Uncertainty surrounds Timberwolves entering NBA Draft
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Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn insists he is finished overhauling his team's roster.
It is yet to be seen if Kahn will stay true to his new mantra, but the implications of such a statement weigh heavily on the team entering the NBA Draft on Thursday.
At No. 2, the Wolves hold their highest pick in the history of the franchise. However, instead of a feeling of optimism, this year's draft is surrounded by guarded skepticism.
If widely heralded guard Kyrie Irving indeed goes to the Cleveland Cavaliers with the top pick, Arizona forward Derrick Williams almost undoubtedly is the best option at No. 2. With concerns of his similarities to current Wolves' forward Michael Beasley aside, Williams, a 6-foot-9 combo-forward, is an explosive young talent armed with a scoring touch that helped him wreak havoc in the NCAA last year. Given leeway to adjust to the pro game, Williams can contribute quality minutes for the Wolves next year.
But drafting and keeping Williams isn't a given. Kahn expressed his reservations of banking on prospects to develop into solid NBA players when he addressed the media on Tuesday during the team's introduction of 2009 first-round pick Ricky Rubio.
"Derrick, I think, will have a fine NBA career. But like so many of these guys, they're so young," Kahn said. "We're forever having to draft people on potential, not body of work...
"You just try to do the best you can melding the two worlds of statistics, which is very important to me, melding the kind of gut instinct, the kind of look and feel. It's a very -- it's hard. It's very hard."
Kahn can be forgiven for his tentativeness. For the first time in his two-year tenure, the Wolves have the upper hand entering the draft, holding a highly coveted bargaining chip with the second pick. With that come high expectations.
Trading the selection has the potential to yield fruitful results, if the right deal can be found. As the draft has neared, the Wolves have had increasing talks with several teams. Deals to bring in Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut, Lakers center Andrew Bynum, Indiana's Roy Hibbert and even Phoenix's Steve Nash are rumored to have been discussed.
Making a move for a veteran player is directly in line with Kahn's idea of building off his current roster. The Wolves have four players with six or more years of NBA experience-- Luke Ridnour (eight), Darko Milicic (eight), Sebastian Telfair (seven) and Martell Webster (six). None of them, however, are game-changing playmakers.
The Wolves would benefit from having a seasoned veteran who could start right away, as well as bring leadership and added stability to the team. Whether that happens through the draft or during free agency is unclear.
"It's hard right now, because I think we all recognize, 'Boy, it sure would be nice to have a couple of veterans on the team who could really help both in the locker room (and) on the court in a number of ways,'" Kahn said. "And even the players say that. But as soon as you ask them, 'Well, are you willing to like play 20 less minutes' and 'it's your job that we're talking about taking away,' they start to think about it a little bit, and I'm the same way."
Kahn historically is far from passive on draft day. Numerous trades allowed his team to make a total of 11 selections in the last two drafts. The end result Kahn envisioned is yet to be realized. Four of those 11 draftees were on last year's squad - Jonny Flynn (2009 - No. 6), Wayne Ellington (2009 - No. 28), Wesley Johnson (2010 - No. 4) and Lazar Hayward">Lazar Hayward (2010 - No. 35). Johnson is only one in the group to have started on a daily basis during the 2010-11 season as none of them averaged more than nine points per game.
The Wolves have had success when trading their top pick. Sitting at No. 3 in the 2008 draft, they selected O.J. Mayo, only to later swap with the Memphis Grizzles for future All-star Kevin Love. But that was a move done by former general manager Kevin McHale.
Assistant general manager Tony Ronzone has maintained throughout the Wolves' pre-draft workouts the team is content staying with their pick at No. 2. That easily could be a smokescreen, but it does fit with what Kahn has done in previous drafts.
He has never traded a top-10 pick. Johnson, Rubio and Flynn- all whom were taken with the fourth, fifth and sixth picks in their respective drafts - are on the Wolves' current roster, although Flynn seems to be on his way out. With this in mind, moving their selection at No. 20 is a more likely scenario. Doing so wouldn't bring in a marquee player like trading the second pick would, though it could produce a key role player if packaged correctly.
Whatever the Wolves decide to do on Thursday night, it won't be without heightened scrutiny from those watching the draft from afar. Patience needs to be used when evaluating the expectations for the Wolves next season. But the team has reached a point where giving its squad another year to develop is no longer acceptable. With his job security in the balance, pressure is on Kahn , starting with this year's draft, to produce tangible results.
"The team that we inherited, at least in my estimation, wasn't terribly talented," Kahn said. "I'm not saying that as a knock on anybody. We've been trying to add talent, and it is young talent, and it puts pressure on everybody, and the (question) is, at what point do you feel you have enough talent where you sprinkle in the experience versus do you even have enough talent?
"Those conversations occur not only in our offices every day, but part of the reason I don't sleep at night is thinking about those things nonstop.
A look at Wolves' previous drafts under Kahn
Pick Name Position Current team
No. 4 Wesley Johnson SF Wolves
No. 23 Trevor Booker PF Washington
-- The Wolves traded the rights to Booker and 56th pick Hamady N'Diaye for No. 30 Hayward and No. 35 pick Nemanja Bjelica.
No. 45 Paulao Prestes C CB Granada (Euroleague)
No. 56 Hamady N'Diaye C Washington
-- Sent to Washington in deal for Hayward
Pick Name Position Current team
No. 5 Ricky Rubio G Wolves
No. 6 Jonny Flynn G Wolves
No. 18 Ty Lawson G Denver
-- The Wolves acquired Denver's 2010 first round pick (No. 16) in exchange for Lawson.
No. 28 Wayne Ellington G Wolves
No. 45 Nick Calathes G Panathinaikos (Euroleague)
-- Traded to Dallas for a future pick and cash considerations
No. 47 Hank Norel PF DKV Joventut (Spanish league)