The modern thought in the NBA is that if a team is not a championship contender, it is best to bottom out, get top draft picks and rebuild. The logic makes sense. There’s little value in assembling an expensive roster that is at its best capable of being a seventh of eighth seed in the playoffs. With the way the NBA draft and lottery are structured, there is more incentive to win 20 games and have a shot at drafting a potential superstar than fighting for a likely first-round exit in the postseason.
In furtherance of this prevailing approach to team building, franchises are always looking to make savvy signings that are likely to return nice value, while maintaining future flexibility. However, there are still some instances where teams hand out a contract that doesn’t make a lot of sense given a player’s age, on-court impact and other factors. The most recent example was with the Los Angeles Lakers, who in 2013 re-signed Kobe Bryant to a two-year, $48.5 million contract. The Lakers weren’t necessarily rebuilding at the time, but giving Bryant (who was recovering from a ruptured Achilles) that contract took away financial flexibility that could have made a difference these last few offseasons with major free agents.
On Friday, Kevin Garnett signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The size of the contract caught many people off guard considering Garnett’s age and drop off in production over the last few seasons. And the rising salary cap and expensive market for big men doesn’t really explain this big salary either. But this deal is more of a reward for Garnett’s 12 years of stellar play in Minnesota prior to being traded to the Boston Celtics in 2007. In addition, Timberwolves president and head coach Flip Saunders is hoping that Garnett will act as a mentor to the young players on the roster and help in their development despite the inflated salary.
“We are excited that KG has decided to continue his career with us,” said Saunders. “When we acquired him last year we hoped this would evolve into a longer term relationship. KG re-signing shows his commitment to our franchise and his belief in the direction we’re headed. I know KG will bring his usual strong work ethic and leadership, and be a positive influence for our young guys as we continue to grow together.”
The Timberwolves have assembled an exciting, young core of talent, including Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones, Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins and this year’s No.1 overall pick, Karl-Anthony Towns. With so many young players, the Timberwolves’ number one priority for the next two seasons should be developing internally. With Garnett on board, the young players have a former league MVP, NBA champion and future hall of famer to learn from.
This could be especially beneficial to Towns, who is a big, physically gifted prospect at center. While Towns isn’t built with the same wiry-frame and mobility that Garnett had earlier in his career, he does have a diverse offensive skill-set and the physical tools to be a great two-way player. With Garnett pushing him to be his best and giving him advice on what it takes to play at the highest level, the investment in Garnett may end up being a great investment.
Garnett posts career averages of 18.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. In his MVP season (2003-04), he averaged 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, five assists, 1.4 steals and 1.8 blocks per game. In addition, Garnett is the Timberwolves’ franchise leader in games played (932), minutes (35,633), points (19,079), rebounds (10,568), assists (4,154), blocks (1,580), steals (1,287) and field goals (7,593). He is also a 15-time All-Star and the 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year
For roughly the last two decades, Garnett and Tim Duncan have been the gold standard of NBA power forwards. However, in recent seasons, Duncan has maintained his on-court production more effectively than Garnett.
Duncan recently signed a new two-year deal for $10.4 million, which is well below his market value. Duncan agreeing to another team-friendly deal is one of the main reasons why many people were surprised by Garnett’s deal. Duncan’s sacrifice in salary is directly tied to the San Antonio Spurs’ position as a legitimate championship contender and its need for flexibility to add players like LaMarcus Aldridge. For Garnett and the Timberwolves, the focus is on developing the young players, not maximizing cap space to bolster the roster and make a title run. So while Garnett could have taken a more team-friendly deal, there was no major need for him to do so. Though, there is a valid argument that a wiser approach to spending significant cap space would have been to ask Garnett to serve as an assistant coach or as a skills coach.
Nevertheless, Saunders believes that in addition to serving as a mentor, Garnett will still have an impact on the court for the Timberwolves next season.
“When he was playing for us, many times he looked like he could play 30 minutes and be effective,” Saunders said. “His efficiency rating is pretty high, in the 20s. His big thing is, his body just wasn’t able to bounce back like it did when he was in his prime.”
It is fair to question whether at age 39 Garnett still has the passion for the game that made him so effective earlier in his career. However, Saunders believes that Garnett is all in on this latest challenge.
“The last time I saw him this excited entering into a summertime was when we had the ability to get Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell back in (2003),” Saunders said on Friday night. “He’s very committed.”
For his part, Garnett does in fact look eager for the final act in his illustrious career.
“I’m excited to be part of this process for the future,” Garnett said in a statement issued by the team. “I can’t wait to build something special with this group of guys. Hopefully, I can help, teach, and also continue to grow and learn from the young guys. It should be great. I’m looking forward to it all. The process to greatness starts now!”
Robert Upshaw Expected to Sign with the Los Angeles Lakers
Late Friday night, Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group reported that the Los Angeles Lakers and controversial center prospect Robert Upshaw have agreed to terms on a two-year, partially guaranteed contract.
Upshaw went undrafted in last month’s NBA draft due to off-court concerns. Upshaw was dismissed from two college programs (Fresno State and Washington) for disciplinary reasons and has had other issues that caused teams to pass on him. When focused and engaged, Upshaw has massive potential, especially defensively. In his last season with the Huskies, Upshaw averaged 10.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.5 blocks in 19 games played.
This is the sort of high-risk, high-reward move that the rebuilding Lakers should be making. There is risk in adding Upshaw to a team that features other young players in the locker room, but Upshaw seems to understand that he is running out of opportunities to prove he is worth investing in and thus will likely be on his best behavior. If he can keep his focus and energy on the court and stay away from the off-court issues, this may end up being a nice addition for the Lakers.
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