Timberwolves Stumble into the Hidden Cost of Past Mistakes

Rob MahoneyNBA Lead WriterJuly 27, 2012

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Getty Images

Wesley Johnson is two years into his NBA career, and has yet to post a single-season PER greater than a well-below-average 10.2. His scoring ability is suspect, his efficiency nonexistent and his ball skills wholly underwhelming. It's difficult to say at this juncture exactly what Johnson can provide to an NBA club beyond empty promise; he was once deemed talented enough to be selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the NBA draft, but beyond that generalization of his potential he has extraordinarily little basketball value.

So much so that when the Minnesota Timberwolves looked to dump Johnson and his $4.3 million salary in order to free up the space to complete their two-year, $20 million offer to free agent forward Andrei Kirilenko, they had to include a future first-round pick just to get the Suns to agree to take on Johnson and the expiring $5.1 million owed to Brad Miller. As if their original blunder wasn't bad enough, Johnson has proven to be the costly mistake that keeps on costing.

There are certainly bigger financial disasters in the NBA than missing the mark on a top-five pick, but along with the opportunity cost of missing out on a valuable prospect, teams are essentially on the hook for a mid-level salary that, in this case, ended up causing problems. The rookie scale is a hugely beneficial pay system from a team perspective, but in cases like that of the Timberwolves—where the player has shown so little promise and yet pulls in a salary that nears the mid-level mark—it can come to be a bit inconvenient, to say the least. Couple that with the acquisition of a last-legs veteran like Miller, and Minnesota was looking at over $9 million in useless salary expenditure.

The Wolves are redeemed a bit simply because their outgoing first-round pick in the three-team deal that involved Johnson is lottery-protected (and due to the two second-round selections acquired in return), but that's still an additional asset gone to waste simply because of prior mistakes. Had Minnesota merely missed on their initial No. 4 pick and still obtained a useful player, they could have dumped him—and his hindering salary, along with Miller, too, perhaps—on another team for little to no cost. Yet because they completely whiffed in Johnson's selection and failed to find even the slightest redeeming quality to his game over the last two seasons, they're forced to pay another team in draft picks just to take him off their hands.