There are a few tightropes Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas will have to walk Wednesday as the Wolves finally reveal to the world what they are going to do with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
Rosas has been adamant the Wolves will pick the best player available regardless of fit with the current roster. But that player, presumably, will have to coexist alongside franchise tentpoles Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.
Rosas and the Wolves could try to maximize the value of the pick by trading it. But what kind of swap would be fair, especially when there might be a player the Wolves covet at the top?
These are questions Rosas has had months to ponder. One thing the Wolves have made clear throughout the past few weeks: Their draft board is set. They know who they will select No. 1 overall, as well as No. 17 and No. 33, if they end up keeping those picks.
Rosas already has made the calculation of what it will take to walk that first tightrope from one side to another. But the questions about who that pick is, what kind of player he will be and whether to trade the pick still loom large over Wednesday night.
The direction of the Wolves in the next few years hinges upon the decision.
“We don’t want to be shortsighted for the public perception of making the choice that will help us in Day 1. We want to make the decision that will help us in Day 400 ...” Rosas said. “But no draft decision is over after the first day, or after the first year. It’s a process that takes a lot of time and development, and I think history teaches us that.”
When is the window open?
Before attempting to answer some of these questions, it might be helpful to remember when Rosas thinks the Wolves’ window of contention will be open. Speaking after the Wolves landed that No. 1 pick in the lottery, Rosas didn’t sound like he was expecting a contender this season — especially not in a crowded Western Conference.
“I’d be naive to say we’re playoff contending next year because that’s not how it happens, especially in the West,” Rosas said in August. “You have to build a winning program. You have to build an identity. You have to build your DNA. and that takes time. My goal is that we become a winning team next season and become a playoff team in the following couple of seasons.”
Along those lines, Rosas also hs downplayed expectations for the immediate impact the No. 1 pick (or another high draft pick for that matter) would have. That’s one reason, Rosas said, he isn’t so concerned with immediate roster fit with Russell and Towns as he is with just drafting the best player.
“This is a multiyear decision in terms of who we think the best talent is going to be,” Rosas said Monday. “It’s not about the selection alone. It’s about the development and integration into our system and with our players. … Finding the best talent is going to give us the best chance of success.”
Rosas also cautioned against using the draft to plug immediate roster needs.
“Addressing the need through the draft is dangerous because you can get a guy at a certain position that you feel like you need, but if that guy’s not ready to produce, if that guy’s not ready to play at this level, you’ve left talent on the table, and that’s not what the draft is about,” Rosas said. “Addressing needs will come in free agency and with trades.”
Making the right selection
That would seem to indicate that two of the three players thought to be No. 1 prospects, point guard LaMelo Ball and center James Wiseman, are still options for the Wolves even though they overlap positions with Russell and Towns.
Early indications seem to show Ball is more likely than Wiseman to end up with the Wolves. ESPN reported Ball had a workout with the Wolves while Wiseman said Monday he has not had a workout or conversations with the Wolves.
Ball has said he’s the kind of player who likes to have the ball in his hands so he can use his dynamic playmaking ability. Rosas, without mentioning Ball by name, indicated Monday one way that pairing could work is moving Russell off the ball at times.
“He’s a guy who’s great on the ball but can also play off,” Rosas said of Russell. “His time in Brooklyn where he was an All-Star was with another ballhandler, with another playmaker, so he’s shown he’s had success there.”
Rosas also will point out that in Houston he was part of a successful team that had two point guards in James Harden and Chris Paul who found a way to make that pairing work.
The other player who might be the No. 1 pick, Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, plays off the ball and would seem like more of a natural fit for the Wolves’ current roster construction. If you’re looking for a clue for the type of player the Wolves might draft, Rosas offered a hint — they’re going to need players who can shoot.
“Shooting in our offensive system is critical,” Rosas said. “You guys saw the challenges that we had last year where even though we were able to do a lot of the things that we wanted to do, we weren’t able to execute or get the benefit of it because we weren’t making shots from the perimeter. That’s an important aspect of it.”
However, sometimes it’s hard to take a player’s shooting from college or overseas and project how he will shoot in the NBA.
Regardless, Rosas and Wolves scouts might view one prospect above all the others and if they do, Rosas has indicated they won’t pass up that player.
After all, one only needs to look at Towns and Russell to see the potential talent at the top of this draft: Towns was the Wolves’ No. 1 overall pick in 2015, the only other time they’ve drafted first overall. Russell, the No. 2 pick in that same draft, was acquired last season via trade.
The Wolves still might trade the pick, and it’s hard to see what exactly a trade would look like. It could be anything from sliding back in the draft and accumulating extra draft capital, or trading for more established talent.
But any trade Rosas makes will have an eye toward the long term. Since getting the top pick, Rosas has also preached patience, both with the pick the Wolves may make and with the organization rebuild as a whole.
Also in that August interview, Rosas made a pointed comment about where Tom Thibodeau’s tenure left the roster he inherited.
“For this organization, patience is probably more important than anything because as the Jimmy Butler-Tom Thibodeau experiment showed, the benefit of being all-in and getting in the playoffs one year set this organization back,” Rosas said then.
The Wolves have Russell under contract for three more seasons and Towns for four. Rosas can have patience, but in an NBA that players control with their desire to stay or leave their situation, there has to be progress sooner rather than later. Rosas knows that; he also doesn’t want to rush his process.
“For us to pick a player that is maybe a little bit more ready to help us now but doesn’t become the best player that’s available to us, that’s a mistake by us,” Rosas said. “Because we have to do the right things every step of the way even though it’s hard. I think our fans appreciate our philosophy and our vision, in that we’re doing this to build a sustainable program.
“This is not to win the press conference. … We strongly believe in our program. We strongly believe in our philosophy. And even if it takes time to build this, we’re gonna build this the right way.”
The next significant step on that pathway comes Wednesday night.