Minnesota Timberwolves get: SG Kevin Martin (four years, $30 million), re-signed SF Chase Budinger (three years, $16 million), re-signed Corey Brewer (three years, $15 million)
Milwaukee Bucks get: PG Luke Ridnour, Minnesota second round draft pick
Oklahoma City Thunder get: The draft rights to second round PF Szymon Szewczyk. Szeriously.
Brooklyn Nets get: F Andrei Kirilenko (three years, $9 million)
In a series of transactions that slapped each other like dominoes, five major league basketball players switched squads as if a group of GMs played a round of high stakes musical chairs.
The Timberwolves were at the center here, first passing on the opportunity to re-sign Kirilenko after the Russian forward opted out of a Minnesota contract that would have paid him $10 million this year. Vastly overestimating the market of contending teams that would offer him the same money over multiple years, AK47 signed a cut rate deal with the Brooklyn Nets for three years and $9 million, with the third year being a player option. With that extra money coming off the books, the Wolves re-signed forward Chase Budinger, brought back their 2007 number 7 draft pick Corey Brewer and dumped Luke Ridnour onto the Bucks in order to sign-and-trade for Kevin Martin. For their participation in facilitating Martin’s end of the transaction, the Oklahoma City Thunder got the rights to 2009 second round draft pick and Polish sensation Szymon Szewczyk, who may never play in the NBA. Even amidst all these signings, the Timberwolves still have enough cap room to retain free agent center Nikola Pekovic and possibly still be under the luxury tax threshold (depending on how nuts they decide to go with his contract).
The obvious goal here for the Wolves was to load up on as many athletic wing players and shooters as possible to complement the aforementioned Pekovic, not to mention rebounding machine Kevin Love and point guard Ricky Rubio. Budinger and Martin are potential assassins from long range, with Chase hitting above 40% just two years ago in Houston and K-Mart hitting on 42% of his tries last year in Oklahoma City. They’re not much in the way of stoppers, which is why I suspect one of the two will often be paired with Corey Brewer at either SG or SF. The former 7th pick of the Wolves six years ago returns to Minnesota, with new GM Flip Saunders clearly trying to undo some of the damage that former chief David Kahn unleashed on the poor basketball fans of Minneapolis. Brewer has devolved into a relatively horrific three point shooter (29% last year), but is an absolutely lethal finisher in transition and is one of the craftiest wing defenders in the league. He’ll function in largely the same capacity as he did last year with Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler in Denver. The team will miss Kirilenko, who in essence is the best version of Corey Brewer imported from Mother Russia, but have found a way to replace a lot of his production for a fraction of the price.
I’m not sure exactly how much these additions turn the needle for the Wolves next season because I truly don’t know how good they were to begin with. It seemed that every player on the roster went down with injury last season, with Kirilenko, Pekovic, Rubio, Budinger, Love and Brandon Roy missing 18, 20, 25, 59, 64 and 77 games, respectively. The pieces look like they fit here, but Martin and Budinger can’t afford to have down seasons shooting the rock, while Pekovic needs to be re-signed as the pivot for post offense. However, if all the pieces fall into place as they look like they should, the Timberwolves could make the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons.
It’s amazing to think that Andrei Kirilenko got less guaranteed money this season than Earl Clark. AK returned to the US after a year playing in Russia and signed a surprising deal with the Timberwolves. Even more surprising, he played as if he had never left the NBA, throwing down a very Kirilenko-ian line of 12.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.5 stp and 1 bpg. He wasn’t quite the three-point marksman he was in 2010-2011 (at .367), but shot a career-high .507 from the field overall and played his usual tenacious defense. For his work, Kirilenko opted out of his $10 million dollar deal for this year, hoping for more money over more years. Stunningly, he found no takers and instead settled for less guaranteed money over two years ($6 million) than he would have been paid for one year’s worth of work next year for Minny.
Still, the draw of playing for the Brooklyn Nets is obvious: he’ll be playing for a presumably contending team under the stewardship of BK Czar Mikhail Prokorhov. Though I have a sickening feeling that Mikhail knows the names, addresses, heights and weights of Kirilenko’s entire extended family, this isn’t a bad deal for an aging forward that just wants to win. The Nets made the most gigantic splash of the offseason, paying nearly $83 million in just luxury taxes to assemble a deep team of All-Stars, future Hall of Famers and NBA Champions. Brooklyn’s front court is currently stacked, with Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez, Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans rounding out a very tough, very imposing big man corps that can play with any unit in the league. That being established, I see AK’s time mostly being spent at the swing man, where he’ll spell the 35 year-old Paul Pierce for somewhere between 25-30 minutes a night. They’ll need his defense on the wing, as Pierce, a 36 year-old Jason Terry and Deron Williams aren’t exactly stoppers.
The Bucks got a second round pick for taking on Luke Rudnour’s contract. He’s a slightly underrated, steady option at point guard, who’s a smart passer, good ball handler and a surprisingly great finisher at the rack. However, with the Bucks having no franchise player on board (that includes you, Brandon Jennings), there’s really no reason to spend $4 million dollars on a gamer like Ridnour when they should be rebuilding.
With Martin’s departure, the Thunder are left with the following items exchanged for All-Star James Harden: Szymon Szewczyk, Jeremy Lamb and 2013 draftee Steven Adams. The meter is still running on Lamb and Adams obviously, but right now it’s a pretty paltry return for one of the best players in the league.