August 14, 2005

Cassell for Jaric

The Timberwolves made a big trade over the weekend, sending Sam Cassell and next year's first-round pick (lottery protected) to the Clippers for Marko Jaric and Lionel Chalmers. The Wolves are saying all sorts of great things about Jaric, whom they have apparently been after for some time now. However, while I'm generally a big fan of tall, versatile, pass-first point guards -- and I think Jaric is a nice player -- this wasn't a particularly good move.

New coach Dwane Casey has been stressing the fact that he wants the offense to play up tempo more often and he wants the roster to be more versatile both offensively and defensively. That's all music to my ears and Jaric certainly fits a fast-paced, ball-handling system better than Cassell does, but if that's been the plan all along why did the team draft Rashad McCants back in June?

McCants is undersized for a shooting guard, doesn't handle the ball well enough to play point guard, and is limited defensively. In other words, he's exactly the sort of player you wouldn't look to acquire if your goal was to build a team of guys like Jaric. You'd have drafted, say, Danny Granger, who is versatile enough to play 3-4 different positions on both offense and defense.

In fact, while all the "Scottie Pippen light" comparisons are a little over the top, I'd say Granger would have been the perfect guy to draft for the type of team Casey has since said he envisions the Wolves having. Instead, they now have McCants and Wally Szczerbiak to team up with Jaric, two guys who are about as far from fast-paced and versatile as you can get.

The Cassell-Jaric deal looks to me like two steps forward and one step back. I would have been in favor of swapping Cassell for Jaric, but adding in the first rounder defeats part of the purpose of such a deal. If you want to get younger and more athletic and you're willing to deal the team's second-best player to do so, why give up what will likely be a top-20 pick in next year's draft in the process?

Kevin McHale tried to answer that question by saying the team's "young base is pretty solid," which led to the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Jeff Shelman writing the following:

It's also a reflection on how much younger the Timberwolves have gotten since missing the playoffs this spring.

McCants left North Carolina following his junior season, and Wolves second-round draft pick Bracey Wright left Indiana University. Free-agent signee Nikoloz Tskitishvili is 22 years old. Eddie Griffin, who has all but officially re-signed, still is only 23. And then there's Dwayne Jones, the 22-year-old undrafted big man who signed with the Wolves this summer.

As my fellow Timberwolves fans can attest to, we've been hearing the "this team is really young" line for about the last decade or so. It was true when Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury first arrived on the scene, and even when Szczerbiak and William Avery were added to the Marbury-less team in 1999, but to describe the current roster as young is silly.

Who are the young guys? Well, McCants, Ndudi Ebi, and Eddie Griffin, basically. Bracey Wright is young, but he's unlikely to make any sort of significant impact and, if past second-round picks are any indication, may not even make the team. Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Dwayne Jones are two guys who the team acquired for essentially nothing earlier this offseason, one after he was let go by his second NBA team and the other after no one drafted him.

The actual core of the team isn't particularly young at all. Garnett is 29, Szczerbiak is 28, and now Jaric is 27. Troy Hudson is 29 and Michael Olowokandi is 30 (and it pains me to include them as the "core" of this team). You can't label a team "young" based on two first-round picks and a bunch of guys who will be lucky to shuttle back and forth from the end of the bench to the disabled list all season.

The Boston Celtics are young. They have Tony Allen, Marcus Banks, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, and Delonte West. The Atlanta Hawks are young, with Josh Childress, Al Harrington, Zaza Pachulia, Josh Smith, and Marvin Williams. The Portland Trail Blazers, with Jarrett Jack, Darius Miles, Travis Outlaw, Zach Randolph, Sebastian Telfair, and Martell Webster, are young.

Last year's Chicago Bulls were young and they were good. They had Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, and Luol Deng. And do you know how they got young and good? They used a whole bunch of first-round picks. The Timberwolves are just mediocre and remaking their roster, which leads to things like talking up Eddie Griffin as a key part of your team or mentioning Bracey Wright, period.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- The Next Big Thing (by Aaron Gleeman)

Today's Picks (87-74, +$1,240):
Boston (Arroyo) -150 over Detroit (Douglass)

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