Jim Souhan: Safe pick not the right pick; Wolves could have used Cousins

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 24, 2010 - 11:57 PM

Burned so often in the draft, the Wolves went with Wes Johnson when they should have taken a chance with DeMarcus Cousins.

DeMarcus Cousins

Photo: Ed Reinke, Associated Press

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NEW YORK — From the floor of the Madison Square Garden, the NBA draft feels the way you would expect the Oscars to feel. The room is jammed with celebrities, and huge entourages stand and cheer when their favorite name is called.

The fans were so excited Thursday night they kept chanting "Jeff ... Van ... Gundy!" -- which is kind of like a movie crowd chanting "John C. Reilly!"

When David Stern raised up on his tiptoes and peeked over the lectern to announce the Timberwolves' selection with the fourth pick, the Wolves were given a choice between a best supporting actor and a mercurial star.

In Oscar terms, they went with Walter Brennan instead of Marlon Brando.

Burned so often in the draft, the Wolves went with the safe pick, the belt-and-suspenders pick, the seatbelt-and-airbag pick, taking Syracuse's Wesley Johnson.

When you are the Timberwolves and every major decision leads to years of ridicule, there is some sense in this approach. Johnson is known as a good guy with a great shot. He's tall and athletic. He's 23 and seemingly mature. He is unlikely to embarrass our red-faced franchise.

The problem is, the Wolves have tried this good-guy-from-a-winning-program approach before, and it helped them to 15 victories last year. Jonny Flynn (Syracuse), Kevin Love (UCLA) and Corey Brewer (Florida) are good guys from good college programs. Add three more guys just like them and the Wolves can contend for a Big Ten title.

The Wolves can use Johnson. They desperately need a star.

They needed to take DeMarcus Cousins.

Johnson could build a nice career. Cousins could become the best player in the draft.

Of course, Cousins could have become the equivalent of a vat of gasoline on the dumpster fire that is the Wolves, too. At Kentucky, he was known for drawing technical fouls, arguing with his coach, and building up more body fat than a pregnant walrus.

He also beat out teammate and No. 1 pick John Wall for SEC freshman of the year, and those who cover Kentucky say Cousins was the most affable guy on the team.

This is where the Wolves' history becomes self-defeating. My guess is that a confident franchise would have taken a chance on Cousins, would have taken on the responsibility of molding him into a star.

The Wolves, though, are run by a team president with a weak résumé who blew his first draft and had to know that a poor rookie season from Cousins would get him fired.

Now the Wolves are not only sentenced to compete with the Lakers, Spurs, Thunder, Jazz, Nuggets and Trail Blazers in the West, they are sentenced to face Tyreke Evans and Cousins every time they see Sacramento.

The Wolves can't now and might never be able to match up physically with those two.

Cousins is a thick 6-11 center who can shoot and move. He's exactly the kind of center who could enable Jefferson or Love to flourish at power forward, a physical presence who could dominate the paint and command double-teams.

The Johnson pick was popular at the Garden. A bunch of Syracuse fans chased him for autographs and chanted his name.

I spoke with him after his news conference, and he came across as sharp and composed guy, although his plaid pants might be the worst fashion faux pas in franchise history outside Glen Taylor's sweaters.

"I'm ready to go up there and win some games,'' Johnson said.

True, Cousins could wind up becoming the next Eddy Curry or Oliver Miller, talented big men who loafed or ate their way to mediocrity. Remember, though, we just we just watched Ron Artest thank his psychiatrist after winning an NBA title. If Artest can win a ring, can't Cousins mix in enough salads to become a franchise player?

In 2009, the Wolves took Flynn right before Golden State took the superior Stephen Curry. In 2010, the Wolves took Johnson right before the Kings took Cousins. This is a basketball version of double jeopardy.

The Wolves needed a star. They drafted a starter. They remain as relevant as Ricky Rubio's passport.

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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