As the Golden State Warriors try to win a second consecutive title, tonight’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals against Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers is a reminder that the Timberwolves could have had the Golden State guard who made it all possible.
Steph Curry? Sure.
Or Klay Thompson.
Or, in dreams, both.
But if we’re going to alter history, we also have to accept that the currently promising Timberwolves might not have acquired some of the people who make them so promising had they landed Curry and/or Thompson a few years ago.
Yes, the Timberwolves should have chosen Curry instead of Jonny Flynn with the sixth pick in the 2009 draft, not because Curry was a can’t-miss superstar at the time, but because he was more skilled and versatile than Flynn. Curry promised to at least be a competent point guard with great shooting range. Flynn was a short, iffy shooter who wasn’t required to play man-to-man defense in college.
But if David Kahn had drafted Ricky Rubio and Curry, they, combined with Kevin Love, might have kept the Wolves competent enough that Kahn might have had a longer reign. And if Kahn had had a longer reign, the Wolves might not have ended up with Flip Saunders, Karl-Anthony Towns or Tom Thibodeau.
What’s even more intriguing is that Saunders spoke with the Warriors about trading Love for Thompson in 2014.
When Saunders wound up trading Love to Cleveland for Andrew Wiggins, most Wolves fans were thrilled, because he is a wonderful young player.
Had the Wolves landed Thompson, they would have filled their need for three-point shooting and could have been quite entertaining with Thompson alongside Rubio.
They also might not have then been bad enough to land the first pick in the 2015 NBA draft and select Towns, who might become one of the five best players in the league.
In 2014-15, Thompson had a player efficiency rating of 20.8. Wiggins’ was 13.9. Thompson might have helped the Wolves win just enough games to hurt them in the lottery.
If the Wolves had traded for Thompson and become more competent, they might not have been willing to hand full power to Thibodeau.
So instead of lamenting what might have been for the franchise, Wolves fans should focus on what the NBA has become.
It is a wide-open league.
There are no excuses for the Wolves not to be a championship-caliber operation.
Before last season, the Warriors hadn’t advanced to the conference finals since 1976. With the right players, front office and coach, their decades of frustration became irrelevant.
While paranoid fans fear big-market teams, New York and Los Angeles aren’t exactly dominating. A team from Oakland or Cleveland will win this year. The past five champions have been from Oakland, San Antonio, Miami, Miami and Dallas.
And before the Lakers won in 2009 and 2010, the previous champions were from Boston, San Antonio, Miami, San Antonio, Detroit and San Antonio. Minnesota is as capable of producing and supporting an NBA champion as any of those locales.
To further address fan paranoia, we’ve seen great players embrace their original team, even when it isn’t located on a coast or in a major media market. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker stayed with San Antonio. Dwyane Wade stayed in Miami. Dirk Nowitzki stayed in Dallas. Kevin Garnett wanted to stay in Minnesota. LeBron James returned to Cleveland.
The world has shrunk. Great players are rich enough to spend their offseasons anywhere, and to make any city comfortable during the season.
Towns has expressed an interest in elevating the Timberwolves, not fleeing to the coast. Thibodeau could have worked virtually anywhere, and he chose Minnesota.
There are no excuses remaining for the local NBA franchise, just as there is no reason to regret past decisions, and no reason to cling to convenient paranoia. Other than the still-young Warriors, there are few NBA teams with a future as promising as the Wolves.