Archives For curious moves

Pity Party

Benjamin Polk —  June 25, 2010 — 5 Comments


The Timberwolves’ draft party seems like it would be kind of fun. Hang out with a bunch of people, watch some huge TV’s, drink some beers, get pumped up for your team’s future. All of those things were there, but the proceedings were, from the start, inflected by the Wolves’ star-crossed history. Within two minutes of walking in, I spotted both a Rashad McCants jersey and a Michael Olowokandi jersey. It was hard to tell whether rocking two of the more spectacular flops in NBA draft history to a draft party were signs of ridiculous naivete or just plain cynicism. Knowing the jaundiced state of Wolves’ fandom, I’m guessing the latter.

And instead of the festive atmosphere that one might expect from fans of a team with five draft picks, the mood was more one of muted acceptance. We’ve just been subjected to too many false starts and reboots to be genuinely excited at the prospect of another; we’ve seen this movie way too many times. When the little fellow called Wesley Johnson’s name and performed his trademarked blindlingly awkward handshake (don’t you sometimes feel that the entire racial history of our country is played out before our eyes in those awful encounters?) the noise that emanated from the Wolves’ faithful (and remember, these are fans intense and committed enough to attend a Minnesota Timberwolves draft party) was something like “eeehhhhmm?”. Not shocked, not elated, not disappointed, just accepting.

So lets us talk about Wesley Johnson. It’s my feeling that, despite the hope and optimism generated by the lottery (at least by teams other than the Wolves and sad Clips), despite the dim possibility of magically picking up a transcendent, franchise-saving player, the only mandate is this: if you draft in the top ten, you must land a quality starter. You can get lucky and land a superstar, but you can also draft Randy Foye. GM’s get yourselves a starter. Wes Johnson has long, muscular arms; he’s got a lovely, economical jumper; he very much wants to play defense; he can jump over the backboard. To me, he is a solid NBA starter and one who does things–move fast, shoot threes, play defense–that the Wolves desperately need.

The only problem is that one of the two guys in the draft who seem to have a chance to be genuinely great, was sitting right there waiting to be chosen. Kahn had a ready explanation for passing on Demarcus Cousins: “We spent most of the last season talking about the lack of length and athleticism and speed on our front line and I didn’t feel that he would improve those areas.” If this, and not Cousins’s (possibly undeserved) rep as an immature hothead is really the reason, it strikes me as a little thin. Consider other players of Cousins’s great size, wingspan and footwork–I’m thinking folks like Pau Gasol and Joel Pryzbilla right now. They are able to use their skill and length to cover ground and challenge shots in the paint; the lack of great athleticism isn’t a huge hindrance. And although Cousins could certainly be in better condition and although the speed and duration of the college game pales in comparison to the NBA, he was able to play well in transition at Kentucky. Wouldn’t you imagine that he as at least a good a chance of being able to withstand the rigors of an up-tempo NBA game as, say, Darko Milicic for instance?

Moving right along, dudes. There’s evidently a great deal of frustration over the Martell Webster deal. It seems to fall along two fronts: first, that its irresponsible to trade a first-round pick for a player who has been, essentially a role player in the NBA. Second: that his skills and position overlap with those of Johnson and Corey Brewer (not to mention possible free agent pickup Rudy Gay). Here’s how I would respond (and I’m very much open to the possibility of being totally wrong about this): does anyone actually believe that Luke Babbitt, or anyone drafted beneath him, will be a better NBA player than Martell Webster? Webster is, like Johnson, 23 years-old and ridiculously athletic. He is an above average three-point shooter. He is a bright, thoughtful guy who loves to play defense. I’m actually on board with Kahn’s explanation, passive voice notwithstanding: “It was felt…that if we could add a young veteran, somebody who has been in the league for a number of years but still was on the young side, and that player could help us as much as a college player could and in some cases more, then that might be the route to go.”

As for the issue of redundancy with Wes Johnson. I’m of the belief that in the NBA right now, a team can never have too many long, athletic shooters who play defense. For way too long, the Wolves have been routinely torched for their deficiencies on the wing. Wes Johnson is a three. Martell Webster is a two. I’m not seeing the problem.

It does make a person wonder a few things, though: is Corey Brewer now going to be consigned to coming off the bench, or are his days, like Ryan Gomes’ now numbered? And now that Rudy Gay seems no longer to be an option, just what will the Wolves do with all of that cap room? Oh, and what about Mr. Jefferson? And I almost forgot the most curious thing of all: why did the Timberwolves trade down to select Lazar Hayward with the 30th pick, a player that could have been had with at 45, free of that guaranteed first-round contract? The Wolves shored up some serious shortcomings on Thursday, but they raised even more questions than they answered. And, ultimately, they failed to address their central concern, the lack of a truly elite player, a player who can give meaning and shape to the rest of this young roster. Seems to me, these loose ends are conspiring to tell us that this off-season is far from over.