The contention here is we must go back to the Timberwolves’ origins to equal the number of words written and spoken prior to this week’s NBA draft in the Twin Cities’ mainstream media.
The Timberwolves have been in the lottery 18 times in their 27 drafts and this is the first time they have landed at No. 1.
Whether the sporting public shares the media’s excitement over this is questionable, considering the apathetic state the Timberwolves have created toward the NBA here with their losing ways.
Looking back at the buildup and reaction to the 1989 draft, it’s clear the media and the public were in it together when it came to being lathered up over the return of the NBA after a 29-year absence.
The NBA added four teams in 1988 and 1989: first Miami and Charlotte, then Minnesota and Orlando. The expansion fees did not include generosity in the draft.
Miami and Charlotte were assigned the eighth and ninth places in the 1988 draft (25 teams). Orlando and Minnesota were assigned the 10th and 11th positions in the 1989 draft (27 teams).
The Timberwolves had the second choice in the expansion draft, so they drafted 10th ahead of Orlando in the first round of the regular draft.
Most of us were naïve in the ways of the NBA draft. We seemed to feel there would be a difference-maker at No. 10 to lead the Timberwolves from expansion wilderness within three or four years, if only the brain trust of personnel director Billy McKinney, coach Bill Musselman and team president Bob Stein made the right choice.
It didn’t take long to realize you could pick third (1992 — Christian Laettner) and not get a difference-maker, but this was new … even a veteran sportswriter like me could barely remember Elgin Baylor heading west with the Minneapolis Lakers in 1960.
Thus, there were strong opinions as to what the Wolves had to do at No. 10 in the first NBA draft. The Star Tribune panel of that time offered the following advice:
Dan Barreiro and Reusse — Nick Anderson, Illinois; Sid Hartman — Tommy Hammonds, Georgia Tech, or Anderson; Jerry Zgoda — Mookie Blaylock, Oklahoma.
Hammonds went to Washington at No. 9. Anderson, a small forward, and Blaylock, a point guard, were available. So was Tim Hardaway, a point guard from UTEP who the Wolves had brought to town before the draft.
The Wolves wound up taking a point guard, but not Blaylock or Hardaway, or B.J. Armstrong from Iowa or Sherman Douglas from Syracuse, but UCLA’s Jerome “Pooh” Richardson.
Pooh had been mentioned only vaguely in pre-draft speculation in the Twin Cities media. There was some grumbling in the crowd estimated (by the Wolves) at 10,000 at the draft party, but most wound up taking McKinney’s word for it when he said Pooh was the player the team wanted all along.
“They weren’t lying about that,” Richardson said in a phone conversation. “I had a great workout for Minnesota. I was very confident going into draft night that the Timberwolves were going to take me.”
He played three seasons here, with increasing effectiveness, until new General Manager Jack McCloskey made a blunder of a trade: Richardson and Sam Mitchell to Indiana for Chuck Person and Micheal Williams.
Richardson was in his office this week in Los Angeles. He’s a co-founder of Rival Sports Group. The prominent client that Rival has for this draft is point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, 19, a native of the Congo who came to the United States and then played last season in China.
Mudiay is expected to go in the top six on Thursday night. If the Timberwolves had their normal lottery luck, Mudiay might have been a candidate to follow Richardson to Minnesota.
“I loved it there … the excitement we had with the fans, the people we had in the front office, the coaches, the guys I played with,” Richardson said.
Even Bill Musselman, the hard-nosed coach that Pooh started with in the NBA?
“Muss was great for me,” Richardson said. “Yes, he was demanding, but that was in games. He wasn’t that hard on us, and he was all for his players.
“Look at some of the guys we had and the coaches they became in the NBA. We had Thibs [Tom Thibodeau] as a young coach Bill brought in, and his record speaks for itself. We had Sam Mitchell, an NBA coach of the year. Scotty Brooks, a successful coach. Sidney Lowe, another NBA coach. It was great to be there at the start with the Timberwolves.
“And now with Sam and Sidney back there, helping Flip Saunders, with KG [Kevin Garnett] around, with a Rookie of the Year [Andrew Wiggins] to go with this No. 1 pick. … I’m expecting the fans to come back and it will be great again.’’