For fans, there are few happenings in basketball that can rival the feeling of winning a championship. Pulling the trigger on a trade for a superstar is one of them. It compounds the inherent hope that courses through a fan’s veins with a tangible result that is a necessity for ultimate success in the NBA.
But, to an extent, that feeling can also be blinding. Blockbuster trades don’t always go as planned. Remember when the Dwight Howard trade was supposed to bring the Lakers back to their glory days? Or when — gulp — the Knicks’ trade for Carmelo Anthony was thought to be exactly what they needed?
Don’t be frightened, Timberwolves fans. High-profile trades have also worked out. But as Jimmy Butler arrives in Minnesota with the team’s reasonable payroll and supporting cast intact, this is when the important tinkering begins. Butler has only two years left on his deal, so the Wolves will have to work quickly to jump into contention and keep Butler for the long haul.
Here are some unanswered questions for the latest loaded team out West.
Who Will Command the Point Guard Position?
ESPN reported Monday that the Wolves were still looking to move Ricky Rubio in hopes of finding more shooting (more on this later) to surround Butler and their young core of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, both of whom, I’m required to remind you, are still awaiting their 23rd birthday.
The Wolves have been linked to Derrick Rose, another Son of Thibs, and were linked to Reggie Jackson midseason. Rubio is just 26, and he’s improved each season during his time in the league. That means he has a growing trade value, which in turn makes the Wolves’ intentions to trade him, especially to replace him with an aging, injured Rose, confusing.
If the Wolves do trade Rubio, Butler could act as a de facto point guard, bringing the ball up while they groom Tyus Jones to be a competent backup. But part of the allure of trading Rubio before the Butler trade was that it would give Kris Dunn more playing time. With Dunn now deep in some Lou Malnati’s pizza in the Windy City, that is no longer a possibility.
Though cheaper options like Darren Collison and Jeff Teague might be more financially fitting, a player like Jrue Holiday would be a perfect acquisition for the Wolves. He’s a willing passer and a competent shooter that would set Butler, Wiggins, and Towns up perfectly. The likelihood of this addition, though, would be small. Holiday would command a deal that would take up most of Minnesota’s cap space, leaving the Wolves no room to improve the team holistically. It doesn’t seem like many ideal point guards are available to Minnesota at the moment. Which brings us to …
How Will Minnesota Improve Its Depth on the Wings?
Depth is not exactly a strength for the Wolves. Jimmy Butler’s current backup is Shabazz Muhammad. But with about $18–20 million in cap space, the Wolves have room to operate in free agency. If they trade Rubio, the return would need to include players that can excel, either offensively or defensively, on the perimeter, since Thibs’s squad struggled on the wing in both phases last season.
Both Wiggins and Butler, Minnesota’s starting wings, have below-average career 3-point percentages. Last season’s Bulls ran into trouble because their three ball-dominant players, Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Butler, couldn’t shoot the most valuable shot in the league. This is the last problem that Minnesota wants to have.
J.J. Redick is probably the expensive pipe dream for the Wolves on the wing, but a better option may be someone like Kyle Korver, who, if he isn’t re-signed by the Cavs, could come at a much cheaper price and provide them with a deadly long-range shooter. This budget option would also give the team the option to acquire another wing player. If the Wolves wanted to go two-for-one and target a serviceable guard or wing on both ends of the floor, Patty Mills and C.J. Miles (both shot 41.3 percent from 3 last year) represent viable options. Heck, could Waiters Island move north to the Great Lakes?
The Twin Cities just became warmer real estate for potential free agents. That’s part of the ripple effect that can come out of a blockbuster trade like the one the Wolves just completed. All the Wolves have to do now is make the right signings and fill their roster with much-needed depth. The short- and long-term success of the Butler trade may depend on it.