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Can the Timberwolves Attract Stars?

Two weeks ago, I wrote this.

The idea, in short, is that stars need to utilize players being on rookie contracts, if they wish to create a super-team. It’s not an overly complicated idea, but instead just simple numbers. Stars on rookie salaries make very little, the star looking to join a team will make a lot, and by combining the two, you get a leg-up in financial flexibility.

In the two weeks that have passed, one example I used in the piece has been stuck on my mind. The Minnesota Timberwolves are, possibly, in a very unique situation in regards to increasing their level of attractiveness in the eyes of stars. With Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns leading the wolfpack, there’s a two-year window for stars to jump on a wagon that will only get better in time. The crazy thing? If done right, you could end up with a big four.

Now, first thing’s first. Wiggins and Towns both need to become more than good, and quickly. Wiggins will have to build on his Rookie Of the Year campaign, and do so in a manner that see him make a leap similar to that of Kevin Durant from year 1 to 2.

Durant was a 15.8 PER rookie with a .519 TS% who turned in a sophomore campaign of 20.8 PER and a TS% of .577. His raw averages increased only a little on a per-minute basis, but he became a notably more efficient player who was able to handle more responsibility–which factors heavily into this as Wiggins shared similar responsibilities and had a resembling PER of 13.8 and a TS% of .517 as rookie on his own accord.

Durant, it should be noted, was better. He likely will always be better. So we’re not looking for Wiggins to reach the level of Durant, but rather make a similar leap. There’s a difference.

Additionally, Towns has to prove himself as future elite big man. That’s quite the challenge in one’s opening season, especially as bigs take longer to develop and polish their games. But there are always elements that hints at future success, much like positive defensive influence, shooting mechanics, and work on the glass. If Towns proves to be all he’s hyped up to be and immediately enters a similar tier as that of Andre Drummond and Jonas Valanciunas, then Minnesota has quite a bit of work cut out for them in shedding contracts so they can be players in free agency.

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be awfully simplistic about this. If you have two guys on your roster who will become stars, and for the sake of the argument let’s assume that’s not just a forgone conclusion but rather a “holy crap, everything has to go wrong for that not to happen” situation, then all you need is one more player to create a Big 3. This is extremely doable from a financial point of view, as long as you can rid yourself of the heavy deals going the summer, which in Minnesota’s case shouldn’t be that difficult.

So let’s jump into our DeLorean or Stewie Griffin’s time machine, honestly both work fine, and jump to February of 2016 on the night of the trade deadline.

Ticking in on NBATV’s live coverage, is this: “The Minnesota Timberwolves trade the contract of Nikola Pekovic to the Los Angeles Lakers for Roy Hibbert.” – You sorta get it for Los Angeles. They need something long-term, and Pekovic is on a nice deal for being in the smack-middle of his prime years. With the new cap in place by summer time, you don’t lose out on handing Pekovic $12.1 million when Kobe Bryant’s $25 million comes off the cap, and most of your core is young. Getting a tough scoring big man who, at times, demands a double-team is a good thing, and could help ease the transition of Julius Randle, even if your defense takes a whack for half a season. Plus, he’s movable and an asset you can use in later trades.

For Minnesota, Hibbert becomes a rental car you pick up, and forget all about after the season. Sure, if the owner offers you to buy it at a cheap price you consider it, but it’s really not a problem if he doesn’t.

Now the ticker refreshes. More T-Wolves news. This time Ricky Rubio is moving on. Specifically to the Memphis Grizzlies for Jeff Green and Matt Barnes. Memphis learned how Jeff Green is really quite overrated, and they have no intentions of re-signing him anyway, so they might as well get a defensive-minded guy out of it who can share the point with Mike Conley, and who has good report with Marc Gasol via Spain’s national team. Rubio instantly fits in as a pseudo-replacement for Tony Allen, bringing strong defense, rebounding, and elite passing to a team that relishes these aspects. The now dual-point-guard backcourt offers Memphis several interesting looks, especially as Mike Conley takes on more of a scoring role. Additionally, Conley wishes to play the free agent field, so this qualifies as insurance for Memphis, in the event that he’s lost down the road.

For Minnesota, Green and Barnes learn to appreciate the woodwork of the Target Center, as they maintain a seated position for the rest of the season.

Doc and Stewie offer us another ride, this time to July. Here’s what we know by then. Wiggins has become an All-Star and Towns a celebrated rookie with 1st team honors and a new reputation of actually dripping with potential. Armed with so much money it’s borderline ridiculous ($43-48 million-ish in guaranteed money not including cap holds for minimum deals or rookie deals, so roughly $42 million in raw cap space), the Timberwolves decide to break up the backcourt they helped build, as they throw money at should-be All-Star, Mike Conley, over four years to the tune of $92 million, averaging $23 million a year, as his request for a max deal in Memphis ($145 million over five seasons) has been rebuffed.

April 8, 2015 - Memphis, TN, USA - The Memphis Grizzlies' Mike Conley (11) slips past the New Orleans Pelicans' Tyreke Evans to score at FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, April 8, 2015. The Grizzlies won, 110-74

Could Conley be a future T-Wolves player?

Conley, Wiggins, and Towns instantly becomes one of the best defensive trios in the league, which is helped further along by another signing: Hassan Whiteside. With Wiggins and Towns earning a combined $11.9 million of a $90 million cap, money prove plentiful, and Whiteside signs for a clean $80 million over four years. Big 4 achieved.

Or…

You wait another year, see further improvement from Wiggins and Towns, and send of Rubio & Pekovic by the 2017 trade deadline for expiring deals, and go into a heavier free agent class with names like Stephen Curry, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka.

That year Minnesota should have even more dough to spend, given that both Kevin Garnett and Kevin Martin’s deals come off the books. The cap, rumored to even go as high as $105 million by then, provides a buffer for all the increased rookie deals that have gone up slightly across the board.

The point here being: Minnesota has a shot at potentially doing something special here. They’re absolutely loaded with young talent, even to the point where you can make the argument that you might have a self-grown Big 3 if Zach LaVine goes nuts and his development explodes. Using cap space to complement that level of youth with veteran star power would give Minny one of the deepest teams in the league, assuming the average NBA star acknowledges the benefit of using his prime years alongside young players who are stars in their own right, but not maxed out quite yet.

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