May 24, 2006

And it’s done….

The draft lottery has been won by the Toronto Raptors. They now have the pressure of making the correct pick at the top of the draft, which will determine who gets who in the top three. They’ll have to recoup their mistakes made in the past, but with Colangelo in charge, NBA nation should have faith. Of course, if I were a Raptors fan, we’d talk more about that, but I’m not. I’m a Wolves fan. So here we are again with the sixth pick in a deep draft devoid of any sure fire top picks, which bodes well for the Wolves. I think this is a draft that will yield few great players but a large number of good players, which means it should be hard to screw this one up. But then again, we’ve got Kevin McHale sinking this ship, so it’s hard to say. Of course now is not a time of negatives and bashing, but rather, a time of optimism and hope for the future.

It’s kind of weird as a Wolves fan to be in the lottery – or have a first round pick at all – what with 8 straight years of post season play and the whole Joe Smith debacle. I remember back when the team was struggling to win 30 games a season, how excited I always was this time of year. A chance to grab a great player, a superstar of the future, someone who could take my team and put them on his shoulders and carry all of us to the promised land. Then we drafted Christian Laettner, Felton Spencer, Luc Longley, and Stoiko Vrankovic. Great. Ahh, but that’s Timberwolves past. That’s old ownership, old management, and old school NBA. That was before kids coming out early was the majority, before scouting in Europe was commonplace, and before we shook hands with Joe Smith – and recorded it. We’re through all that now – sort of. We’ve gotten out of David Stern’s doghouse, we’ve got an owner who shows he’s willing to spend money – sometimes, and a GM who does know the game of basketball – atleast from a playing standpoint. But we’re not that far removed from our early history or a recent history – say 2003. We’re right in the middle – not struggling to win 30 games, but we’re not in the post season either. This is an important time for this team. Their superstar is aging – both physically and mentally, and the fans are used to Western Conference championship games – after only one year. It’s tough for Minnesota fans to remember how long it took to get over the hump of one-and-dones, and now that they’ve seen it, they are much less willing to accept anything less. It’s amazing how quickly it is, as a fan, to get used to success.

6 straight years of road playoff series, with very little chance of victory, was tough on me as a fan. I started getting frustrated watching my team get close, but not close enough. Then, in 2002 they broke through and had home court advantage. Yay!! Great! This is awesome! This is their year. Only to draw the fucking Lakers. Damn it!! They fought valiantly in the series but just couldn’t beat them – and really, who though they could? Honestly? Okay, that’s okay, they made a break though, they were a four seed and just had a bad draw, that’s fine. Then, they make a couple moves and BAM! #1 seed Western Conference! HOLY SHIT!!! They won their last 9 regular season games to gain home court through the Western Conference Finals! They rampaged Denver, even though the media gave them a hard time – 4-1 series victory doesn’t count as hard. They won their first game 7 against a great Sacramento team to reach the Western Conference Finals. FUCK YEAH! And, in six games, without their dagger throwing point guard, lost to the Lakers who eventually got embarrassed by the Detroit Pistons in the Finals. Wow, what a fun year! That was awesome! And they have it all back next season!! Wooo Whooo!

Then, as we watched the last two seasons, the wheels fell off the bus, and we’re right back where I started with this blog – sorry, I get rambling.


So, the 2006 NBA draft should be an interesting one for the Wolves because I believe Kevin McHale’s future depends on it. If he cannot deliver this season, his star may fully turn on him and force Glen Taylor’s hand.

They’ve got the #6 pick in the first round this year, plus three second round picks – their own, Boston’s, and Phoenix’s. Their main needs are rebounding, defense, outside shooting, and playmaking.

What they do in the draft may very well depend on what they do with their current free agents. They have 6 guys who are not under contract for this year, three of which they most likely will not retain – Richie Frahm, Ronald DuPree, Anthony Carter. Justin Reed is a restricted free agent so the Wolves can match any offer tendered by another team. They have the draft rights to Bracey Wright so he’ll probably be a D-Leaguer again this season. The important free agent this year is Marcus Banks, who’s un-restricted, meaning we cannot match any offers to keep him. The market may be over inflated for the Wolves to retain him if another team is desperate for a good point guard. I presume the Wolves will resign him unless another team throws stacks at him – ala Chauncey Billups. Of course the Wolves did give him a chance to play and showcase his skills, so he may be retained at a “home town” discount – although he’s a Vegas boy, so maybe the money will sell.

If they do not retain Marcus Banks, the Wolves will have to pursue other options at the point guard position because Marko Jaric clearly can’t hack it as a starting PG in the league. If they don’t get one via free agency (thin, thin market) or trade (Stephon Marbury unlikely) they may need to take one in the draft. That would make Marcus Williams the sixth pick in the draft, which I would be okay with. The kid is a very good leader, has played well in pressure situations, is a pass-first point guard, and has seen his stock skyrocket due to great workouts thus far. He’s been shooting lights out in those workouts, which has quelled some doubt in his ability to shoot – which has been considered his biggest flaw. Having a rookie starting point guard is not an ideal situation but New Orleans and Utah had success with theirs and Marcus is definately in the same league as Deron Williams.

If they DO resign Banks, then that leaves the door much more open for that pick. Most mock drafts have the Wolves selecting Rudy Gay with their pick, and it’s hard to argue. He’s one of the most skilled players in the draft, who can pass, score, and defend – for a college kid. Of course his character has been called into question because of the lack of effort displayed during the NCAA Tournament, but so was Rashad’s and his hasn’t been a problem at all so far. Gay is big for a 3 and is a great athlete, who’d look pretty nice next to KG and McCants.

Obviously there are tons of workouts to be held plus the draft camp in Orlando so things could change. Not to mention the early entries that have yet to sign with an agent could throw some draft boards off. A couple other guys the Wolves should look at based on their needs are Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick – shut up Duke haters.

Shelden was one of the premiere defenders and rebounders in college basketball last season and has all the tools to be a contributor right away in the NBA. His offense needs some polishing, but he could step in right away and give the Wolves a good presence in the paint. He’s played in a great system, for a great coach, for four years, so I think he’s proved he’s a player. Obviously big guys out of Duke bring back memories of Laettner and Cherokee Parks, but Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer have both become solid NBA players.

Redick is a bit more of a wild card. Most project him as a late lottery pick and a guy who will be a complimentary player for the next decade. I believe he’s better than people expect – ala Reggie Miller. He’s been the go to guy at Duke for the past three seasons, with the whole of opposing defenses keying in on him. He’s a hustle guy who knows what it’s like to play under pressure and an amazing shooter. His quick release and ability to work off of screens will allow him to adjust to the NBA game. He might be a reach at six, but trading down to get him may be an option for the Wolves.

Second round options.

We all know the second round is kind of a joke, but tell that to San Antonio and they'll show you an All-Star calibur shooting guard who terrorized defenses on a nightly basis. It's a crapshoot most years, and is to an extent this year, but not as much so as in the past. The deepness of this draft will extend into the first half of the second round, with many of those guys contributing in the next two or three years. I belive this season, the second round is worth more of a look than in the recent past. If you have watched college basketball at all over the past two or three years, there will be many familiar names in the second round. Dee Brown and James Augustine from Illinois' runner up team, Nick Fazekas from Nevada's Sweet Sixteen squad, Mike Gansey (shattered my dreams of a GT championship two years ago) from West Virginia, sharp shooting Marquette guard Steve Novak, and Big Ten player of the year Marko Killingsworth from Indiana. There will be a lot of talent available towards the top of the second round, where the Wolves have two picks(#36,#37). I'm not even going to get into guessing who they'd take, but there will be some talented players available for them.

In conclusion….

Like I said last year at this time, the Wolves are in a good place in the draft with the sixth pick. There is a plethora of talent out there and they should be able to get a good talent no matter who they end up taking. The only problem with this draft for the Wolves is that the strength in this draft is in the SG/SF positions which they are over stocked at as it is. The free agent market is not very good this offseason, especially in the departments they need help at – rebounding and post defense, so they may need to deal a couple of their guards to get into position to really make improvements. I’ll be pretty comfortable with whomever the Wolves take, as long as it isn’t some foreign player I’ve never heard of or a stretch pick specifically to fill a need. Either of the Williams kids, Gay, or Redick would fill holes on the roster and help the Wolves now and in the future.