This week we begin a new chapter in Timberwolves history, one in which a 58-year-old man who calls himself “Flip” is put in charge of a high-profile business and everyone agrees he’s an upgrade.
Flip Saunders’ first big challenge arrives with his first draft as Wolves President of Not Being David Kahn. He needs to concentrate on not doing anything rash.
It would be understandable if he did try to get creative in the next couple of days. He just landed a great gig. He has a wealth of NBA experience and connections, a boss who loves him and an ego. It would be understandable this week if Saunders wanted to show by making a trade or taking a high-risk player. If the Wolves wanted risk and attention, they could have kept Kahn.
What they need from Saunders is common sense, or, better yet, calm and sense. Wolves fans should be hoping this week that Saunders’ experience in the NBA outweighs any urge to get mentioned on “SportsCenter.”
It’s not that Saunders shouldn’t ever make a dramatic move in his new position, it’s that this week he holds a lousy hand.
He owns the ninth pick in a weak draft. Unless he wants to deal away one of his best players the summer before a crucial season in franchise history, his best trade fodder is forward Derrick Williams.
If Saunders were to grow desperate to move up in the draft, he probably would have to offer the No. 9 pick in the 2013 draft and a talented player who was the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft to move up a few slots in a draft that may feature no immediate NBA stars.
Even my favorite player in the draft, in terms of overall résumé, character, athletic ability and compatibility with the Wolves’ needs, might not be worth such a trade. The Wolves would be lucky to land Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, but they wouldn’t be lucky to overpay for a player who might begin his career as the fifth- or sixth-best player on the roster.
If Saunders sits back and lets draft night play out to its logical conclusion, he should have a chance to choose a talented shooting guard without giving away any extra assets. Either Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum or Georgia’s Kentavius Caldwell-Pope should fall to No. 9.
McCollum is a fine shooter who could improve the Wolves’ three-point production and likely play well off point guard Ricky Rubio. Caldwell-Pope is an athletic player who would be able to get to the rim and run the floor.
By standing pat at No. 9, Saunders might even be rewarded with a surprise, a talented player falling to him and causing the franchise to open the dusty manila folder labeled “Timberwolves Draft Luck.”
Maybe the Wolves will get a shot at Alex Len, the Maryland center, or Ben McLemore, the Kansas guard who has not impressed in predraft workouts. Maybe Saunders, with the eye of a former guard and former coach, has figured out that a sleeper is worthy of the ninth pick, and he surprises us not with an act of showmanship or desperation, but with the kind of savvy that shows up on the best NBA rosters during the playoffs.
A starting five of Rubio, someone like McCollum or Caldwell-Pope, Chase Budinger, Kevin Love and, presumably, Nikola Pekovic would be able to run, shoot and score inside. It would be weak defensively but entertaining and perhaps even dangerous.
It would be the kind of inside-out, ball-moving team that Rick Adelman specializes in coaching. It would have a chance to post a winning record and make the playoffs in a conference in which many of the powerhouses are growing old or changing coaches. Just as important for the large but often-dormant fan base, it could be a lot of fun.
Saunders is replacing a man who lacked basketball knowledge yet always wanted to prove he was the smartest guy in the room.
Saunders can prove he is the smartest guy to run the Wolves draft in years by doing very little.