NBA Rumors: Should Minnesota Timberwolves Roll With Darko Milicic?

Kevin LindseyAnalyst IJune 21, 2010

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 19:  Darko Milicic #31 of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots over DJ Mbenga #28 of the Los Angeles Lakers on March 19, 2010 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakeres won 104-96. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Most of the attention for the Minnesota Timberwolves approaching the 2010 NBA draft has focused on what wing player will be on the roster at the beginning of next season.

The Wolves are desperately in need of a marquee wing player that can create his own shots. Ideally, this player would also come with a personality and American Idol looks that will allow him to become the new face of the franchise.

The Wolves fans need someone to create excitement and a buzz about the direction of the organization in year two of the rebuilding process.

Minnesota fans are hoping that Minnesota Timberwolves President David Kahn will be able to use the assets that he accumulated last year to move up in the draft to select Ohio State and College Basketball Player of the Year, Evan Turner, or at least work a deal to secure the services of Memphis Grizzlies free agent Rudy Gay.

The success of the off-season for most Wolves fans concerning Kahn will be determined on whether Turner, Gay or a similar impact player is on the roster next season.   

Exclusive focus on whether the franchise is able to bring in a marquee wing player this off-season by Minnesota fans however would be a mistake. Minnesota needs a center almost as badly as they need a wing player that can score. 

The Wolves finished last year at 15-67. If the Wolves fail to find a center before the season, Minnesota may fail to win 35 games even with Turner or Gay on the squad.

Kahn currently has three options before him concerning the Wolves center position.

First, Minnesota could pick up a free agent. The free agent market has three centers—Marcus Camby, Tyson Chandler and Darko Milicic. 

The only free agent worth pursuing is Darko.

Camby posted decent numbers last year averaging eight points, 12 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and two blocks a game. However Camby because of his age, 36, is more suited to play on a team that is already a playoff contender as opposed to rebuilding.

Chandler has the youth, 27, that would be attractive to the Wolves but unfortunately not the production as he only averaged seven points and six rebounds a game. Additionally, Tyson is scheduled to make more than $12 million next year which is too high of a price tag for the Wolves and likely many other teams.

Darko played well in his audition last year by providing Minnesota with tough interior defense and with a post player that understood how to effectively defend the pick and roll play. Milicic averaged eight points, six rebounds, and two assists for the Wolves while making 49% of his field goals.

Milicic also appeared to really enjoy his time with the Wolves and expressed interest through his agent of wanting to come back to Minnesota.

Darko is 7’0, 275 pounds and 24 years old; he has the size and age that he could make Darko a cornerstone for the franchise for several years into the future. Additionally, he may have a chip on his shoulder that could work to the advantage of the Wolves as Darko may work hard to demonstrate to everyone that he was not a draft day bust when Detroit took him with the second overall pick in the draft in 2003.

Last year, Darko made 7.54 million dollars.  Milicic and his agent may have to swallow a little of their pride on the salary negotiation front however if Darko is to continue his career in the NBA.

If Darko’s agent and the Wolves can arrive at a financial package that makes sense for both parties, Darko is likely to return to the Wolves. 

Second, Minnesota could attempt to find the answer to the problems at center by selecting a player in the draft.

There are likely three players who could go from the draft into the starting lineup for the Wolves at Center—Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins and Cole Aldrich. 

Aldrich, of the three draft hopefuls, is the most polished and would likely make the most immediate impact on the team. Cole is comfortable playing with his back to the basket and will come in and be an immediate defensive presence with his 7’5 wingspan.

Aldrich, the 7’0 235 pound standout from Kansas, would also be an immediate fan favorite as he played his high school ball in the Twin Cities suburb of Bloomington.

Cousins has more potential then Aldrich and is a physical beast at 6’11 and 292 pounds.  DeMarcus could immediately come in and make the Wolves a rebounding juggernaut.

The up-tempo style of play at Kentucky with a gifted wing player in John Wall may suit Cousins well in transitioning to the Wolves and their triangle offense. The downside on Cousins is that he is viewed as being immature and many believe that he doesn’t have the commitment to putting the time and effort into becoming a great player.

Favors is the greenest but has now emerged as the player that has the most potential to become one of the elite players in the league. Derrick has the physical tools at 6’10, 245 pounds, a wingspan length of 7’4 and a vertical jump of 35 inches. 

Additionally, Favors has not likely stopped growing as he is only 18 years old.  All reports concerning Favors indicates that he is mature and has a work ethic that suggests he will put the time in to maximize his talent.

The most pressing question concerning Favors is his ability to score in isolation. Favors scored most of his points in the ACC last year by cleaning the glass for Georgia Tech.

Most draft experts however have fallen in love with Favors and the problem for the Wolves is that if they want him they may need to make a trade to move up in the draft.

Third, Minnesota could buy out the European contract of Nikola Pekovic from Panathinaikos. Pekovic, 6’11 243 pounds, was drafted by the Wolves in 2008 but has played the last two years in Greece and has one year remaining on his contract. 

The offensive scouting report for Pekovic is very similar to Darko. Pekovic has a solid work ethic, is physically tough inside, and enjoys setting screens to run pick and roll or create shooting opportunities for teammates. He has the strength to establish a good low position in a half-court offensive set. 

The negatives in the scouting report for Pekovic is that he has limited ball-handling skills, lacks lateral quickness, and made not have enough athleticism to play with quicker post players. The dilemma for the Wolves is that Pekovic is the same age as Darko and the Wolves may feel that Pekovic has no greater upside than Darko.

Further complicating matters is that Pekovic may view that it is not in his long term economic interests to come to the NBA as he may make more money in Greece than he would make under the NBA rookie pay scale.

Pekovic may have more value to the Wolves as trade bait; the Wolves may look to package the rights to Pekovic to ensure that they are able to draft a wing player in the first round.

However, predicting what Kahn will do is no easy task.

For example, Kahn could decide that the Wolves next season will again go with a Center by committee approach and draft a player that has potential but who is clearly a project. 

The three players that are projects but could see spot starts if they are drafted late in the first round or early in the second round are:  Hassan Whiteside of Marshall, Daniel Orton of Kentucky or Larry Sanders of Virginia Commonwealth.

Is it really so hard to imagine that Kahn would roll with Whiteside, Orton and Sanders next year when Nathan Jawai and Oleskiy Pecherov saw meaningful minutes last year?

Most Wolves fans hope that Kahn doesn’t go with the center by committee approach as the answer.  f Kahn adopts the center by committee approach for the Wolves next year it will signal that the Wolves are going to experience more growing pains next season.

Minnesota fans may not be willing to suffer through another long cold winter of 15-67 basketball. 

The first gift Wolves fans are really hoping for on draft night is a marquee wing player.  However, Wolves fans will also be looking for Kahn to bring them another gift—a solution at center.



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