Last night in a game that held much importance in the Western Conference playoff race held even more intrigue well beyond the four quarters. The Minnesota Timberwolves, without Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic, picked up arguably their biggest win of the season in Phoenix against the Suns, who themselves are without Eric Bledsoe and also don’t have Kevin Love on their side.
Even with the impressive 110-101 road victory, the T-Wolves are still a gaudy 5.5 GB of the 8th seed Suns, with Memphis bridging the two. However, a loss would have raised the margin to 7.5 GB and all but officially ending the Wolves chance at their first postseason appearance since 2004. A drought threatening to reach 10 years, the longest in the league by two seasons (Sacramento Kings).
So the Timberwolves nabbed a crucial victory to keep hope alive, but remember that scoop of intrigue I hinted at? Well, it’s quite a situation.
The theme of this 2013-2014 NBA season has pretty much been two things:
1. Will the Heat 3-peat?
2. Who’s tanking?
#1 is a story line we’ll naturally see to an end, but #2 is taking shape. Well, it has been for a few months but teams are protective about losing on purpose. Because it’s unethical and offensive to some when in reality, the NBA has had only eight different champions in the last 30 years. Can you name them? Spoiler alert i’m gonna.
Lakers – 8
Bulls – 6
Spurs – 4
Celtics, Pistons, Heat – 3
Rockets – 2
Mavericks – 1
A handful of potential 2014 candidates are already mentioned, maybe Indiana or Oklahoma City can put a cork in this crazy streak, but the list of potential additions to the club doesn’t extend very far. So if a chunk of the league wants to purposely sink in the standings but float up the lottery order, so be it. </end semi-relevant rant>
The Minnesota Timberwolves are not a contender. Hopefully this isn’t breaking news. Making the playoffs would be an incredible boost for the organization, no doubt at all about that. But the gap is still quite wide even after knocking off one of the team’s they’re chasing and the “Wrath of (David) Kahn” still has fingerprints on the roster.
The former General Manager of the team from 2009-2013 made a bunch of turrible, turrible moves. His specialty was the Draft.
His first draft started out promising.
He sent role players Mike Miller and Randy Foye to Washington for the no. 5 pick and took Risky Ricky Rubio. The team also had the 6th pick, and having already addressed point guard…they took a point guard. Kahn selected Jonny Flynn 6th. Stephen Curry went 7th.
Before his tenure as GM, the Wolves acquired the Miami Heat first rounder, which landed at 18. They took point guard Ty Lawson and traded him to Denver. Ten picks later with a pick via Boston from the Kevin Garnett deal, they took Wayne Ellington.
His second draft in 2010 was another epic, epic failure.
He took Wesley Johnson 4th. Demarcus Cousins went 5th. We’ll come back to this one.
With the pick from Denver for Ty Lawson a year ago, they opted not to choose but trade the pick to Portland for Martell Webster. Webster gave the Wolves two seasons and 8.4 ppg and made a little over $10 million in salary before being waived.
He traded pick 23 (and pick 56) to the Wizards for picks 30 and 35. He also gave up on part of the big KG package, Gerald Green, to acquire a 2nd round pick. Only Lazar Hayward of these picks played in an NBA game.
Two weeks later Kahn continued to make the Wolves his own (mess) and traded the headliner from the Garnett trade, Al Jefferson, to Utah for Kosta Koufos and two first round picks, one in 2011 and another in 2012. Al Jefferson was 25 years old and coming off a 17/9 season.
Rubio came over for the 2011 season, Wesley Johnson wore a uniform in it, and David Kahn once again mishandled a draft.
The 2011 draft wasn’t very strong at the top and Minnesota’s highest lottery odds sorely betrayed them. Versatile forward Derrick Williams was taken second overall. Like I said, this draft wasn’t very great, but Kahn added error to error as the night progressed.
With the first of their two picks from the Al Jefferson trade, slotted at number 20, the Wolves selected international big man Donatas Motiejunas. However, as part of their severance package to rid of super bust Jonny Flynn, they included this pick in a deal to the Rockets.
Kahn did actually accidentally stumble across gold with part of that deal’s return. Along with a future first, the T-Wolves acquired the draft rights to 38th overall pick Chandler Parsons.
However, they must have asked for the wrong asset because Kahn took this turn of fortune and dealt Parsons right back to the Rockets for cash considerations.
Moving on to 2012, where Minnesota had at last escaped the lottery! But not by winning. A 2005 trade with the Clippers cost the Timberwolves their pick 7 years later. It ended up in New Orleans after Chris Paul and “basketball reasons” were shipped to L.A.(..twice).
Pick two from the Al Jefferson trade has now arrived at number 18. Only once again the Houston Rockets called up their buddy David Kahn seeking their sweet annual draft discount. And he obliged.
It did cost the Rockets 2009 2nd round find Chase Budinger, but they had Chandler Parsons (how’d they do that?!) to replace him and selected Terrence Jones 18th, who is now their starting power forward.
So the Al Jefferson trade got them Chase Budinger and off the hook for Jonny Flynn.
Kahn was at last fired a month before the 2013 Draft. Pity, he would have found a way to get Anthony Bennett.
Back to the future – well at least yesterday – the Timberwolves beat the Phoenix Suns to help their playoff chances. But they also hurt their draft chances in a very ironic way.
Remember Wesley Johnson, the 4th overall pick in 2010? Well, like many of his other disastrous lottery picks, Johnson was traded for next to nothing. And the seat next to nothing is empty. (Also see: Johny Flynn, Derrick Williams)
After just two seasons in Minny, Kahn decided that the verdict was out on Wesley and he wasn’t apart of the team’s future…already. The Suns took on the final year of his rookie contract, roughly four and a quarter million, because just to get rid of Johnson and to do it ASAP Phoenix acquired a first round pick! In return the Timberwolves received a handful of second rounders from New Orleans, who also took part in the deal and laughing of David Kahn.
Wesley Johnson and his league minimum salary started at power forward last night for the last place Los Angeles Lakers. It didn’t go well, but because of all the Laker fans across the country, it was broadcast on national television on NBATV’s #FanNight.
The runner-up matchup: Timberwolves @ Suns.
So while Wesley Johnson was guarding David West the Wolves notched the big win I mentioned like two hours ago. They gained a game on the Suns but they also lost a slot on the NBA Draft board. From 12th to 13th with the win. Why does that matter?
Well, in today’s NBA a draft pick – particularly a first rounder – is rarely traded without protection. Meaning if the team doesn’t end up benefiting from the deal as assumed, they hold onto the pick for X amount of years until it is no longer protected.
This year Minnesota’s pick is top 13 protected, and if it occupies the final lottery spot or better (or worse?) then the Suns will claim the pick in this oh so very promising draft.
The Timberwolves have a lot of ground to make up to capture the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But they’re not a title contender and moving up to the 8th seed would be a good sign for the franchise’s morale and season ticket sales, but a crippling blow to their future.
Because of the futility in the Eastern Conference, all non-playoff teams in the East will be in a favorable lottery slot. So even though the Memphis Grizzlies would be in 3rd place in the East, instead they’re the final team in the lottery at pick 14. 13 – Minnesota.
The Timberwolves have a lot to gain from making a big playoff push, especially if they get healthy and Kevin Love continues to show up for games. However, like more than 2/3 of the Association they have absolutely zero chance at an NBA title and their focus should be on participating in this extremely talented 2014 Draft Class (I don’t care what Bill Simmons or anyone says it’s still an incredible draft class) and not slipping into the playoffs.
Sounds like the opposite of what you’re supposed to do in sports, but you’ve also got to play your cards right, think big picture, and tank carefully.