Never Fold ‘Em, Always Hold ‘Em

By Darryl Howerton #21

I was talking Lakers soap opera with HOOP editor Ming Wong about how I thought Magic Johnson destroyed their roster by letting Mitch Kupchak’s players get away for very little in return.

Our story on the subject ran here.

I mean, Magic essentially gave up on Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Lou Williams and Ivica Zubac, and all the team now has to show for it is Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Moe Wagner.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

That is horrendous exchange rate.

As noted in the story, the Lakers did not even need to get rid of those players to have the cap space to sign LeBron James last summer.

I reiterated that the problem with most NBA general managers is that they give up on their 19-through-22-year-old prospects way too soon.

Furthermore, if teams just held on to their own talent, then organizations like the Philadelphia 76ers would never have to go through a foolish Process to rebuild on foundations made of quicksand.

I mean, that pre-Processed team of 2012 Philadelphia 76ers was much better than the franchise they have today. And that young squad came within a Game 7 of beating the Big 4 Boston Celtics and reaching the 2012 East Finals.

Instead, the 76ers organization tanked mercilessly for five years—going a miserable 109-301—when they would have been better off today had the Sixers done absolutely nothing and just kept the team they had and kept accumulating their own draft picks along the way.

PSA to NBA GMs: Just hold your hand.

Natural, organic growth is so much better than destroying your players with tanks.

I mean, those 2012 Sixers bring it up every time they get together, talking about how dumb management was to destroy their potential dynasty.

It’s worth repeating because those young Philly kids actually took the Hall-of-Fame quartet of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo to a Game 7 in the second round of the 2012 playoffs.

Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Those young and still-growing Pre-Process 76ers were:

Future All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, then 21 years old.

Future All-Star guard Jrue Holiday, then 21 years old.

Forward Thaddeus Young, then 23 years old.

Forward Evan Turner, then 23 years old.

Guard Lou Williams, then 25 years old.

All-Star guard-forward Andre Iguodala, then 28 years old.

Former All-Star forward-center Elton Brand, then 33 years old.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

That was a great, young roster just wasted by The Process to come. With the exception of Brand, the best was yet to come for every one of those players.

I did not even mention the potential draft picks and bargain free-agent additions they could have added to this stellar roster.

This type of mismanagement happens all the time. Even bad drafting teams—like the 2010s Sacramento Kings, for random example—have good picks in their attics when you begin to accumulate them—2010: DeMarcus Cousins (No. 5), Hassan Whiteside (No. 33); 2011: Isaiah Thomas (No. 60)—not to mention good prospects on their current books (De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley).

The trouble was, in most cases, these bad teams let young players get away for little in return (see Kings, see 76ers, see Lakers above).

I then challenged Ming to name a team—any bad team—and I’d be able to name the good players they could have today if they just held onto their own prospects.

He said Minnesota.

I hereby accept the challenge.

You won’t see Andrew Wiggins’ name on the list below because he was acquired in a trade for another drafted Timberwolf, Kevin Love.

You will see Lauri Markkanen’s name because he was drafted and included in a trade to Chicago with O.G. (Organically Grown) T-Wolves Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn for Jimmy Butler.

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I did not include undrafted rookies like Cameron Reynolds and Sean Kilpatrick because they originally signed with other teams before Minnesota signed them. I did include Jared Terrell because he was signed by Minnesota first as an undrafted rookie.

Without further ado, here are the O.G. Minnesota Timberwolves:

O.G. Timberwolves (Oganically Grown)

 2018-19  NBA Draft  Total Minutes  G (MPG)  PPG  RPG  APG  EPM  EPM Wins  Salary
23yo C Karl-Anthony Towns 2015 #1  2545 77 (33.1)  24.4  12.4  3.4  +6.00  13.82 $7.8 mil
24yo F-G Zach LaVine 2014 #13  2171 63 (34.5)  23.7  4.7  4.5  +1.10  5.71 $19.5 mil
30yo F Nemanja Bjelica 2010 #35*  1788 77 (23.2)  9.6  5.8  1.9  +0.83  4.43 $6.5 mil
28yo G Ricky Rubio 2009 #5  1899 68 (27.9)  12.7  3.6  6.1  +0.33  4.16 $14.8 mil
21yo F Lauri Markkanen 2017 #7  1682 52 (32.3)  18.7  9.0  1.4  +0.65  3.99 $4.5 mil
22yo G Tyus Jones 2015 #24*  1560 68 (22.9)  6.9  2.0  4.8  -0.56  2.62 $2.4 mil
29yo C Gorgui Dieng 2013 #21*  1031 76 (13.6)  6.4  4.1  0.9  +0.82  2.54 $15.2 mil
30yo F Kevin Love 2008 #5*  598 22 (27.2)  17.0  10.9  2.2  +2.30  1.98 $24.1 mil
31yo G Wayne Ellington 2009 #28  1297 53 (24.5)  10.3  2.0  1.4  -1.76  1.29 $6.3 mil
25yo G Kris Dunn 2016 #5  1389 46 (30.2)  11.3  4.1  6.0  -2.16  1.07 $4.2 mil
20yo G Josh Okogie 2018 #20  1757 74 (23.7)  7.7  2.9  1.2  -2.79  0.72 $2.2 mil
33yo F Corey Brewer 2007 #7  492 & 31 (15.9)  4.9  2.5  1.3  -1.54  0.55 (0.35 &) $2.5 mil
25yo F Glenn Robinson 2014 #40  610 47 (13.0)  4.2  1.5  0.4  -3.30  0.07 $4.1 mil
23yo F Keita Bates-Diop 2018 #48  503 30 (16.8)  5.0  2.8  0.6  -3.69  -0.06 $0.8 mil
24yo G Jared Terrell 2-Way Contract  111 &  14 (7.9)  2.2  0.9  0.2  -9.27  -0.37 (0.00 &) 2-Way Contract
31yo F Wesley Johnson 2010 #4  534 38 (14.1)  3.4  1.9  0.6  -5.95  -0.75  $6.1 mil
TOTAL  19,680 &  41.94 $121.0 mil
Stats through 2018-19 regular season
G (MPG): Games (Minutes Per Game); PPG: Points Per Game; RPG: Rebounds Per Game; APG (Assists Per Game); TSP: True Shooting Percentage; EPM: Efficient Plus-Minus; EPM Wins: Efficient Plus-Minus Wins; mil: millions; #yo: age years old; @ hypothetical number; & took all 111 minutes away from Terrell and 176 minutes from Corey Brewer to make totals work. 
Sources: Basketball-Reference


Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

My Efficient Plus-Minus metrics tell me this team would have won 42 games this season—even with Kevin Love missing 60 games to injury!

Who knows how many postseason runs they’ve already gone on with an All-Star front court tandem of Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Love as a premier inside-outside combo from either direction?

Who knows how great this organically-grown team would be in the 2020s decade with a starting lineup of Towns, Love, Zach LaVine, Wayne Ellington and Ricky Rubio, while Kris Dunn, Nemanja Bjelica and Gorgui Dieng came off the bench, as prospects Markkanen, Josh Okogie and Tyus Jones developed alongside them?

I tell ya, it is a lot better future than Minnesota’s current Timberwolves, who have only won 159 games in five seasons since they traded Love, Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved in a three-way trade for Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young in the summer of 2014.

Hold your prospects, GMs.