There might not be a superstar in the 2020 NBA draft.
Some drafts are just better than others, and most analyses portend this year’s draft class to be of a lower quality. There are few, if any, stars, and a lot of guesswork might be necessary, especially in a draft process that coronavirus has essentially shredded by eliminating the ability for in-person workouts and meetings.
But in an interview Friday, Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas said if the Wolves end up keeping the No. 1 overall pick the franchise won in the lottery Thursday, he doesn’t need that player to turn into an MVP. Rosas said the organization already has a player on that trajectory in center Karl-Anthony Towns with a complementary All-Star point guard in D’Angelo Russell. Rosas would be hoping the pick meshes well with that duo and accentuates their strengths.
“We’re not praying this guy is a franchise piece,” Rosas said. “We’re not praying that this guy is our No. 1 player. We’re fortunate to have that already with Karl. We have a guy we acquired at the trade deadline in D’Angelo, a complementary superstar point guard to our top guy. … This No. 1 pick gives it another layer of value to find whether it’s the No. 2 or No. 3 guy. We’re not this organization that’s bare and is praying for a franchise pick, which I think gives us a different perspective as we go into this draft.”
That view fits with how Rosas sees the overall trajectory of the franchise, and now is as good a time as any for the Wolves to take stock of where they are in the league.
“I’d be naive to say we’re playoff contending next year because that’s not how it happens, especially in the West. You have to build a winning program. You have to build an identity. You have to build your DNA, and that takes time. ”
They were one of only two Western Conference teams left out of the NBA’s restart in Orlando. Consistent playoff contention, much less title contention, remains a significant hurdle for the franchise. A fan base that has seen only one playoff appearance in the past 16 seasons is restless for a winner.
Rosas remade the roster at this season’s trade deadline, including the deal that netted Russell. The chance to add another key piece after landing the top overall pick in the draft figures to bolster the rebuilding process.
Saying goodbye to the past
Rosas is preaching patience, but for just how much patience can he ask?
He sees Towns and Russell, both 24, hitting the peaks of their careers — and other title contenders fading — in three to five years. Their contracts also expire in the time frame. Rosas has a window of time to show he can build a winner in Minnesota, and the No. 1 pick will help with that, whether the Wolves keep or trade the pick.
“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. “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.”
From Rosas’ point of view, this pick is another step in the Wolves’ distancing themselves from the Tom Thibodeau era. Since taking the job, Rosas has been political in public comments about the situation he inherited when he took the job. He was more direct recently.
Rosas was asked if he felt he had enough room to be patient with a top pick that may take years to blossom or else risk the unhappiness of Russell and Towns. Rosas said the Wolves had no choice but to be, given the situation they’ve been in the past few seasons.
“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. “I understand the concern with guys going into free agency, but there’s also the unknowns, positive unknowns that it’s not like we’re going to try and tank or lose over the next three or four years. We’re trying to win.”
It’s a matter of just when that will happen.
Keep or trade?
If history is a predictor, the Timberwolves will end up hanging on to the No. 1 pick they won in Thursday’s draft lottery.
“We’re not praying this guy is a franchise piece. We’re not praying that this guy is our No. 1 player. We’re fortunate to have that already with Karl.”
Teams that get the top pick rarely trade it before that player suits up for at least one season with the team. It’s happened twice in the past six years, including when Andrew Wiggins was traded to the Wolves in the same summer he was drafted in 2014. But before that, the last time was 1993, when Golden State swung a deal with Orlando for Chris Webber.
Rosas doesn’t buy the notion that there’s a lack of talent in the draft this year.
“There’s always talent in any draft, any year in any sport,” Rosas said. “Just to be fair to the organizations, we get it wrong more often than not. It’s not an exact science. The draft is a process of not only do you have to identify the best player, you have to make sure that he fits into your system. You have an opportunity for him and that he stays healthy.”
Rosas said there are times when teams pick the right player for the wrong system or they pick the right player who can’t stay healthy (see: Greg Oden in 2007). Then there is a player like Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was part of a supposedly unheralded draft in 2013 but in time flourished.
“Ideally for a No. 1 pick you want it to happen sooner rather than later,” Rosas said. “But a lot of it is are you taking an older guy? A younger guy? A guy more ready to play or that has more of a long runway similar to Giannis that it’s worth being patient because he’s such a unique individual?”
The Wolves find themselves in a good spot after last week, but with that prize comes a lot of responsibility to get it right.
“This isn’t an exact science,” Rosas said. “Nobody bats 1.000 in this business, but we believe in our people, our processes and we’re excited about making an educated decision come draft night.”