Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What Now?

It’s been almost a week since the NBA draft. In that time, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around everything that went down and, to be honest, I (like many others) am still thoroughly confused with the Timberwolves picks. Coming into the night, I was extremely optimistic and downright giddy. We had rid ourselves of the perceived cancer and draft destroyer, Kevin McHale. We had six picks to infuse talent into a completely overhauled roster and take a giant step in the makeover that new VP of Basketball Operations David Kahn had promised. Then, in the course of about two hours, I went from optimistic to…well, I don’t know what I feel. Some combination of shocked, confused, disappointed, and angry.

The biggest reason for optimism started at the top of the draft. The Wolves held two of the top six picks in the draft. Depending on how picks 2-4 played out (with Griffin the obvious #1), we were going to have a lot of options to possibly rebuild our now nonexistent backcourt. I know everyone was saying that this was one of the weaker draft classes in recent history, but you have to like your team’s odds when they have picks five and 6—unless your team is the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In true Minnesota fashion, the draft could not have unfolded worse prior to our picks. In my personal best case scenario, the Wolves would have been able to select Tyreke Evans and their choice of point guard from Jonny Flynn, Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, etc. I figured that even in the worst case scenario we’d be able to take one of those guards with James Harden and at least fill a need. But then, in the bat of an eye, Thabeet, Harden, and Evans were all gone and the Wolves were left standing with a horde of point guards available—and not much else. The best available player was Ricky Rubio. Despite my personal concerns about the hype surrounding him, the pick made sense (although I had no idea just how much he didn’t want to play here).

Minnesota's first superstar since KG or yet another draft blunder?

Sitting on the clock at 6, I had to assume we were in multiple trade talks. Whether it was to trade Rubio, whom many teams coveted, and take a different point guard, or to trade the 6 pick, I assumed we were making a deal. I was wrong. The Wolves went with Jonny Flynn, the point guard out of Syracuse. We had just taken two point guards with top 6 picks. Everyone in the house, on the radio, on ESPN, hell, just everyone was confused. Surely a trade was coming now.

Then Mr. Kahn got on the radio and told all of the Timberwolves faithful (both of them) that we were in fact keeping both players. He saw Flynn as more of a scoring guard with Rubio being the orchestra conductor and believed they would fit in and play together nicely. All of that is well and good except for the fact that our new “scoring” guard is 5’11”. I thought this had to all be smoke while he worked out a deal. You know, not giving away anything while the details were still being worked out. Yet here we are a week later and nothing has happened.

Great pick, but is he a "scoring" guard?

Well, I shouldn’t say nothing has happened. We have learned that young Mr. Rubio wants absolutely nothing to do with this state or this franchise. Awesome. The first correct, promising, talented draft pick we’ve had since Kevin Garnett thinks it’s too cold in Minnesota (someone’s been talking to Stephon Marbury apparently). Now the rumors are flying around: he’s going to stay in Spain for at least 1-2 more years, he’s going to sign with a team in Turkey, he’s going to get traded, and so on. Well, this sucks. I mean, if we have to trade him, then so be it; just as long as we get equal value for him. That doesn’t seem likely to happen as the only team rumored to be talking to the Wolves are the New York Knicks. The deal I hear most often has David Lee and Nate Robinson coming here (possibly with a pick) for Ricky. Um, no thanks. We already have a 5’11” shooting guard, we don’t need a 5’7” point guard (Robinson). I, like most Minnesota fans, assume that this is going to end badly.

Let’s not focus on the negative anymore. There was some good that came from the 2009 Draft. With the 18th overall pick, the Wolves selected Ty Lawson from North Carolina. And before everyone could get too worried about us drafting a third point guard, we quickly traded him to Denver for a first round draft pick in 2010 (originally belonging to Charlotte). This really didn’t strike me as a great move until I read Kahn’s open letter to the fans in the next day’s paper. In his page long rant, he explained that the team didn’t really see anyone they liked at that spot, especially not anyone they wanted to give guaranteed money to, so they shopped and eventually traded the pick to continue to stock up for the future. I loved the honesty in that statement, and it restored a little bit of hope in me that Kahn might actually have a small clue what he is doing.

Ellington couldn't have fallen into a better situation

With our fourth and final pick in the first round, the Wolves selected Wayne Ellington, also of North Carolina fame. I like this pick. He has a very good chance to be a solid NBA player—most likely a role player (shooter), but a good player nonetheless—even if I am wary of UNC players after the Rashad McCants Experiment. The second round went off in fairly uneventful fashion. We selected Nick Calathes out of Florida (a player I really like), and then promptly traded him to Dallas. Then we took one of Rubio’s teammates from Spain (a guy named Henk), who will probably never see a minute of NBA action.

So where do we go from here? Unfortunately, that question will go unanswered for some time. Until the Rubio situation gets settled, it’s tough to grade out the Wolves draft. We did get two solid players (Flynn and Ellington), as well as a 2010 first round pick, along with saving some money. I know people don’t want to hear this now, but stockpiling for next year’s draft isn’t the worst idea. As of right now, we are very likely to have three first round picks once again, with two second rounders again. Now I can’t promise we’ll do anything good with those picks, but many NBA experts are predicting that the ’10 draft class will be one of the better ones of late (depending on underclassmen that come out, obviously). When you’re a team in major rebuilding mode like the Timberwolves, potentially stocking up on young talent is the best way to try and contend once again.

As far as Rubio goes, I’m going to stay optimistic. If you’ll recall, two years ago Yi Jianlian from China did not want to play for Milwaukee. Then the two sides sat down, talked it out rationally, and negotiated a deal (Sure, he was traded a year later, but that's beside the point). I’m not sold on the two point guard system, but I’ll take our chances and hope that at least one of them turns out to be a legit pro. That said, this story is definitely “To Be Continued…”

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