In our ongoing NBA Front Office series, Tom Penn (general manager), George Karl (coach), Amin Elhassan (scouting director) and Kevin Pelton (analytics director) are joined by NBA Front Office's senior consultant, David Thorpe. Today, the group weighs in on the blockbuster trade that sent Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers and asks if the Minnesota Timberwolves got enough in return.
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Tom Penn ( @1TomPenn): What do we think of what the Timberwolves got in return for trading Kevin Love?
Obviously, they'll have Andrew Wiggins now in the mix. He's the key piece. Anthony Bennett -- do we feel like he's a throwaway? What value does he actually have coming off summer league? I'm interested in opinions on that. Thaddeus Young's impact?
George Karl (@CoachKarl22): This is the steal of the century for the Cavs.
To give up Love for Wiggins, Bennett, Young and a first-round pick is crazy to me. With Wiggins, you're only talking about potential. You're not yet talking about productivity. Yeah, I think he goes on to be good. But this bothers me: He is a young player, and if any of a number of things happen -- he gets injured, the team is the wrong fit, he gets bitter about the game, doesn't have the passion, doesn't have the love . . . There's a significant chance he might not even be an All-Star, just because that's the way things work.
Bennett, I'm sorry, I saw him play in the summer league, and he was goofy, man. Yeah, he has physical tools. But he's got to be trained. He doesn't have the highest basketball IQ and commitment. So if you're the Cavs, and you give both those guys up and a future No. 1 pick, and you don't have to give up Anderson Varejao or Dion Waiters, and you actually get another team to give up a guy like Young -- I mean, I'm thinking this is a conspiracy! As if the league is making this happen because LeBron James threatened to boycott the league if Love didn't get traded to Cleveland and have a great team or something like that!
Penn: Love when the paranoid Coach shows his face. Love it. But Coach nailed it with the "potential vs. productivity" discussion. I call it "hope vs. promise." You sell hope to your fans, and that's what Minnesota is going to do with Wiggins et al.
David Thorpe (@CoachThorpe) : When I studied Bennett last season, the talent was obvious. He was significantly overweight. He had a bad start, and it took him a while to get going. But we've seen players rebound from a rough start to their careers. J.J. Redick -- admittedly, a much better college player than Bennett was -- comes to mind. Redick started off terribly, and I think most people would say he's had a pretty good career.
So Bennett's not a throwaway. He had a bad start, being hurt, being fat, just flat-out overweight. And all in a culture that wasn't great a year ago.
I spoke to Luol Deng in person about Bennett during the season and he agreed -- after watching Bennett every day for a few weeks after being traded there -- the guy is enormously talented.
So it has been great to see some of that talent emerge over the summer. No. 1, he's lost a ton of weight, which is a positive. I think he spent most of his offseason in Cleveland working on his body, working on his conditioning. He's still much more apt to shoot the 3 than Coach Karl would probably like to see. The big question over time: He's going to be a good 2-point shooter, but you just don't want the No. 1 pick in the draft who has that size (6-foot-8, 259 pounds), that body and those hands living on the perimeter. He needs to be a player like Love, a poor man's Kevin Love. He'll never rebound like Kevin Love, obviously. He'll never be Kevin Love. But the way Love mixes his perimeter weaponry with his post skills to ensure he's valuable everywhere -- Bennett has that potential.
But what about the deal from Cleveland's side? We talked about that five-year window for James to win, but what happens after that? There might be a chance if James fades out five years from now, the Cavs go from one best-in-the-world player, maybe, to another one in Love. Of course, the chances of Wiggins getting to No. 1 in the world are far smaller than the odds James' coming out of high school. But just for some perspective, that's the kind of player that Minnesota is getting here in Wiggins, along with Bennett.
Bennett and Wiggins are not throwaway guys. Wiggins has a chance to be a very high level All-Star. Bennett probably doesn't make an All-Star team with his bad start -- his basketball IQ is not great, and if the Wolves struggle, we're not going to be talking about him much. But does he have the talent to be an All-Star? No question.
Penn: OK, analytically, Kevin, what chance do these guys have of being a star?
Kevin Pelton (@KPelton) : I think Wiggins is the only guy in this group with that chance of making it to that level at this point. It would be relatively unprecedented for a guy to start his career as poorly as Bennett did, where he rated below replacement level, and eventually develop into a star player. He can definitely be a decent player, a solid role player like the guys Thorpe alluded to -- who started their careers slowly and then developed.
An unrelated concern that jumps out at me with Bennett, from a trade value perspective, is that his salary is actually pretty high -- and getting higher. In two years, they're going to have to decide on a $8.3 million option on his contract. That could be a lot for a guy who could sort of be a fringe starter if he follows a career path similar to someone like Derrick Williams, or Michael Beasley, or any number of other guys who have struggled despite high expectations coming into the league.
Penn: George, talk a little more about what you would think of this deal if you're coaching the Wolves right now.
Karl: I want a player! I want a guy I can play! You have to understand, with the Carmelo Anthony trade, we got five players. We got [Raymond] Felton, we got Wilson Chandler, we got Gallo [Danilo Gallinari], we got Timofey Mozgov, we got Kosta Koufos, and we got picks. I think for Minnesota, to only get three players out of it, it's a bad deal. They should be looking at three starters, and more. I mean I'm shocked they made this trade.
Amin Elhassan (@AminESPN) : Coach, what I would say is you guys managed to leverage the Knicks' desperation with that deal, when in reality, you guys should have been the desperate ones because you guys were in danger of losing the player. Denver realized that the Knicks were way too thirsty for Carmelo, and would have done anything, when really, they were in the driver's seat. They should have just waited. Carmelo made it clear he only wanted to go to a certain destination. They could have just waited. But their own desperation turned against them.
And that's the crux of this deal. Minnesota's the one that has problems. Everyone said Minnesota was in the driver's seat. Quite the opposite. The closer we get to the season, the worse it would have gotten.
If they had sat with Love on their roster, and they started the season 3-10, 3-16, which would have been possible, because the Western Conference is tough and their roster isn't that good, then they would have accelerated the desperation for themselves because Love walks at the end of the year.
Penn: Flip Saunders realized he was in danger of losing Love and the Cavs didn't let him off the hook.
Pelton: To me, I think the goal of this deal for Minnesota wasn't to contend -- I don't think Minnesota can contend over the next few years without Kevin Love. In the Western Conference, they'll be glad to sneak into the postseason.
Elhassan: But here's the thing: Is that the goal Flip Saunders had? It hasn't sounded like that. If I were in charge of the Timberwolves, I would follow exactly what Kevin just suggested: The West is stacked, and the chances of me adding the proper talent to at least have a good shot at a playoff run is pretty slim. But it sounds like they don't want to take a step back. And I can understand why: You can't give six lottery picks to a fan base that's had 10 years of lottery picks, regardless of who the guy making the picks was.
Thorpe: I think he wanted more, but he eventually decided to swallow this deal, with Wiggins, the No.1 pick of the best draft in maybe a decade. This was not a Flip call, in my opinion, anyway. This was an ownership call. Glen Taylor's the one who had to say, here's where we're going to sail this ship the next few years. And Flip made it happen.
Penn: For Minnesota, they had the talent. They did. And when you have the talent, the one thing you know is, when you trade it, it's gone. I mean, I've been in this situation. You just sit there and there's the idea of making a deal, and there's the reality of pulling the trigger on it and then knowing that player is gone.
The finality of it, knowing you have to explain to your owner -- who's sitting there thinking, "Well, maybe this can be fixed, maybe it can be salvaged? And we can do a sign-and-trade in the following year?" But that's not how it works. You've got to like the deal when you do it. And this kind of youth, this kind of potential, it does give them a chance. It does give them hope.