MINNEAPOLIS — As both the Minnesota Wild and their crosstown counterpart Timberwolves continue to sputter towards their respective All-Star breaks, I think we’ve seen enough of both teams to come to a similar conclusion.
Both teams appear to have just enough heart and talent to scratch their way into their respective playoffs. That said, they could both very well could come up short and miss the postseason. Based on what we’ve seen so far in terms of resiliency by both teams, let’s just give them the benefit of the doubt that they sneak in.
Does anyone believe that either of these teams, in their current forms, has the talent to make a serious title run? Right. So let’s just stop pretending, and start by preparing for change.
I know when I’m asking for roster changes, I’m asking for trouble. After all, when it comes to sports and Minnesota all you have to say is 'Herschel Walker' and we’re immediately (and rightly) remembered for being on the wrong end of one of the worst trades in pro sports history. Top-5, easy.
Then factor in the Wild, a team that once traded defensemen Nick Leddy, (who’d only been a standout in these parts since middle school) and Kim Johnsson to Chicago for a guy named Cam Barker. Leddy was part of three Stanley Cup winners as a Black Hawk, while the constantly under-achieving Barker was waived the year after he arrived in Minny.
Don’t think you’re getting out of here unscathed, tumultuous Timberwolves. Remember, this is the franchise that passed on Steph Curry not once... but twice in the first round of the NBA draft. And long before that (1996 to be exact) the Wolves drafted, then traded future Hall-of-Famer Ray Allen for Stephon Marbury.
For those of us who wondered what a team anchored by Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen would have looked like we had to wait until 2008 when in the twilight of their careers, Garnett and Allen were still good enough to win an NBA title. For the Boston Celtics, not the Timberwolves.
As we know all too well, outside of the Minnesota Lynx success has been hard to come by in these parts, and I don’t think anybody is excited about another first round exit from the playoffs (no matter what team we're talking about). So, it’s time to think bigger and BEYOND this single season. That means considering undoing two of the best moves each of these franchises has ever made.
Back in 2015, with the Wild having lost six straight and 12 of their last 14, GM Chuck Fletcher sent a third round draft pick to the Arizona Coyotes for a relatively unknown backup goaltender by the name of Devan Dubnyk.
All Dubnyk did upon arriving in Minnesotal was shut out the Buffalo Sabres, sparking an unlikely run that saw Duby start 39 of the teams’ final 40-games, posting a record of 27-wins against 9-losses and 2-ties.
Dubnyk’s surprising play earned him a 6-year, $26-million dollar contract, which this year (at a salary of $4.3 million) makes him 21st out of the league's 31 starting goalies in terms of salary.
Dubs will be the Wild’s lone representative at the All-Star game in San Jose the weekend of January 24-27, and GM Paul Fenton should be dangling all 6-foot, 6-inches of his franchise goalie in front of anyone who will show interest.
This is nothing personal against Dubnyk, who’s been nothing shot of a model citizen and an ideal teammate since arriving. It's about buying low and selling high, and Dubnyk might never have higher trade potential. And frankly, the Wild don’t really have many more appealing options.
Team captain Mikko Koivu is 35 years old. Ryan Suter is 33 and Zach Parise turns 35 in July. While Koivu’s diminishing skills make him undesirable to a trade partner, the contracts of Suter and Parise make them untradeable. Career under-achievers like Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter have to be considered, but you have to wonder what you’d get back. Ideally, the Wild shouldn't give up on young players like Mikael Granlund or Jason Zucker, as goals are already hard enough for this team to come by.
One move that seems inevitable is for center Eric Staal (playing on an expiring 3-year contract) to become a playoff rental at the trade deadline.
But bottom line... the Wild need to think bigger. When Dubnyk is on he can be great but as we all know, when he’s off... he goes through streaks where he couldn’t stop a beach ball. Especially in must-win, must-save situations.
The advice here is to sell now, when Dubnyk is going good. He turns 33 in the off-season and if you think we’re going to see him play better in the future, you’re kidding yourself.
The same thing applies to T-Wolves point guard Derrick Rose.
Signed as a free-agent last March, Rose is only 30-years old. But in terms of his injury history, he’s MUCH older than that. Like Dubnyk, Rose (when healthy) has been a fantastic addition to a young roster. He’s good in the clubhouse and has already made the Wolves look smart for signing him to a one-year, $2.4 million contract.
Rose said as recently as last week that he likes it here and that he hopes to come back, saying he feels indebted to the Wolves for giving him a shot when nobody else would.
That all SOUNDS great, and I’ll admit it’s rare to hear any athlete say that about Minnesota... even more so when they’re talking about the T-Wolves... and I have no reason to believe that Rose was anything else than 100% sincere when he said it.
However, if Derrick Rose gets his latest issue with his right ankle resolved and starts scoring big, it’s time to field offers... or at least have conversations. Rose may have a place in his heart for the franchise that gave the former NBA MVP a chance to revive his career, but as we all know, sentiment only goes so far when it collides with dollar signs.
Both of these teams are dealing with long-term contract situations that have left them limited in terms of what they can do. As such, no player can be considered untouchable, especially two athletes who have reached 30 and are considered to not only be productive, but would seem to be each team’s most tradeable asset given their respective current circumstances.
Would either deal give either team a better chance of going farther this season? Probably not. But come this time next season we’ll be regretting not having made those moves if each team simply stands pat.
Minnesotans know all too well that first round playoff exits are nothing to celebrate.