million, is someone they can realistically re-sign whenever he does hit free agency.

There’s a lot riding on the development of Wiggins and Bennett. The two showed glimpses of how good they could be at the 2014 NBA Summer League; Wiggins can be flat out un-guardable when he wants to be and has great defensive potential, while Bennett is a true inside-outside threat whose conditioning has improved leaps and bounds after falling off last summer due to a shoulder injury. Everyone has been quick to jump on the Bennett is a bust bandwagon, but it’s far too early to write him off as a solid pro. He’s used all the criticism as motivation and will be out to prove everyone wrong in Minnesota. Wiggins is the kind of easy-going, laid back player who needed this jolt of motivation as well. Everyone has always wanted to see more aggression from him; after being given up by the Cavaliers without even playing a game and getting the cold shoulder from the league’s best player, LeBron James, he may have the chip on his shoulder to finally bring out the best in him consistently.

The West isn’t going to be any easier and losing someone who can give you 20 and 12 on a nightly basis is hardly something to celebrate, but believe it or not – this is the best position the Timberwolves have been in since they had a big three of Sam Cassell, Latrell Spreewell and Garnett.

Grizzlies Hire D-League Coach

The Memphis Grizzlies today announced Bob Donewald Jr. as head coach of its NBA Development League team, the Iowa Energy.  Per team policy, terms of the deal, which is pending NBA approval, are not disclosed.

“Bob has a proven track record of player development and shares in the collaborative vision of the Memphis Grizzlies and Iowa Energy,” said Grizzlies Head Coach Dave Joerger. “He is a tireless worker and effective communicator who will be important in helping our players reach their potential as we begin our new partnership with Iowa.”

“We are pleased to welcome Bob to our organization,” said Jed Kaplan, Managing Partner of the Iowa Energy. “Bob has a great passion for the game, and we are excited for him to become a member of the Iowa community.”

Donewald joins Iowa with over two decades of coaching experience with eight different organizations throughout the world, most recently serving as head coach of the Chinese National Team (2010-12) and spending three seasons in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) as head coach of the Shanghai Sharks (2009-11), owned by former NBA All-Star Yao Ming, and the Xinjiang Flying Tigers (2011).

In addition, Donewald has worked four NBA seasons, including three as an assistant coach under Paul Silas with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-04), New Orleans Hornets (2002-03) and Charlotte Hornets (2001-02). His NBA tenure also includes a stint with the New Jersey Nets (1993-94) as a scout and assistant to Vice President and General Manager Willis Reed.

Before coaching in the NBA, Donewald spent five seasons (1996-2001) as a head coach and general manager in the British Basketball League (BBL), leading his teams to the championship series on three occasions.

Donewald, the son of acclaimed NCAA coach Bob Donewald, began his coaching career as a student-assistant coach at Western Michigan University (1989-93) He has served as an assistant coach at Morehead State University (1994-96) and the University of Alabama-Birmingham (2007-08) and has additional international experience as a head coach in Brazil (2005-06) and Ukraine (2008-09).

The Memphis Grizzlies and Iowa Energy entered into a single-affiliation partnership, beginning with the 2014-15 season, on May 6, 2014.  Memphis became the 14th NBA team to have a one-on-one affiliation with an NBA D-League team.  The teams’ “hybrid affiliation,” at the time the sixth of its kind in the NBA D-League, allows the NBA team to control the NBA D-League team’s basketball operations, while the NBA D-League team’s ownership maintains primary responsibility for the team’s off-the-court business operations and community initiatives.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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