What have we, and the Timberwolves, learned from the NBA’s latest free-agent fusillade?
That maximum contracts, designed to maintain competitive balance, instead create super teams, because star players, given a limit on what they can earn, often choose the best chance to win.
That personalities matter. LeBron James wouldn’t have left Cleveland for Miami had he not been friends with Dwyane Wade and an admirer of Pat Riley’s, and Kevin Durant wouldn’t have left Oklahoma City for Golden State if he wasn’t impressed with the Warriors organization and friendly with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
That glamour doesn’t matter as much as we once thought. Cleveland, Miami and Golden State have outperformed the Lakers and Knicks in recent free agency.
That despite the shocking prices, no one should complain about NBA player salaries. The NBA is rich. The owners are rich. And you can’t find anyone in the league complaining about having to pay star players maximum contracts. If an NBA franchise can’t make money under the current system, it is poorly run.
That Tom Thibodeau’s importance to the Wolves organization can’t be overstated. He’s the coach. He’s the basketball boss. And until Karl-Anthony Towns becomes a star who has all the other NBA stars’ numbers on speed dial — which could happen as soon as this season — Thibodeau will be the Wolves’ primary recruiter. Thibodeau will be an assistant coach on the U.S. basketball team in Rio, giving him a chance to impress NBA stars in a way that could pay off in years to come.
That the popular notion among NBA-bashers that NBA stars are shot-hogging, money-grubbing prima donnas is silly. Durant never complained about sharing the ball with Russell Westbrook, then signed with a team that has three excellent, high-volume shooters. James signed with Miami knowing that Wade and Chris Bosh would get plenty of shots.
That the Wolves’ ambitions might mesh well with the future of the Western Conference, if you believe that Durant might leave the Warriors in one or two years. By the time the Wolves should be ready to contend for a title, Durant may have left the Warriors and the Spurs’ core stars may all be diminished or retired.
That location still is a problem. The Wolves didn’t have any luck with any of the free agents who should have been interested in playing in Minnesota, including Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. To draw top free agents, the Wolves’ assets will have to far outweigh their most enduring negative — that when an NBA player steps outside during a Minneapolis winter, his face will hurt. At the moment the Wolves, for all of their promise, are a 29-win team with a history of organizational missteps.
That if you can’t sign the star you want, look for less-celebrated value. The Wolves didn’t dramatically improve their roster in free agency, but the one player they have signed so far — Cole Aldrich — should be an asset. He was one of the most efficient big men in the game last season and adds depth to a previously shallow frontcourt. Only in the NBA can a $22 million contract be considered a bargain, but in a league as bloated with TV dollars as the NBA is, Aldrich could prove to be just that.
That if you can’t help yourself, remember not to hurt yourself. The urge to win now can cause NBA teams to make foolish decisions. While the Wolves didn’t dramatically improve their roster, they didn’t make any desperate big-money signings that will hurt them in the long run.
The Wolves weren’t going to win it all in the upcoming season no matter what they did in free agency. They didn’t sign anyone who is going to take shots away from their best young players or limit their future ability to sign quality players.
This wasn’t the summer to roll the dice on risky acquisitions, even if a risky player had wanted to come to Minnesota. There is no reason not to be patient while Thibodeau figures out exactly what he has, and what he needs.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org