As NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum was unveiling which franchises got the top picks in the upcoming draft, Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas said the team’s draft war room was fairly quiet.
That was until Tatum unveiled the No. 2 envelope containing the Warriors, which meant the only envelope left, the No. 1 pick, belonged to the Timberwolves.
“Then we all erupted,” Rosas said. “It was responsible celebrations with our masks on, but it was celebrations.”
For one of the few times in a franchise history filled with unkind ping-pong balls, they bounced the Wolves’ way.
The Wolves landed the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery, cashing in their 14% odds of netting the top pick, overcoming a snakebit history in this annual affair.
They had the highest odds of getting the No. 1 pick, along with Cleveland and Golden State, but as the team with the third-worst record, the Wolves technically moved up from their slot for the first time in franchise history.
Last time the Wolves picked first in 2015, they had the worst record entering the night and netted franchise linchpin Karl-Anthony Towns. That draft, it was either Towns or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor at the top, though another current member of the Wolves, D’Angelo Russell, ended up going No. 2. It was Russell who represented the Wolves at the lottery and brought them a little luck the franchise has largely missed in the lottery.
“There’s a lot of steps left in this journey for us, but today was a significant one,” Rosas said. “We’re excited about the potential level of player that we can add to our organization, but at the same time, we’re going to be very aggressive. We’re going to look at every avenue to improve this team.”
That includes potentially trading the top pick. Let the speculation begin.
This year the race to be the No. 1 pick is a murky one. There is no slam-dunk prospect at the top like last year when the Pelicans took Zion Williamson.
But the Wolves could have fallen as far back as No. 7 in this year’s draft. Having the first pick, even in a muddled draft, is a good problem to have. At the very least, it’s a significant asset Rosas can dangle in trade talks.
“This allows us to take a major step in terms of the talent acquisition, whether it’s in the draft or trade market, whatever the case may be,” Rosas said. “It really positions us well moving forward.”
Potential top picks include guard LaMelo Ball, who played in Australia and whose brother Lonzo is on the Pelicans, and Anthony Edwards, an explosive guard from Georgia.
The Wolves also have Brooklyn’s pick at No. 17, a pick they acquired in a four-team trade that involved Robert Covington at the deadline in February.
In Rosas’ lone draft as Wolves boss, he wasn’t afraid to strike and moved up from No. 11 to No. 6 to take Jarrett Culver, sending Dario Saric to Phoenix in the process.
He was also the most aggressive mover at the trade deadline, striking multiple deals that reshaped the roster in the span of a few days bringing in Russell and sending out Andrew Wiggins and next year’s first-round pick. Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez and the additional draft pick came in a separate deal for Covington.
Every draft has the age-old question, do you draft for need or do you draft the best player available regardless of position? Rosas is firmly planted in the latter camp. His philosophy? Get the best player and make it work.
“It’s not something where you pick a guy, you plug a hole and you move forward,” Rosas said. “You pick a guy, you build an organization, you build a program, and it takes time. It’s a natural process when you’re working through the draft and you’re building an organization.”
If the Wolves stick with the pick, don’t expect them to shy away from a player because they might play the same position as Russell or Towns. That’s also a signal to potential trade suitors that the Wolves don’t care about position. They’ll take whoever they think is best. If another team wants a player, make the Wolves an offer.
“We’ll be very thorough in terms of what our options are,” Rosas said. “We have an open mind as we go through all of this.”
The draft is scheduled for October, although ESPN reported it may move back depending on when the NBA plans to begin its next season.
Those concerns could wait for a night. After a trying few months for the organization, one in which Towns lost his mother, Jacqueline, to COVID-19, the Wolves had a little celebrating to do.
“Minnesota has gone through a lot here since the pandemic happened,” Rosas said. “Whether it’s the pandemic or the George Floyd tragedy, this is for our fans, for our community. We’ve done a lot of little things right, and the opportunity to catch a break like this, it just feels right. It feels right for our fans, for our market, for our community, something they can rally around.”