Two-time All-Star forward Kevin Love brought a No. 9 Ricky Rubio figurine with him Tuesday night when he represented the Timberwolves at the NBA draft lottery, the league’s annual game of chance that never has been kind to the franchise.
Maybe he should have brought a No. 1 uniformed Alexey Shved doll instead.
The Wolves stayed exactly where they were slotted — the ninth overall spot — renewing a springtime tradition of never faring better than they deserved. Cleveland, Orlando and Washington won the June 27 draft’s top three picks.
If they wind up picking ninth, the Wolves could choose from a group that includes shooting guards C.J. McCollum from Lehigh and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from Georgia, a player who drops such as injured Maryland center Alex Len or UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad or a European prospect such as 7-2 French center Rudy Gobert or Croatian small forward Dario Saric.
Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said his team will get a “good player” with the ninth pick in a draft that is being called weak because it doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 1 overall choice, but might have as much as quality with the 12th pick as it does at the sixth.
The Wolves on Tuesday sent a guy to the lottery who broke his hand not once but twice last season for good luck, and Love in turn tucked his Spanish teammate into his pocket for some good karma.
“He’s the one that made that decision, not me,” Saunders said from the New York City television studios where the drawing was held. “We went in as number 9, Ricky is number 9. We thought it was pointing in the right direction, but no such luck.”
Saunders had a two-hour lunch conversation with Love in New York City before Tuesday night’s lotto. It was the latest in a series of many discussions the two have had these past three weeks while Saunders tries to erase any doubt Love might have about the franchise’s leadership and where his team is headed.
He told Love that all he wanted from him Tuesday night was for the Wolves to stay at No. 9 in the draft rather than fall to 10th or 11th.
“I feel better than I’d feel about No. 10,” said Saunders, who watched the results announced from the studio audience. “As I told Kevin afterward, ‘Hey, we didn’t move back so that’s positive.’ ”
Looking lean in a pre-drawing ESPN interview, Love said he wants himself and the team “just to move forward” with a “big summer” that includes re-signing center Nikola Pekovic and getting Love and his shooting hand back to full health.
“I look at offseasons as a time to make myself a better player, and I want this one to be the best one I’ve had,” Love said.
The Wolves had nearly an 82 percent chance of getting the ninth pick, and only a 1.7 percent chance of winning the draft’s No. 1 overall pick. They had about a 6 percent chance of leaping up into one of those top three picks.
Saunders said missing out again on lottery luck won’t hurt a franchise that will benefit more from adding veteran shooters either through free agency or trade and by getting Love healthy again than it will from adding a rookie.
He said fans now will be quick to suggest he trade the ninth and 26th overall picks the team owns to move up into the top five to get Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore or Indiana swingman Victor Oladipo.
“Those are the things you try but it becomes very unrealistic,” Saunders said. “This is not the football draft or the baseball draft.”
Saunders said there’s only one drawback with the No. 9 pick: The Wolves might have trouble getting players into town for individual workouts if those players believe they will be drafted earlier. In that case, Saunders and his staff will have to depend upon college-season scouting, information they gathered at last week’s Chicago combine and game video.
Cleveland — which finished with the league’s third-worst record last season (24-58) — won the draft lottery for the second time in three seasons. They took eventual Rookie of the Year point guard Kyrie Irving first overall in 2011 and probably will take injured Kentucky center Nerlens Noel first this time around.