The Timberwolves' history — not to mention their odds — in the NBA draft lottery hinted that Tuesday's version of the annual exercise in perpetual hope would once again end in disappointment for the fan base.
The Wolves have twice won the No. 1 pick, except when they held the best odds of getting it entering the night, and in all other years, they haven't moved up from their pre-lottery spot. That continued again Tuesday, as the Wolves failed to cash in on 27.6% odds of keeping their pick and landed seventh. That meant they will surrender their pick to Golden State to complete the D'Angelo Russell-Andrew Wiggins trade from February 2020. The Wolves would have kept the pick if it had landed in the top three.
The Wolves avoided the worst-case scenario of landing fourth and giving the pick to Golden State, but in a gut punch, the team behind the Wolves (Toronto) and in front of them (Cleveland) both moved into the top four. Detroit ended up with the No. 1 pick while Houston was second. Cleveland came in third and Toronto fourth.
The expected played out for the Wolves, and months of dreaming about landing a top-three pick and possibly taking hometown prospect Jalen Suggs came up empty. Seventh was the most likely slot for the Wolves to land entering the night (29.7%).
The Wolves decreased their lottery odds by finishing 7-5 in their last 12 games, but the late-season surge was one the team wanted to see. After completing the Russell trade, he and Karl-Anthony Towns played together only a handful of times before the final weeks of this season because of injury or COVID.
The Wolves and President Gersson Rosas wanted to see how the team looked around Towns and Russell and as the Wolves won some games, other teams fell behind them in the standings and bettered their lottery odds at the Wolves' expense.
"I think there's excitement for the future and we're looking forward to seeing how that comes together," Rosas said last week. "The finish to the season where our top guys were at, healthy and playing at the end of the year, our young players are developing, that excites us."
The Wolves also gave up their second-round pick this year in that deal and so will enter the draft without any picks.
Rosas has said not having the pick would at least provide the Wolves with some financial flexibility, since they would not have to account for the salary a top-three pick would command against their cap. Rosas has made finding a power forward a priority headed into the offseason, with free agency set to begin Aug. 1.
Before the trade deadline, the Wolves were interested in Aaron Gordon, who the Magic eventually traded to Denver, and Atlanta's John Collins, who will be a restricted free agent after the season. The Hawks elected to keep Collins as they began winning games following a coaching change from Lloyd Pierce to Nate McMillan and are now in the Eastern Conference finals.
Even though the Wolves don't have a draft pick, it's still possible they'll have a rookie playing on their team next season in Leandro Bolmaro, the 23rd pick from last year's draft who played this past season in Spain. Rosas said the team will continue conversations with Bolmaro and his agent about when Bolmaro might join the Wolves.
But not having a pick deprives the Wolves of an asset this offseason headed into a crucial 2021-22 campaign, in which they are hoping to see a significant jump in the standings after a rough season that led to a coaching change from Ryan Saunders to Chris Finch.
If the Wolves had kept their pick this season, they would have relinquished their pick next summer unprotected to Golden State. But now they know the exact cost of the Russell-Wiggins trade. It's up to Russell and company to make it look in future years like a price worth paying.