In 2003, the Minnesota Timberwolves were coming off of 7 straight first-round playoff exits (an NBA record, I believe). Their biggest problem was arguably that they were playing in the West, in an era when all the superstars seemed to be on the West coast, and they would often end up with a record good enough for a top 3 seed in the East, but which landed them in 6th or 7th place. But then, in the 2003-04 season, the Wolves got lucky.
You may at first think that I am referring to the acquisitions of Latrell Sprewell, Ervin Johnson and Sam Cassell, in exchange for Joe Smith, Anthony Peeler, and Terell Brandon's contract. And despite the fact that adding those players (and losing those bad players) made them better, that's not what I am referring to. The real stroke of luck that season came in the form of some key injuries: Wally Szerbiak, and Michael Olowokandi.
The 2003-04 Timberwolves:
|2003 - 2004 per-48 stats|
As we can see, the "big three" wasn't really KG, Alien, and Spree -- it was KG, The Mayor, and Alien. Fred Hoiberg was one of those players that GMs and Coaches loved to have on their teams, praising his work ethic and his 3-point shot, but curiously never giving him the playing time he deserved:
|Average SG(2000 - 2003)||1900||.099||3.9||22.0||5.9||4.9||2.9||0.5||1.7||3.4|
A great rebounder who rarely turned the ball over and played solid defense, Hoiberg was an under-appreciated star, even in those years when his 3fg% was not great! In those years where he was stroking it, he was basically an all-star talent. The injury to Wally Szerbiak (who was always about average) freed up lots of minutes and forced Flip Saunders to play Hoiberg more than he would have otherwise, and the Timberwolves benefited a lot. You see, like Art Howe in Moneyball, sometimes you have to force an NBA coach's hands to get him to do the right thing.
The other key injury was to the Kandiman. Olowakandi was a terrible pro player, but the Wolves had just handed him $5 million per year for 3 years. They likely would have played him a lot. Additionally, Johson was very old and a complete after-thought in the Cassell trade. There was speculation the Wolves would let him go or further trade him. But when Kandi got injured, having another warm body at center became a priority. And as an average-level Center he was a huge upgrade over the minutes that Olowokandi would have received. Again, Saunders' got tricked into doing the right thing.
Now, in 2012, perhaps history is repeating itself? As I noted earlier, Michael Beasley is terrible. But now he's been hurt. While I'd never wish physical harm on any NBA player, I won't look a gift-horse in the mouth either. I think this is a big stroke of luck; it's forcing Rick Adelman to do the right thing and play Derrick Williams more minutes -- even if he's over-performing right now and regresses back to average, he'll still be a huge upgrade over Beasley. And with even more luck, he'll perform so well that Adelman will be forced to keep starting him even when Beasley gets healthy.
Is it too much luck to ask for that Beasley will then complain, get into the coach's doghouse, and get shipped away? Even if all we got was second-round picks, that'd be a deal.
Speaking of deals, Wes Johson is terrible. And Keith Bogans, who started a boatload of games on a 62-win team, is unemployed:
|Average SG(2003 - 2010)||1652||.099||3.4||20.9||5.6||4.3||2.7||0.5||1.6||3.4|
Again, average would be a huge upgrade over Wes Johnson (and, incidentally, Rip Hamilton was a downgrade from Bogans). Chicago waiving Bogans was a huge stroke of luck for the Wolves. How the hell has no one in this organization suggested that we throw a minimum-contract at Keith Bogans!? Maybe they don't want to make the playoffs because they want to get another lottery....oh, wait.