You know, no one can really ever eclipse the Clippers as THE joke of the NBA because they've been entrenched in that spot for so long, but you have to credit Minnesota for trying to usurp the title. As bizarre as last year's transgressions were (drafting three point guards and then signing one more in the summer, running the Triangle Offense to negate the inherent strengths of the roster, trading for Darko Milicic), this summer has been a whole new ball game.
It starts rather benignly with the club drafting Wesley Johnson over Kentucky big man DeMarcus Cousins. With the needs that the Wolves had on the wing going into the off-season, one can see the appeal of Johnson. He's got good size for a wing, he can shoot, he's a relatively heady player he blocked a surprising number of shots last year at Syracuse. However, Cousins is a legit center that can score, rebound and block shots, he's a perfect compliment to Kevin Love, and the Wolves could have avoided two other mistakes this summer by grabbing him in the draft. It wasn't a Darko/Carmelo issue, but Cousins certainly has more potential as a young professional that Johnson does.
The next bout of craziness took things up a notch, with the re-signing of Darko Milicic. Now, Milicic is not an incapable NBA player. In fact, it stands to reason that if he had never been the second overall pick in one of the deepest drafts in NBA history he may actually be looked upon with some positivity as a role player in today's league. That said, inking him to a fresh four-year, $20-million deal to be your starting center is crazy. In 24 games with the Wolves at the end of last season, he averaged 8.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg and 54% shooting from the free throw line. As a starter for 18 of those games he upped his averages to 9.7 ppg and 5.7 ppg, and got his free throw shooting up to 64%. In what universe does that player command a four-year, $20-million deal?
Okay, let's say that you can swallow the contract, figuring that the team maybe overvalued him financially but had to understand his limitations as a player. Well, then your jaw must have hit the floor when GM David Kahn justified the signing by explaining that his game evoked memories of Vlade Divac and Chris Webber while speaking on television TO CHRIS WEBBER! Webber, like any sane person would, took umbrage with the comparison, which caused Kahn to refer to Webber as a ‘schmuck' in a subsequent interview. The fact is, Webber should be commended for his restraint in his reaction to Kahn, for the very notion that Milicic should be compared in any way to Divac or Webber (Kahn compared their passing skills, a career 1.6 apg/36-minutes guy against two of the best passing big men EVER) is insane, and this man is a GM right now and Kevin Pritchard isn't.
Still, this was not Kahn's most egregious action of the summer. No, the height of his crazy came when he felt that Milicic was ideally suited to take over the starting center slot from Al Jefferson, and he subsequently traded Jefferson, a career 17-and-9 power forward, for Jazz third-stringer Kosta Koufos to free up the position for Milicic. One can understand that Jefferson and Kevin Love were never going to make an ideal frontcourt tandem, but to assume that a: Milicic is a much better solution, or that b: Jefferson is only worth getting his money of off the team's payroll, is insane. Jefferson is 25-years-old, a borderline All-Star when healthy and is worth a whole lot more than salary cap relief.
Which brings us back around to the initial mistake of the summer. Had the Wolves drafted Cousins, they would have had no need to re-sign Milicic, or at least there would have been no pressure to sign him to such a rich deal. Had they drafted Cousins, they would have had a perfect frontcourt partner for Love, who could help spread the floor for him while also playing the passer in a killer high-low game. Had they drafted Cousins they could have traded Jefferson (since they seemed resolved to do so no matter what) for a scoring wing, which exist by the bushel in today's NBA and could have easily been netted for a 20-10 big.
The Clippers have their long legacy of crazy to overcome before anyone unseats them as the laughing stock of the NBA, but if David Kahn can keep his job long enough he's going to make a serious run at that status.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP
PG – JONNY FLYNN
Another year, another season without Ricky Rubio. Flynn is actually a player that would be of some use on another team that wasn't stubbornly insisting on running the Triangle. If he was allowed to play like Aaron Brooks for instance, as a ball-handler/penetrator who played lots of pick-and-roll basketball he could be a noteworthy second-tier point guard. Instead he's forced to play a system that favors big guards that can shoot, which basically plays to his two weakest areas (he's 5-foot-11 and shot 42% last season) and he has a fan base praying that Rubio opts to come over next summer. News flash: Rubio is no better suited to the Triangle than Flynn.
SG – COREY BREWER
Brewer actually had a breakout year last season, emerging as a quality wing defender and offering 13-3-2 per-game on 43% shooting, a career-high. He is hardly a marksman but opposing teams can no longer just abandon him on the offensive end of the court and if his defense continues to develop he could be in for a lucrative new contract as a restricted free agent next summer. The trick will be getting other teams to sit through 48-minutes of Timberwovles basketball to notice his improvements.
SF – WESLEY JOHNSON
With Michael Beasley and Martell Webster joining the team this summer, the forward rotation is a big of a riddle right now, but one has to assume that Johnson has the edge with regards to a starting spot considering the player passed on to draft him. He's actually a pretty good prospect and if his troublesome hamstring heals up soon he could have a nice rookie season spreading defenses out for the Wolves. If Cousins explodes in Sacramento, though, he will unfairly have the shoulder the burden of being taken ahead of him. At least he has Darko to talk him though that pain.
PF – KEVIN LOVE
Love has become the cult hero du jour in the NBA after he posted 14-and-11 per-game in just 28.7 minutes of play last season. His effectiveness playing for Team USA this summer only built upon his myth and with the Wolves having jettisoned Jefferson (the centerpiece of their take in the Garnett trade, remember) to free up minutes for him his status in cult circles only continues to grow. He'll have to shore up his defensive liabilities as a full-time starter now, and he'll to prove himself as a primary scorer, but the future looks pretty bright for the former fifth-overall pick in the draft.
C – DARKO MILICIC
There is going to come a time this season, when the Wolves record sits at the bottom of the league standings and his contract is continually ridiculed in the press, that Milicic is going to wish he followed through on his threat to return to Europe this summer. While it was no doubt intoxicating to actually have an NBA team fall in love with his play again, after spending so many years as a whipping boy, sometimes your first instinct is the right one. Plus, after the way his GM went to bat for him this summer, you know there is going to be plenty of pressure on him to live up to outsized expectations internally, too, which is, of course, the key thing Darko's proved unable to do in his seven years in the NBA.