With the clock ticking toward Thursday’s NBA draft, Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations and coach Flip Saunders was asked Tuesday if the final passing hours are getting interesting in a countdown that will end when Cleveland presumably makes the night’s first pick on stage at Brooklyn’s Barclays Arena.
“They’ve been interesting for four weeks,” Saunders said.
But now as trade discussions involving Wolves star Kevin Love continue, it reaches an intensity that Saunders likens to throwing pellets into the water where catfish lurk.
“A feeding frenzy,” he said.
Whether that frenzy will lead to Love being traded remains uncertain. Yahoo!Sports reported Wednesday that Cleveland pushed for a trade centered on its No. 1 overall pick for Love, but his refusal to agree he’d sign a long-term extension with the Cavaliers killed talks. A league source said discussions with the Wolves never formally received an offer of that No. 1 pick.
If Cleveland keeps that pick, it is expected to select either Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins or Duke’s Jabari Parker now that Kansas center Joel Embiid, about as close to a consensus No. 1 pick in a draft once deemed the deepest in years, has had surgery to repair a fractured navicular bone in his right foot and will be sidelined at least four months.
How far Embiid now falls in the draft — perhaps no further than Philadelphia with the third pick or maybe as far as eighth to Sacramento or beyond — will affect the order of nearly every pick until the time comes for the Wolves to select with their 13th overall selection.
That is if the Wolves don’t trade up, down or out of the first round by then. If they keep their pick, they’d likely be thrilled if either of the draft’s two top shooters — Creighton’s Doug McDermott or Michigan’s Nik Stauskas — fall to them. Otherwise, they’ll pick from a group expected to include UCLA combo guard Zach LaVine, Michigan State power forward Adreian Payne and Michigan State guard Gary Harris.
The Basketball Insiders website reported Thursday that the Wolves have promised LaVine they’ll take him 13th if he’s there.
European prospect Dario Saric’s decision to sign with a Turkish team for at least the next two seasons likely will drop him out of the top 10 and impact the draft order above the Wolves.
“We’re gathering information,” Saunders said, referring to his effort to understand how those two factors will change the draft. “Right now, we’re preparing for the draft that they would be there [at the Wolves’ 13th pick]. That’s how you have to prepare. … You have to take everything into consideration.”
Embiid’s only collegiate season ended early because of a stress fracture in his lower back that caused him to miss the NCAA tournament. Now his fractured foot has NBA teams seeking to evaluate his medical records and bone density and wondering if the latecomer to the game from Cameroon is the next Hakeem Olajuwon or injury bust Greg Oden.
ESPN analyst Tom Penn was Portland’s vice president of basketball operations when Oden’s career was derailed because of persistent knee injuries after the Trail Blazers selected him No. 1 overall in 2007.
“There’s this perception — and a lot of data backs it up — that big guys are more prone to get hurt,” Penn said Wednesday in a conference call. “So you have that fundamental sort of belief. Then you have to really peel back — is it true? … He has a foot fracture and bone tends to heal. Now what’s the risk beyond that long-term?
“But he’s a prototypical big of the future. He’s light and lively and covers space the way [Oklahoma City forward] Serge Ibaka does. He can shoot the ball. He runs. And he’s only been playing basketball four years. So you’ve got this chance to get a 7-1 guy with a 7-6 wingspan with those other skills. They don’t come along very often.”
If Embiid falls, it could lead teams with a lower draft pick scrambling to move up with a trade for the chance to select him. This draft has been one of the most anticipated in years for some time and yet several teams — Boston at No. 6, the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 7, Sacramento at No. 8, Denver at No. 11, to name four — have been active seeking to trade their picks.
Then you have the 76ers, who own the draft’s third and 10th picks and what Saunders calls “about 22” second-round picks, as well as the Cavaliers with that first overall pick and an owner, Dan Gilbert, who’s impatient with building through the draft.
“Nothing would surprise me,” Saunders said of the Cavaliers and the prospect they’ll trade the top pick. “They’ve done a lot of things out of the box. It wouldn’t surprise me, but I’ll still be surprised if they do. … It’s going to be active, just from history. There are a lot of things being thrown out all over the place from a lot of different teams and you kind of have to filter it through what’s real and what’s not real.”