Most of the free agency churn is over, and I suspect that not much will happen soon, either; GMs all seem to recognize that at this point, there is very little incentive to hurry. But there are a few gems left. I could go over all of them, but I won't -- instead I will put on my Timberwolves hat and talk about a few that are relevant to them.
Speaking of the Wolves, I found this gem from Chris Bernucca today:
DARKO MILICIC: He has $7 million due over the next two years as part of his amnesty release. Given his size and age (27), he can be a little picky regarding minimum deals. Would be a good fit for any team with a defensive-minded starting center because he can put the ball in the hole a little.
So I guess he means "a little" quite literally, as in, he is worse than essentially everyone at else at the the particular skill of "putting the ball in the hole." I wonder how he came up with this analysis? It certainly isn't from the numbers; in Milicic's best season he was still slightly below average at this, and in most seasons his true shooting was far below 50% (54% is average for centers). And it certainly wasn't from watching him play. I've never seen a player so inept on the low block, and, yes, I am including Mark Madsen.
Remember the rules: the half-baked theory says that only your top 6 are really going to determine whether you win or lose in the playoffs; no one else is going to get enough minutes to really push the needle. Therefore, when filling in roster spots 9 and up, you really should be looking for players that fit these profiles:
- guys that might play well enough and often enough to get you an extra win or two in the regular season, which helps with homecourt advantage
- guys that play well enough to not cost you wins while your (super)stars rest, because you aren't going to win it all if they have to play 42 mpg in the regular season
- very young/unproven guys who have a chance to become the winner of the next Who-Could-Have-Seen-That-Coming Award*
- guys that absolutely, positively, do not cost much
What you don't need:
- guys that make midlevel salaries (or more) to sit on your bench
- "veteran leadership": most teams that employ washed-up veterans in those last couple of roster spots already have plenty of this (raise your hand if you believe that Juwan Howard did anything in this regard that Dwyane Wade or LeBron James or even Udonis Haslem didn't), too much of it (the Lakers are already pretty old with Kobe, Nash, and Pau. They need Jermaine O'Neal for his 'veteran leadership' like Superman needs kryptonite earrings), or too young to matter (OKC would have benefited from a better backup point guard more than from Derek Fisher's veteran status).
In other words, the best use of those roster spots are severely undervalued players or young, unproven players that might turn into good players (late first-rounders, second-round draft picks, even undrafted guys). The first category is important because only severely undervalued players can possibly be good enough to move your win-loss needle if they are only playing 15 minutes a night. The second category is important because as much as we can identify traits in young players that are important, you just never know who's going to bust or boom until they've played a bit, and hidden gems are "hidden" for a reason. You should have as many young guys earning the minimum on your roster as possible, even if 3 out of 4 of them bust; this keeps your payroll slim and your cap flexibility in good shape so that you can afford to pay top dollar for the spots that really matter (the top 6), and gives you a small possibility every year of discovering a star whom you will be massively underpaying for up to 4 years.
*Will Barton, Marcus Denmon and Jae Crowder are my early picks for the annual Who-Could-Have-Seen-That-Coming Award.
With that in mind, here's what I think the Wolves have left this year:
- trade Luke Ridnour, Malcom Lee or JJ Barea. Between these three and Shved, who reportedly play the point some, there are simply too many point guards on the roster making too much money. When Rubio returns this will get ridiculous. As a side note, the Wolves broke like all the rules with Lee, whom they paid far too much money to for a contract that does not give the team great flexibility. If he were making the minimum with a team option on years 3 and 4, we wouldn't be having this discussion.
- Sign a backup shooting guard. The uncertainty around Roy's knees pretty much mandates this.
- Fill out the roster with some young players making the minimum.
A deal that sounded too good to be true to me was circling that the Wolves were in talks to trade Ridnour and Derrick Williams for Anderson Varejao. I can only assume that he would be the Wolves' 6th man, and a damn solid one at that. He's been a consistently good rebounder and defender his whole career, while not being inefficient offensively.
Other free agents to target:
Alonzo Gee: Gee is a young player who has been decently above-average his whole career, but no one wants to pay him anything. He's a "meh" shooter but a very good rebounder and he gets lots of steals, and can probably be had for less than $2 million.
Matt Barnes: Barnes is not young but has been a fantastic player for years, mostly thanks to his great rebounding and good passing. Like Gee, he can be had for very cheap, and you could probably play him at shooting guard.
Chris Andersen: This guy has been a monstrous shot-blocker and a good rebounder his whole career, all with extremely efficient offense and rarely turning the ball over (because he mostly only shoots when it's a dunk or a layup). He's basically Tyson Chandler Lite. He's getting old but would probably sign for the vet minimum, which makes him hugely underpaid.
The Timberwolves unfortunately disappointed me in the draft, by not snatching up Marcus Denmon at the end. Hummel's collegiate performance wasn't that impressive, but nonetheless they should lock him up for 4 years (3rd and 4th as team options) in case he overperforms (if he doesn't, that second guaranteed year is cheap, and should not make them feel obligated to keep him, nor should they pick up the option unless he looks studly).
There are also several undrafted players out there that somebody should sign, including Jesse Sanders, William Mosley, Ken Horton, and Ricardo Ratliffe. The Wolves should try to be that somebody for some of these guys. It's frankly a travesty that NBA teams haven't drafted any of them in the 2nd round -- they had absolutely dominating collegiate careers but have labels like "too small", "played for weak conference", etc, that kept them from being drafted. Those arguments make no sense. You're risking essentially the league minimum for two years, and a roster spot that will not impact your wins and losses anyway on guys like this. If they bust, WHO THE HELL CARES? And if they go on to be as good as they were in college, you'll be paying $800k for a rotation player. This is exactly the kind of lottery you want to be in if you are an NBA GM.