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Are the Minnesota Timberwolves Taking Steps Toward Being Competitive?

Kevin LindseyAnalyst IJune 28, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06:  Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves attends Game Two of the 2010 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on June 6, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Most Minnesota Timberwolves' fans watched the NBA draft with anticipation hoping that at the end of the night that their team would have acquired sufficient talent to compete in the Western Conference. 

No, Wolves' fans had no illusions that they would be seeing Minnesota playing for the right to represent the Western Conference in the NBA finals.  However, there was hope that Minnesota would clearly be viewed as a team on the rise in the league on the basis of what occurred on draft night.

Would Wolves' President David Kahn package the team’s late first round picks to acquire a top ten pick?  Or would Kahn decide that Evan Turner was too valuable to pass up and engineer and trade with Philadelphia to move up from the Wolves number four spot in the draft?

Minnesota clearly went into the draft needing a wing that could become the face of the Wolves' franchise; the Wolves were looking for someone who would put fear into the fans of their opponents.

Minnesota had three first round picks, how would Kahn improve the team?

Maybe Kahn would trade Al Jefferson, the last remaining cornerstone of the Kevin McHale regime.  Jefferson was the marquee player that McHale planned to build around after trading the best player in the history of the franchise, Kevin Garnett.

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Jefferson, only a year removed from knee surgery, posted 17.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists during a season in which he got off to a slow start.  Big Al is undoubtedly a solid low post forward that has value in the league.

Rumors in the week leading up to the draft were fast and furious.  One rumor had Jefferson going to the Golden State Warriors while another had him being sent to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Would Big Al be traded as part of a blockbuster trade that would radically change the team?

Maybe Kahn would surprise everyone and pull off a trade involving the team’s starting point guard, Johnny Flynn.  Kahn could possibly gamble big and trade Flynn given that Ramon Sessions is ready to play and Ricky Rubio is waiting in the wings to take over next year. 

Why trade Flynn? The ceiling on Flynn’s career in the NBA is unknown and because that ceiling is unknown Flynn may never have as much trade value as he does now.

The Indiana Pacers expressed interest in Flynn early in the week.  Some believed that Flynn might be part of a package deal that would result in All-star forward Danny Granger coming to the Wolves.

Was Kahn going to pull a trade involving Flynn that would make former Wolves; General Manager, Trader Jack McCloskey blush?

President David Kahn had many assets at his disposal on draft night to wheel and deal to make trades.  The excitement among Wolves fans was palpable.

The NBA draft started relatively uneventful.  The Wolves would not trade up in the draft to pick either John Wall or Evan Turner.

Would the New Jersey Nets give the Wolves an unexpected gift and allow Derrick Favors to fall into the den?

No, Favors will be paired up next to Brook Lopez for the foreseeable future.  The Nets in the weak Eastern Conference need now only pick up one or two free agents and they can consider themselves as one of the teams in the hunt for the playoffs next year.

David Stern comes to the podium with a note card and there really is no need to read the name as it is clear to everyone that he is going call out the name of the first team All-American from Syracuse – Wesley Johnson.

Any flirtation with selecting the man-child DeMarcus Cousins with the fourth pick is just that, an innocent flirtation with someone who is disinterested.

Cousins and his agent made it clear that they did not want to come to Minnesota as Cousins refused to work out for the Timberwolves. 

Surely, the Wolves would engineer a trade to bring in a high profile player with their remaining draft picks.

The Wolves would package the 16th pick in the draft with Ryan Gomes to acquire the services of 6’7" guard/forward Martell Webster from the Portland Trailblazers.  Webster was the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft.

The Trailblazers used the pick from the Wolves to draft Luke Babbitt of Nevada.

On first glance the trade makes little sense for Minnesota.    While Webster is younger than Gomes and likely has more in the tank, Webster and Gomes have very similar games. 

Assuming Babbitt is just a serviceable player in the league wouldn’t the Wolves have been better off keeping the pick to give more depth to their bench? 

Maybe Webster is a diamond in the rough that just needs more playing time; maybe the Wolves made the move to free up additional cap space. 

Kahn would be busy again on the phone on draft night.  The Wolves would exchange players with the Washington Wizards but it is unlikely John Wall’s name was mentioned in any scenario.

At the end of the night, Minnesota would have acquired the rights to 6’6" forward Lazar Hayward of Marquette, 6’10" forward Nemanja Bjelica from the Serbia A League, and  6’11" Paulao Prestes of Brazil who is currently playing in the Spanish ACB League.

Hayward is a rough and tumble bruiser who despite being undersized as a forward will be given a shot to make the roster.  Hayward immediately reminds me of Craig Smith, Hayward likely take Nathan Jawai’s roster spot.

Bjelica is an intriguing selection in that he has been compared favorably with former Chicago Bulls' star Toni Kukoc.  If Bjelica can handle the ball as well as Kukoc, the Wolves' decision to hire Tony Ronzone, former Detroit Pistons Basketball of Operations, to serve as an assistant general manager will have paid immediate dividends.

Bjelica, his agent and Kahn are expected to meet this week to come to a decision as to whether Bjelica will continue to play overseas to gain more experience or join the Timberwolves this winter.

Prestes appears to be a project but then again he was drafted late into the second round so expectations for him to come in and make the team are low.  Draft Express had this to say about the man from Brazil, “ Prestes is not someone you would describe as being a particularly talented player. There’s really nothing attractive about his style of play. ‘Useful’ would probably be the best way to describe him.”

At the end of the night, the Wolves became a slightly younger team with the addition of Johnson and Webster to the roster and bidding adieu to Gomes.  The bench also likely picked up a hard–nosed player in Hayward and may have picked up another player who can create his own shot in Bjelica.

The moves made by the Wolves will make the team stronger, but the bar was set pretty low given that Minnesota had the second worst record in the NBA only finishing ahead of the New Jersey Nets.

Eight Teams in the Western Conference won more than 50 games last year.  Two teams, Houston and Memphis, won 40 or more games.

If the Timberwolves are going to take a significant step toward being competitive in the Western Conference they will need to bring in some free agent help. 

Last year, the Timberwolves won only 15 games last year.  The Wolves were firmly entrenched in the basement of the Western Conference as they finished 10 games behind the Sacramento Kings.

The Wolves took baby steps during the NBA draft to help improve the team.

In a few days, the NBA free agent signing period begins.  Minnesota Wolves fans are wondering which free agent Kahn is going to pursue.

Are the Wolves going to be able to lure Rudy Gay away from Memphis?  Could the Wolves pluck David Lee away from the New York Knicks?

Minnesota fans will be eagerly watching to see if Kahn is a major player in the free agent market.

While no one is expecting that Kahn will pull a coup that will have the Timberwolves' ticket office ready to print playoff tickets; the fan base wants to see some real progress toward being competitive.

The NBA draft was the first tentative step of the new baby.   

This free agent signing period is the time in which Wolves fans are hoping to see if Kahn’s baby will take its first real step toward being competitive in the Western Conference.

The eyes of the next generation of Wolves are squarely focused on Kahn.

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