MINNEAPOLIS — Rick Adelman was very clear last week. He doesn’t deal with the future. He deals with the here and now, and for the past week, that’s been tougher than ever for the Minnesota Timberwolves coach.
No, this isn’t another story about Ricky Rubio’s season-ending injury. (But what’s a Timberwolves story without a mention of it?) That was over, finished and resolved just hours after the point guard’s twisting fall. What’s really made Adelman’s life difficult over the past couple weeks is something nagging. It’s a dull ache, far from the sharp tear of an ACL, more annoying than devastating: trade rumors.
But at 2:01 p.m. Thursday, things became easier. As the 2012 NBA trade deadline — delayed 20 days by the lockout — finally faded into the past, Adelman was in the clear. Despite weeks of speculation, president David Kahn and the Timberwolves didn’t make a deal, and that just might have been the right option for this young team, no matter how uncertain its near-term future looks today.
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After weeks of speculation — first Derrick Williams to the Lakers, then Michael Beasley to the Lakers, maybe Luke Ridnour to Portland — the only Timberwolves-related news on Thursday was that the 2012 second-round pick the team traded to Houston was sent to Portland. That’s not exactly Jamal Crawford in a Timberwolves jersey, but at least the rumors got the team correct, right?
Now, the dust settles. Beasley will sit on the Timberwolves’ bench on Thursday at Utah, and Ridnour will start at point guard just as he always does. Rubio will still be gone, but instead of panicking (We need a point guard! We need one now!) or dealing a player the team has invested in (Beasley), the Timberwolves will finish out 2011-12 with nearly the same cast that started it.
Here on the other side of the madness, in which the Lakers dealt near-lifer Derrick Fisher to the Trail Blazers — who in turn seemed to trade away their entire team in a fashion reminiscent of baseball’s Marlins but without a championship ring — the Timberwolves made a prudent decision to stay put. This is a team that had self-admittedly been exceeding expectations, and to shake up that chemistry when the Wolves are at their most vulnerable would have been a high-risk move. Sure, Crawford would have provided a spark to the lineup, but it would have been a short-term solution, one that made less than perfect sense.
To get the Portland guard, the Timberwolves most likely would have had to deal Ridnour, who’s averaging 11.5 points this season and having something of a career year. Ridnour has been getting better as the season has progressed, averaging 13.4 points and 5.6 assists so far in March. But beyond the numbers, he is a seasoned veteran with eight years of experience; even his quiet demeanor belies the fact he’s a wise voice in the locker room, a player who’s won before in the NBA. Even Kevin Love can’t provide that.
Besides Derrick Williams, whose name faded quickly from trade rumors after it was first introduced in February, only one other Timberwolf was mentioned earnestly in trade talks: Michael Beasley. He couldn’t be more different from Ridnour — besides his reluctance to chat at any length — but his value to the Timberwolves down the stretch might even exceed that of the point guard. And, frankly, it just wouldn’t have made sense to trade him right now.
Sure, Beasley could be gone when he’s a free agent at the end of the season, his chaotic career the project of some other coach and general manager. But he’s been riding the bench for most of the season, and that’s precisely why the Timberwolves should get every minute out of the small forward they can. Most obviously, he hasn’t had his best season, so his trade value is diminished. But Beasley’s situation is more complicated than that.
The small forward, who began the season as a starter, missed 11 games with a foot injury in January and hasn’t returned to the starting lineup since. For now, Beasley has become something of a project. He’s never been known for his defense, and as one of the top high school and collegiate players in the country, he was allowed to get away with a one-sided game. But Adelman and his staff have made a concerted effort to turn Beasley into a more complete player, benching him while he works on his defense. In the minutes he does play, though, Beasley is still an offensive threat.
The Timberwolves have made an investment in Beasley’s future, readying him as a weapon down the stretch. If they were going to trade him, why bother to do that? Why not keep his scoring punch in the lineup, which sorely lacks an effective small forward? Trading Beasley would have been the worst return on that investment, and if the Timberwolves can manage to get back on the playoff-bound path, Beasley might just be the spark the team needs on offense.
For the Timberwolves, March 15 was just another day on paper. The lineup will stay the same. No lockers will be unpacked; no goodbyes exchanged. But things will be different. The speculation that caused anxious and aggravated tweets from players for most of the week — including a sarcastic message from Kevin Love that he’d been traded — is no more, and a measure of certainty can return to the Timberwolves ranks.
Most important, Adelman can be confident that the present is enough and the future can take on a new meaning. It’s no longer trades and possible new players. It’s a bigger question — Can this team make the playoffs? — and now Adelman knows what he’s working with as he tries to answer it.