I think that it's pretty safe to say that John Wall and Evan Turner will not be left on the board when it comes time for the Wolves to make the #4 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. However, there are plenty of players remaining on the radar, and, unless Trader Kahn has a trick up his sleeve, the player the Wolves choose with their #4 pick will play a very large role in the Wolves' chances of returning to respectability.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this post, let's take a second to get a good feel for the Wolves' current situation. Myself and many others have gone over ad nauseum why this off-season is THE most important since Sammy C and Spree came to the Twin Cities, but I'll offer a refresher anyway.
#1 - We owe the Clippers an unprotected 2012 1st round draft pick. After this season, the Wolves have ONE more chance to turn things around before both our rebuilding plan and the psyche of the ten remaining members of the fanbase suffer a critical blow. (Thanks, McHale) Needless to say, it's nearly impossible to go from the basement to the playoffs in a single season, so the Wolves need to start getting things turned around ASAP. Next off-season is not the time to try and pull the game-changing move.
#2 - For the foreseeable future, the Wolves aren't going to have as much cap space as they do now. Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, Johnny Flynn, Wayne Ellington... Those guys are all on rookie salaries and won't be for much longer. The Wolves also have seven contracts that have expired. Other than Big Al, the Wolves don't have anybody making more than Ryan Gomes' $3.9M, and even he has a team option on his contract, allowing him to be cut loose. The bottom line is that if we roll that cap room over to next season there will only be less of it for us to work with.
#3 - The 2010 Free Agent crop is the strongest in NBA history. Now is the time to buy if you're in the market for a free agent, because there won't be better ones coming along any time soon. Just like the Wolves will have less cap space in 2011, they will also have a much poorer selection of possible acquisitions to choose from.
#4 - We all know that the owners in the NBA are losing tons and tons of money. The Wolves haven't been relevant in half a decade. The Target Center is an empty cavern on most nights. You have to sell a serious amount of tickets to pay for even Al Jefferson's $12M/year contract, let alone all the other players, coaches, and staff. I think it's safe to say that Glen Taylor lost money last season. He's still made a bundle due to the inflation of the team's value since he purchased it in the mid-90's, but at what point do the Wolves become a liability? If the Wolves continue to lose both on the court and in the wallet, there comes a time when any sensible business man decides to close up shop. Given the state of affairs in Minnesota, if that happens, I'm guessing it won't be to an owner who's intending to keep the team up North.
Are the stakes high enough for you? I can't say that I envy David Kahn. The weight of the franchise rests squarely on his shoulders this summer. To his credit, he isn't taking this burden lightly and has been burning up the phones. Rumors are that he even called the Los Angels Sparks regarding a possible draft pick swap. With that in mind, predicting what will happen in Thursday's draft, July's free-agency, or in the Trade Mill is going to be next to impossible. So instead of prognosticating about some crazy swap of Big Al for a wing, or trading every asset we own for Evan Turner, I'm going to focus on something much more simple. What if we just keep the #4 pick?
The way I see it, if you're picking fourth this season, there are only three realistic options. Depending on what New Jersey does, only two of these three options will be available to Kahn when it's our turn to pick. I'll go over the pro's and con's of each selection and ultimately weigh in on what I believe the Wolves should do.
Option #1 - Wes Johnson
Wes Johnson is the player who has been linked to the Wolves more than any other draftee this summer. He fills a big need for the team as the Wolves are extremely weak at both SF and in the jump-shooting department in general. He's a quality individual who seems like a natural leader. It's hard not to like the guy after listening to one of his interviews. The big question is whether or not Wes can provide the Wolves with the "star" quality that their roster lacks. Many feel that with Johnson, the Wolves would simply be adding a young role player to a roster already filled with young role players.
Fills a need on the team
Can't create his own shot
Relatively old for a rookie
Best Case: The next Shawn Marion
Most Likely: The next Wally Szczerbiak
Wolves outlook: The #4 pick is the Wolves best opportunity to do something truly franchise-altering. By drafting Wes Johnson, the Wolves would be playing it safe and basically resting the future of the franchise on Kahn's ability to swing a major trade this off-season. Well, either that or landing a top-tier free agent. (Don't hold your breath) If neither of those two pan out, it's now up to the ping pong gods to save the franchise in 2011. Either the Wolves finally get some luck, or it's "Hello Las Vegas Lobos!".
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Option #2 - DeMarcus Cousins
This dude has "train wreck" written all over him. Questionable character. Questionable work ethic. And to hear him talk, well, let's just say it's evident that he's not a member of Mensa. DeMarcus Cousins has everything that should make a GM run away in terror... except for the fact that he may be the most talented player in the draft. DMC has such an amazing skill set and loads potential, that if he didn't appear to be completely out of his mind, it wouldn't be entirely laughable that a certain somebody ranked him #1 on his draft board. (Ok, it still would be, considering John Wall was #4, but I digress...) For any team picking in the Top 5, Cousins represents a huuuuuuuuuuuge gamble.
Built like a solid NBA big man
Great post moves
Highest ceiling in the draft
Fills a need on the team
He's a fatty
Questionable work ethic
Questionable ability to grasp a complex game plan
Concerns about wanting to play in Minnesota
Best Case: The Shaq/Duncan of the 2010's
Worst Case: The next Derrick Coleman
Most Likely: Who knows?
Wolves outlook: Go big or go home! (...or to Seattle) The Wolves need to do something DRASTIC to turn things around, and DMC has "drastic" written all over him. You take the "best case" Cousins and pair him with Rubio and Jefferson/Love, and suddenly you can see a fun team starting to take shape. Then there's the flip side, where the Wolves just wasted the #4 pick on Basketball Hannibal Lecter. You strongly have to consider that scenario as well, because it's the more likely of the two. One could easily argue that getting the "worst case" Cousins doesn't put you that far behind a Wolves team with Wes Johnson, and thus it's worth it to roll the dice. Regardless, at least DeMarcus would be an outright fail in that scenario and not some "up and comer" like Foye, Flynn, or Brewer that the front office tries to sell us on.
Option #3 - Derrick Favors
For a while, it was widely regarded that the Wolves had no shot of landing Favors. There was talk of Philly reaching for him at #2, and if they didn't, it was almost certain that the Nets would choose to pair him alongside of Brook Lopez. Now it's draft week and suddenly Favors could tumble all the way to (gasp!) #5??? For all the talk of Favors possibly ending up as this draft's best player, he has nearly as many question marks as Cousins when you really examine him closely. His college stats were underwhelming, but most people excused that, saying it was a byproduct of playing for a less-than-stellar team. But now we hear rumors of him getting outworked by Cousins in New Jersey and Kahn's recent slip of the tongue where he stated that Favors was out of shape and not ready for the NBA... I'd almost be surprised if the Wolves DIDN'T have a chance to nab him at #4.
Could be a franchise PF
Underwhelming college career
Does not fill a need
Best Case: An Amare/KG hybrid
Most Likely: Your typical overhyped PF taken early in the draft a la LaMarcus Aldridge
Wolves outlook: Derrick Favors creates a lot of problems for the Wolves. The Wolves are already oversaturated at PF with The Big Alco and Love. Adding Favors only creates more of a log jam. At that point, Kahn would be pretty much forced to make a trade, with Jefferson being the most likely candidate to be sent packing. This leads to even muddier waters. What if we aren't able to get fair value back for Al? What if Favors never ends up being as good as Al? You don't have to dream up something completely crazy to create a scenario where drafting Favors actually moves the Wolves backwards instead of forwards. Then again, if you play the risk/reward card, the chances of a successful scenario where Favors turns out to be great and Jefferson gets traded for something helpful aren't that awful.
And now for the decision...
NOT Wes Johnson - There's no time for "safe" picks which lead to marginal improvement. The Wolves need to come up with something franchise-changing this summer. I like Wes Johnson for a team that's established, or a team with a real shot at a top-tier free-agent. For a team with as many holes as the Wolves have, who are dying for something big, he simply won't cut it.
NOT Derrick Favors - I can buy the Favors pick only if Kahn alrady has a deal for Jefferson lined up that he likes. If that's the case, then I'm all for going with the "safer" of the two big men, because there's still a decent chance that Favors ends up being at the top of this year's class. However, I have no such confidence that a good deal exists and so I have a hard time drafting a player, yet again, who puts this franchise in an awkward situation. (cough, cough, Johnny Flynn, cough...) As I said before, Favors is probably the only player in our range who actually has the potential to worsen our current situation. I can't back him in good faith.
Which leads me to a big fat (literally) YES to DeMarcus Cousins. Worst case, we waste our draft pick. Can't say that would be much different than when we got McCants, Foye, Brewer, or Flynn. The only real benefits we've seen from that crop so far is that they can be effectively used as trade bait (Viva Ricky Rubio!) Best case, the Wolves find themselves with a franchise player. It's an all-or-nothing situation, but as I said before, now's the time to get drastic. Yes, it's easy for me to say when it's not my job on the line, but Kahn knew from the start that he'd have to be ballsy to undo McHale's mess.
Time to show us what you got, Kahn. Are you made in the mold of Greg Oden and Sam Cassell, or are you George Constanza fresh out of the swimming pool?
Wh..What's this??? No! Not him again!!!!!