Suspending reality, sanity to make a 74-8 Timberwolves team
MINNEAPOLIS -- LeBron James! Stephen Curry! Kevin Durant! All together in Minnesota to form a Timberwolves superpower that would make the U.S.S.R. blush.For real? Not unless a number of general managers are struck with some very novel ideas about...
MINNEAPOLIS - LeBron James! Stephen Curry! Kevin Durant! All together in Minnesota to form a Timberwolves superpower that would make the U.S.S.R. blush.
For real? Not unless a number of general managers are struck with some very novel ideas about roster construction. Any actual Wolves moves ahead of the Feb. 18 trade deadline will almost certainly be of a much more pedestrian scale - perhaps unloading a veteran or taking calls on the likes of Shabazz Muhammad.
But this isn’t an exercise in reality: It’s an unhinged thought experiment on how much talent Minnesota could in theory amass, within NBA salary cap regulations and with the benefit of a bout of temporary insanity across the rest of the league. In the middle of the team’s 11th straight losing season, think of it as a tropical vacation for your imagination.
To get there, we used ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine, which distills the league’s byzantine transaction rules into a sort of plug-and-play game.
The same expensive, struggling roster that has produced an unsightly real-life record makes the Wolves a prime contender to improve via fake deals. Few teams may want the injury-plagued Nikola Pekovic for two more years and $24 million, for instance - but his big contract matches up nicely with those of far more productive players who could take his place.
The trade machine weighs the production a team is shipping out against what it’s getting in return, and spits out the number of wins it expects the team to gain - or lose - as a result of the deal. It doesn’t give a baseline of how many wins it expects from the original roster; before the season, ESPN projected the Wolves to win 27 games.
Our first flight-of-fancy move was to swap the Wolves’ least productive player (as measured by Player Efficiency Rating) for the league’s most productive - Golden State guard and living basketball god Stephen Curry. Minnesota’s worst player who matches Curry’s $11.3 million salary is Pekovic.
That improves the Wolves by 14 wins, and knocks Golden State down by two, according to Trade Machine math. The first number seems conservative and the latter absurd, but we don’t make the rules.
Trade the Kevins
After Curry, we’re going after Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. He’ll cost the Wolves a pair of Kevins in return - Martin and Garnett. As much as it pains us to part with KG yet again, the deal nets the Wolves another 14 wins, for a total boost of 28.
We can bump that to 30 by keeping Garnett and remixing the deal with an assortment of role players and spare parts - Adriean Payne, Damjan Rudez, Tyus Jones and Nemanja Bjelica all get shipped out in this version.
KG’s reprieve is short-lived, because we’re going to use him to shore up the frontcourt. He and Rubio will fetch LeBron James from Cleveland, for a total of 34 extra wins.
Or he’ll be part of a torturous puzzle that involves just about everyone on Minnesota’s bench and lands San Antonio swingman Kawhi Leonard to get it to 35.
Get the $1M player who delivers
That leaves the Wolves with seven players on the roster. We like their chances - but we can still do better by eschewing star power for players who offer bang for the buck. Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, for instance, has the league’s ninth-best PER and is making less than $1 million.
Whether those stats actually translate to success is an open question, but throwing him in a trade along with Curry and Durant gives the Wolves a total of 38 extra wins, according to the trade machine’s math.
Swap Ricky Rubio for Durant’s teammate Russell Westbrook in the same deal and it’s 42.
Find a way to bring back Thunder center Enes Kanter in the same deal and it’s 47 wins, setting the Wolves up to win something in the neighborhood of 74 games. That’d be an NBA record, of course. Or the Wolves could simply swap rosters with Golden State, which is currently on pace to win 75.
At this point, we tried to squeeze out a few more wins and broke the trade machine - it wouldn’t process deals with that many players in the mix. But if you can do better and dream up a more spectacular, less plausible roster, we’d love to hear about it.