Tom Thibodeau, the Timberwolves’ coach and president of basketball operations, is in an enviable position with the No. 7 overall pick in the NBA draft Thursday night. Thibodeau, who will take part in his seventh draft as a head coach (five with the Bulls, two with the Wolves), said that between their top-10 selection and players already on the roster, the Wolves have been fielding a lot of phone calls from teams making trade inquiries.
“There’s a lot of possibilities,” Thibodeau said. “We’re getting a lot of interest in our pick but we also feel there will be good players available that can get into the rotation right away. We’re still weighing all of our options. You can tell it’s one of the best drafts in many years, one of the deepest, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Several NBA analysts say they believe there is more high-end talent in the draft than the league has seen in over a decade, and Thibodeau said he agrees. Some compare it to the 1998 draft, when Michael Olowokandi went first overall, but great players emerged in Mike Bibby at No. 2, Antawn Jamison at No. 4, Vince Carter at No. 5, Dirk Nowitzki at No. 9 and Paul Pierce at No. 10.
“Oftentimes you can tell by the calls that you’re getting,” Thibodeau said. “There’s a lot of teams that are trying to get into the top 10. And so when you look at the players that are available, there’s probably 10 really good players … and maybe even more than that as it unfolds.”
Most draft analysts have the Wolves eyeing two main prospects if they retain the No. 7 pick: Lauri Markkanen, a 7-foot freshman power forward out of Arizona, and Jonathan Isaac, a 6-11 freshman forward from Florida State.
Markkanen and Isaac are skilled, versatile big men, and their pairing with star center Karl-Anthony Towns would really give the Wolves a lot of options in the frontcourt and potentially make it much harder for teams to defend against Towns.
Cap space available
The Wolves also could make a trade for a veteran player instead of adding to one of the youngest rosters in the NBA.
If the Wolves are going to reach the playoffs after missing postseason play for 13 consecutive seasons, the question of whether to make a draft-day deal for a proven player or keep their pick and draft a potential star is one the front office will have to consider.
Wolves fans might remember that last season Bulls star Jimmy Butler had his name come up in a lot of draft-day trade rumors. All indications are that the former Thibodeau draft pick is back on the market as the draft nears.
Thibodeau said that no matter what decision the Wolves make, they are in great financial position to add any player they want, with nearly $35 million in cap space.
“We have great flexibility because of where we are with the cap,” he said. “Obviously we have a lot of space. We’re in a good position there. Because of the interest in the pick, it does give us great flexibility to either keep it, move down to maybe add another player that could be in the rotation and trade picks. There are a lot of options that are available.
“That’s what we’re weighing through, whether we keep the pick, whether we decide we’d like to move up, or if we’d like to move back and get another player in addition to what we have. We think we’re in a good spot.”
Last season a lot of NBA front office personnel thought the Wolves made the best pick of the draft in selecting Providence point guard Kris Dunn fifth overall. But Dunn struggled and finished with averages of 3.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.4 assist per game while shooting 37.7 percent from the field, 61.0 percent from the foul line and 28.8 percent on three-pointers.
Still, Thibodeau said Dunn has been all-in this offseason, and the coach thinks he’s going to be a solid pro.
“He has been terrific. He has been in right from the end of the season,” Thibodeau said. “He is in every day, oftentimes twice a day. He has worked extremely hard. We’re looking forward to the second season and we think he learned a lot from the first season.
“Like most rookies, he had some really good moments and some moments in which he feels he could have done better. It was a learning year for him. We’re excited about his future.”
1983 draft disaster
With the NBA and NHL drafts happening this week, I recalled the 1983 MLB draft when the Twins drafted pitcher Tim Belcher with the first overall pick in the amateur draft, pitcher Bill Swift in the second round at 29th overall and then selected outfielder Oddibe McDowell with the first overall pick in the secondary phase of the draft for previously drafted but unsigned players.
None of them signed with the Twins.
I remember being in the office of George Brophy, a Twins vice president and farm director, and he had agent Scott Boras on the phone. Boras represented Belcher, and Brophy was telling Boras, “You were a lousy ballplayer and you’re a worse agent.”
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was willing to take the three Twins draft choices and either pay owner Calvin Griffith in cash or in players, but Griffith turned it down. Belcher, Swift and McDowell all went on to have solid success in the majors.
• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer left Tuesday on a 14-hour driving trip to Dallas, where his daughter will be married in the near future. After the wedding, Zimmer will drive another 14 hours from Dallas to his farm in Kentucky. The big question will be whether Zimmer will be able to fly back to Minnesota, or if he’ll need to take another long road trip to protect the healing in his right eye after eight surgeries on it.
• The Gophers athletic department reports that the 700 student-athletes representing the school this semester posted the highest grade-point average in school history at 3.24. The Gophers had 299 Academic All-Big Ten honorees in the 2016-2017 academic year, and they could add more.
• Former Twins outfielder/designated hitter Oswaldo Arcia is hitting .354 (through Tuesday) with 15 HR and 65 RBI in 57 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Reno farm team in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League. He has an on-base percentage of .428, slugging percentage of .698 and on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.126.
• ByungHo Park is 11-for-30 in his past eight games for the Twins’ Class AAA Rochester farm team to raise his average to .222. He has three home runs and 16 RBI in 42 games.
• Former Gophers pitcher Seth Rosin, who was with the Twins in spring training, has a 0.00 ERA and seven saves in 11 appearances for the St. Paul Saints. He has allowed six hits and one walk and struck out 10 in 11⅓ innings.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday and at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. E-mail: email@example.com