At some point Sam Hinkie, the oft discussed GM of the Philadelphia 76ers, decided he did not care what anyone else thought. His plan to gut and re-gut the 76ers regardless of how many losses it leads to is in year three now with no sign of slowing down and yet Hinkie continues to slog forward, trading players for picks and cap exceptions, looking to build a team around young superstar talent he acquires from the draft. Yesterday Hinkie traded two of his team’s best four assets that aren’t draft picks, but rather actual people. Last season’s Rookie of the Year and young break out wing K.J. McDaniel were traded for draft picks and fringe level bench warmers yesterday afternoon, and JaVale McGee (over $10M a season) was traded to Philadelphia along with an Oklahoma City draft pick in 2018 for the rights to Cenk Akyol. Who is Cenk Akyol? He was the 59th overall draft pick in 2005, he has never stepped foot on an NBA court at the same time an NBA game was occurring, and nobody knows why or where his checks cash. Akyol is the NBA equivalent of the old Office Space scam; pennies keep disappearing and nobody has any idea where they go.
What does this have to do with the Phoenix Sun’s next opponent, the Minnesota Timberwolves? The T’Wolves are also fairly deep in what is now a nearly decade’s long rebuild. The Wolves have one less win (11) than the 76ers do (12) this season, and although Andrew Wiggins is far and away the best asset between the two teams right now, there is no clear path for how the Timberwolves get back to the playoffs between now and 2020. Yesterday the Timberwolves made a trade that was, in almost every way, symbolic. Kevin Garnett will return to Minnesota to finish out his terrific career. His most memorable seasons were when he was in Boston competing for championships, but Garnett is without a doubt the best T’Wolf of all time. His value over replacement, according to Basketball-Reference.com, was a whopping 75.1. Kevin Love, second all time in the same category for Minnesota, recorded a 16.9 value over replacement. In order to secure the homecoming, and Garnett finishing his career in the Target Center, Minnesota gave the Brooklyn Nets small forward Thaddeus Young. There were no draft picks, trade exceptions, salary matchers, or 2004 103rd overall picks exchanged. Thaddeus Young is an NBA talent. An honest to God asset, a wing player capable of performing in the league.
Why would two teams in similar places take such radically different approaches? Why would Flip Saunders, head coach and GM of the Timberwolves, sacrifice real production for an NBA relic? Garnett’s role in the locker room is a legitimate reason, a veteran presence is valuable and Garnett is a pro above all else. Plus, Minnesota needs all the revenue it can get, and Garnett can bring it. Above all else though, I’m convinced, Flip Saunders made this deal because he is like 99% of the population, and not at all like Sam Hinkie. He cares. Kevin Garnett, Andrew Wiggins, and Thaddeus Young aren’t "assets" to him. They aren’t dollars and cents, or abstract theories to be toyed with. They aren’t cap space or trade chips. They are people, co-workers, and colleagues. They are Flip’s friends. They are the guys on the charter plane with Flip when the Timberwolves have to fly to Orlando to play the second night of a double header. With so much talk, in Phoenix and across the league, revolving around players as assets it is hard not to applaud Saunders for being the only GM on Monday who made a decision that revolved around people. The fans in Minnesota are used to losing by now, and they are used to hoping for a brighter future they know may never come, but Kevin Garnett is a Minnesota Timberwolf for at least the next two months. He isn’t an asset. He’s a person. A legend. He’s family.
Give me a second to climb off my soapbox and we can jump into the preview of tonight’s game:
Suns vs T’Wolves- tonight at 6!
What Vegas Thinks: Who are the Suns suiting up? (Timberwolves -1, 211.5 O/U)
Vegas favoring a team with 11 wins over a team with 29 wins may seem a bit strange, and it certainly is, but keep in mind Vegas is working under the assumption that the Suns are playing short staffed. The roster weather report calls for a ton of Archie Goodwin, scattered T.J. Warren, and an absolutely zero percent chance of Miles Plumlee. Sorry Miles, couldn’t resist taking that shot. The Timberwolves roster has home court and mostly the same players they had two days ago, and thus the benefit of not traveling without half their roster. Regardless, the Suns and their fans should absolutely feel slighted. Wiggins has had success against Phoenix in his short history, and the Timberwolves very nearly beat the Suns in their first matchup in Minnesota a few months ago, but the fact remains that the Timberwolves have played 53 games this season and won 11 of them.
As for the Over/Under of 211.5 points, I would love to know how Vegas settled on a number. It’s anybody’s guess what this game looks like given that it is being played just 30 hours after Trademageddon 2015. I’d bet Vegas is having a tough time with all of their O/U lines right now, and are just banking on gamblers being as confused as they are. Buyer beware. Vegas Predicts: Wolves 106 Suns 105.
What the National Media Thinks: The Jury is Out
The national media definitely did not expect the whirlwind of trades just before the deadline. Between 12:45pm and 1:00pm Arizona time, the last fifteen minutes of the deadline, players and draft picks flew across the nation at lightning speed. Sadly no video or pictures exist, but if you watched NBAtv when this was all happening, you almost witnessed David Aldridge’s face melt. The biggest surprise of the day might have been that the ESPN graphics department didn’t go on strike at some point as they were forced to throw up graphics for Brandon Knight and Michael Carter-Williams on a dime, with no warning those two guys were even trade options.
There is one consensus though, Pat Riley is a magician. Riley and the Miami Heat have more assets than the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers, but the Miami cupboard was equally as bare in terms of "tradeable" assets for Goran Dragic. On the morning of the deadline, the media and fans were stumped as to what the Lakers, Heat, or Knicks could offer. Riley answered the question, and offered two assets the Knicks and Lakers both had: deep future draft picks. The Lakers and Knicks both could have matched the offer, but they didn’t and so the preferred destination for Dragic that already had the most to offer in terms of pre-existing talent, got a huge upgrade at point guard without spending a dime. Also, Pat Riley is the monster hiding underneath your bed.
As for Brandon Knight? Experts seem to think the Suns made the best of a bad situation. There was no way the Suns could walk away from the trade deadline as true winners because of the precarious situation Dragic put them in. However, of all the players dealt yesterday Knight is the second most talented, right now, and only 23 years old. Nobody knows if the Suns made lemonade out of lemons, but they certainly made something and the decision is garnering respect and curious eyes if nothing else. Ryan McDonough has a job that ends with being fired far more often than it ends with retirement, but yesterday leads me to believe when that day comes it will be because he threw too many punches rather than sat on his hands.
Bonus: If Brian Windhorst appears on your TV screen over the next week, turn off your TV. Brian does not have nice things to say about the Suns deals. Brian is not a nice guy.
What Minnesota Thinks: Fire up the montages! He’s coming home!
If you like video montages from the 90s and early 2000s you should buy a ticket to Minneapolis yesterday. The next 29 games are going to be a non-stop KG highlight reel. It is February 20th and yet it is impossible for the Timberwolves to finish above .500, even if they went 29-0. Kevin Garnett has become the reason Timberwolves fans tune in, and has rejuvenated the franchise without disillusioning them. Nobody thinks turning a first round future draft pick into fifty games of Thaddeus Young, and then subsequently turning 50 games of Thaddeus Young into a 40 year old KG, is a good thing. As covered above, this is the result of a slew of bad decisions. But who cares? KEVIN IS BACK BABY.
A writer for T-Wolves brother blog, Canis Hoopus, breaks it down here. The Timberwolves had problems on February 18th, 2015. None of those problems were solved yesterday. Most of them probably won’t be solved by February 19th, 2016 and maybe even 2017. But KG is a Timberwolf, and that is a happy thing. A good thing. Long live the legends.