We here at A Wolf Among Wolves are not terribly into the rumors and the speculation. After all, by Friday morning we’ll all know who the Wolves drafted, who they traded and just maybe what it all means. At that point all of the pre-draft innuendo won’t much matter. Nonetheless, its obvious that the big red phone at Target Center has seen a lot of action lately. Our own Zach Harper recently spoke with Rahat Huq of Red 94, about Detroit’s and Houston’s interest in the fourth pick, Indiana’s inquiries about Jonny Flynn, and what it might all mean for the Pups. You really should read the whole thing. Here’s some fine insight:
“My first thought for every move the Wolves are rumored to be considering or proposing to other teams is always trying to figure out how this impacts getting Ricky Rubio to the Twin Cities. With the idea of trading Jonny Flynn for anything, you have to think it’s motivation for clearing depth at a position Rubio plays. To get him over here and in a Wolves uniform, you have to convince him that the job is his and it’s a lucrative and likely-to-succeed situation for him”
On that note, Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press reports that Wolves’ GM David Kahn had this to say about the possibility of moving the fourth pick: “Highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely.”That does not sound likely to me.
“As for the possibility of trading rights to Spanish guard Ricky Rubio, who was the Wolves’ top draft pick (No. 5 overall) a year ago, Kahn reiterated, ‘I don’t anticipate trading him. I feel very strongly that Ricky Rubio should start his career with us here in a Minnesota Timberwolves uniform, and I look forward to that day a year from now.’”
“Rubio will not be inclined to terminate his contract with Barcelona next summer if there’s no new collective bargaining agreement by then. Also, if Rubio waits until 2012 — three years removed from his draft year — he’ll no longer be bound by the rules of the NBA rookie scale, which, under the current CBA, would pay him an average of about $3.6 million his first two years, a sum that will likely be below market value. Freed from the rookie scale, Rubio could negotiate like a free agent with the team that holds his rights, receiving anything from the mid-level exception ($5.85 million this season) to a maximum contract if a team has the requisite room under the salary cap.”
Those are two really excellent points and also total bummers. So much is going to happen. Let’s be paying attention.
We learned some things at Derrick Favors’s workout for the Timberwolves on Thursday. First: he’s not in good shape right now. That’s too bad.
Second: the young kid (just 18! Its really weird, I looked just like this guy when I was 18) has a long way to go before he can be an NBA starter. By his own admission, Favors is “just playing on natural ability right now.” And David Kahn pointed out that, although he’s extremely gifted, “he just needs to learn how to play.” Thats all.
Indeed, if you check out these highlights, you do see a lot of jumping and dunking. Don’t see so much ballhandling, footwork or shooting skill (FYI, I recommend you mute this thing):
Third and maybe most importantly, when Kahn was asked whether Favors could play alongside Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, Kahn replied, “if he’s there, it sort of hastens something else that has to occur.” This rather passive voice-y remark confirms what many of us have already thought: that if the Wolves take Favors (or, one has to assume Demarcus Cousins, another big fella) in the draft, then Big Al is probably on his way out.
Did I say that Hassan Whiteside looks like an NBA player? Well Wes Johnson really, really looks like an NBA player. How do these dudes possibly get arms this long? On Tuesday evening, Johnson showed off all of the skills that Zach so ably enumerated: the classic mid-range jumper; the three-point range; the startling quickness and leaping ability; the energy and tenacity (and all of that while struggling with a sore toe, which is much more painful and hindering than it sounds). I’ll tell you, I never get used to the strangeness of seeing such large, long-limbed people move so economically and effortlessly.
On top of all that, he’s a sweet, smile-y kid who seems to really enjoy playing basketball. (And the fact that he idolizes Scottie Pippen over Michael Jordan is somehow extremely encouraging.) He might not ever be an offensive superstar, but I am totally untroubled by the idea of Wes Johnson as a Timberwolf. Here’s his Jonah Ballow interview with a few clips from the workout thrown in at the end:
And here’s David Kahn’s interview. I’m only including this because, at the very end of the clip, Kahn confesses that he misjudged Steph Curry’s ability to play point guard in the NBA and that this was an important factor in passing him over in favor of Jonny Flynn. This is fair; many people had doubts about Curry’s ability to play the point. But I wonder: what made him think that Flynn would be any better?
Hassan Whiteside looks just exactly like a professional basketball player. He is tall and lanky, with smooth, sinewy muscles and impossibly long arms. His elastic strides cover huge swaths of the court; when he leaps, his hands stretch high above the rim; this dude will block your shot. But if his body and movements suggest a familiar, highly developed athletic manhood, his round, boyish face, thick Carolina accent and tentative speech give him away as the near-teenager that he is.
At Sunday morning’s workout for the Timberwolves in Minneapolis, Whiteside looked every bit the slightly lost, not quite confident kid (I love the fact that he just wants teams to know “that I’m a nice guy”). In fact, although he was easily the most highly touted player in the five-man group, Whiteside was overshadowed by the massive Texan Dexter Pittman. Pittman has a soft voice and a charming, agreeable demeanor. When asked about the trait he would most like to impress upon potential coaches and GM’s he offered, “my hungriness,” which sounds really, really hungry. On the grueling whirlwind of cross-country workouts–Miami on Saturday, Minneapolis on Sunday, Oklahoma City on Monday–he quipped that he was on “a nationwide tour like Michael Jackson”. And, oddly, he seemed genuinely excited to play for the Wolves, citing his relationship with the Babcock family, the surprising beauty of the city, plus, and probably most importantly, an affinity for the team’s logo which he approvingly described as “a beast.”
On the court, though, that soft voice turned into a bellow as he battered and bruised his fellow pro hopefuls. Like Whiteside, Pittman didn’t seem particularly comfortable more than ten feet from the basket, but when he got any closer than that he had a pretty easy time bullying his way to the rim, smiling and yelling all the way.
There’s a limit to a person can learn at one of these workouts. As David Kahn explained, you can learn something about a player’s conditioning and “willingness to compete”, about their ability to interact with coaches and perform in certain NBA-specific situations (such as defending the pick-and-roll). You can learn that Pittman has lost nearly 100 pounds in the last three years. And that he has alarmingly large, supple hands, and can one-handedly pick a basketball off the floor and ladle it into the hoop like it was an apple. But these aren’t truly game situations; as a predictive tool for how someone will fare in an 82-game NBA season is notoriously unreliable.
And you don’t learn a whole lot about the fatigue and loneliness that must inevitably set in while these guys cross the country. They are already becoming practiced at the pro athlete’s brash lingua franca, a kind of rote optimism that denies vulnerability and intentionally forgets the past. Pittman’s charm and bravado, for instance, gave no indication that his brother was murdered just over a month ago. And so, as far as insight into the strange, itinerant life of an aspiring draftee, his slightly cryptic, but obliquely revealing one-liners will have to do. How does he handle the fatigue? “It’s just a mental thing,” Pittman replied. Totally.
Phil Miller of the Star-Tribune reports, right here, on David Kahn’s and Kurt Rambis’s attempts to sweet-talk Ricky Rubio and family in Barcelona. And although Rubio’s buyout and voyage to the NBA is still more than a year away, everybody is apparently smitten:
“Rubio was impressed with Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis when they met for the first time last week, and the 19-year-old point guard told friends that ‘he can envision playing for Kurt’…Rubio, taken fifth overall in last June’s draft, had dinner with Rambis, Kahn and Rubio’s father, Esteve, in Barcelona late last week, and ‘Kurt and Ricky hit it off right away,’ Kahn said.”
Is anyone else feeling a “Millionaire Matchmaker” vibe? Here’s the best part:
“Asked to describe himself as a player, Rubio said, ‘A player who wants to make people happy with his play on the court … a colorful, attractive, spectacular basketball player.’”
Wow, that sounds great. When asked to describe myself as a blogger, I often think for a moment and then reply, “you know, I think of myself a colorful, attractive, spectacular blogger.” Just want to make people happy.
DeMarcus Cousins is looked at as a very volatile and yet talented young man who is set to unleash a fury of punishment and bewilderment on the NBA.
The problem is that nobody quite knows which direction those things will be directed.
I’m not so much concerned with the player that DeMarcus will become. He’s an absolute barbarian when it comes to his play on the court. He’s usually the biggest and strongest guy out there and knows how to use this to his advantage. This seems like a very simple concept but it’s one that not many players know how to do. Cousins is clearly comfortable with his size. He doesn’t feel overgrown or too fat for these jeans in any way. He’s a powerful guy that enjoys throwing that power around.
His weaknesses are more mental than anything else. He’s a headcase and a bad apple but not in the conventional sense. He doesn’t really get into off the court problems. During his one year at Kentucky, he was a model citizen when it came to life away from Rupp Arena. However, when he was on the court and more importantly walking towards the sidelines, you could routinely see him disagreeing and arguing with his head coach in a way not representative of a gentleman.
I don’t want to say it’s a sense of entitlement with Cousins because that doesn’t seem to be the issue. I think he’s a very strong-willed individual who can butt heads with other strong-willed individuals. Put him in a program with a more easy-going head coach and you’d probably never know that Cousins was considered somewhat of a problem child. Sure, he’d throw the occasional elbow to an opponent’s head and he’d probably get a technical foul for screaming at the referee. But overall, you wouldn’t see him screaming at his coach to go intercourse himself.
I want to you to take a few minutes and review the following two videos. If you have the time, watch both of them in their entirety. However, it’s not necessary to do so. Just watch a couple minutes of each to see the fascinating psyche on display.
DeMarcus Cousins is seemingly brilliant if you ask me. I think he’s probably the most self-aware prospect I’ve ever seen come into the NBA. He knows what he is. He knows what he has been and he knows what he will be. There is no façade with him. There is no image he’s trying to portray. Cousins dances with reporters until he grows agitated by such tomfoolery. And yet, he’s toeing the line of letting his frustration get the better of him or keeping a cool head. It’s a fascinating look into a young man figuring out his professional obligations in real time.
However, in the paraphrased words of Dave Chappelle he’s pretty much delaying the inevitable of seeing what happens when keeping it real goes bad.
DeMarcus isn’t going to pull punches or sugarcoat anything. He has an opinion of how things are and he doesn’t fill the need to filter much. He’s too intelligent to just come out and say what’s on his mind when he can sense it will be twisted or used against him at a later date. If anything, he’s constantly reminding himself of his own Miranda Rights. He’s going to try to not say anything that will be used against him in a court of public opinion later on.
I don’t know that any of this is a problem either. But I also can’t say it won’t be a problem. With DeMarcus Cousins you’ll get a demonstrative entity capable of ruling the NBA paint. It’s not so much a question of how good is he? It’s more of a question of how good will he allow himself to be?
Throwing him into a frontcourt with Al Jefferson, Kevin Love and Darko Milicic (assuming he re-signs) is a potential path of destruction and a Batman utility belt full of interior options.
If you need to go all offense, you can run Jefferson and Love together. Yes, it’s defensive equivalent of interior saloon doors but at the same time, no one can theoretically stop their post scoring as they continue to mature next to each other.
If you want more of a balance, you can throw out the combination of Cousins and Jefferson or Cousins and Love together. Both work in amazing ways. Cousins can account for any defensive liabilities Love or Jefferson might pose. He can guard the strongest post player on the floor or allow Jefferson and/or Love to guard them and provide stellar weak side help. On offense, you can put both Jefferson and Cousins in the post and let them take turns pulverizing the interior. Or you can play the high-low game with Love and Cousins and watch opposing big men weep in frustration.
And on those possessions in which you need to go all defense for big stops, you can run Cousins and Darko out there together and watch them bully opposing offenses.
DeMarcus Cousins is a once in a generation level talent on the inside with a perennial bust level attitude. Rarely do we ever see guys possess both of these traits. He’s a roll of the dice in many ways because you don’t know if he’s going to be an All-Star player for your team or the next team he plays for. He’s definitely not a guy you see sticking with one organization for the majority of his career. He’s likely to be a floater in this league in the mold of a Rasheed Wallace or Zach Randolph. He would have fit in perfectly with those early millennium Blazers team.
What David Kahn will have to decipher is whether they can risk being the team he unleashes his inevitable path of destruction upon.
Because one way (opposing team) or the other (his team), it’s going to happen.
So the Timberwolves have the fourth pick in the draft (plus the 16th and the 23rd). Myles has accurately articulated our feelings of despair, of helplessness, of cursed fortune. On Monday, presciently anticipating and defusing the disappointment, Wolves GM David Kahn gave a calming little spiel. He rested his chin in his hand; he wore a comfy shirt; he looked chillaxed. In this video, Kahn told us all, in advance, why we shouldn’t be too twisted up about poor lottery luck: 1) the fourth pick was the most statistically likely anyhow 2) they might very well move up 3) if the do pick fourth, they’ll get somebody good anyway. Check it and try to feel better:
Breathing easier? If that didn’t work, watch this and just try to enjoy Paul Allen’s moment of blissed-out hysteria. He’s not lucky, evidently, but he sure can get himself fired up. There, that should do it:
The Minnesota Timberwolves have never had the top overall draft pick, never moved up in the draft lottery and more often than not, they’ve fallen short of their projected draft position. Of course those familiar with the team’s history can tell you that odds were also in favor of management making the wrong choice, but such cynicism wouldn’t be congruent with the facts. The higher the pick, the more likelihood for success. Sometimes it’s impossible not to make the right choice.
This was supposed to be one of those times. In fact, this had to be one of those times. The promise of John Wall or Evan Turner was necessary not only for the Wolves to entice reluctant free agents, but a reluctant draft pick they already own the rights to. It didn’t happen. Having ‘secured’ the fourth pick in a draft with only two players of real consequence, the Wolves find themselves in yet another precarious position with no choice but to trust the man who drafted three point guards last year.
David Kahn remains the butt of countless jokes, but it’s yet to be seen if his wry smile is merely indicative of deluded confidence or a man who will truly get the last laugh. Hopefully it’s the latter. Before last night’s lottery Kahn made no assurances that he wouldn’t select Wall if given the chance, a continuation of his ‘best player available’ strategy. A strategy that actually makes sense if you can hear yourself think over all the laughter. This team needs to collect as many assets as possible. Assets that provide options leading to the acquisition of not the best players available, but the players needed to make this system work.
Right now he doesn’t have many options. Trading up? Trading the pick altogether? Trading his best player? Trading his best young prospect? Trading his other prospect who hasn’t even crossed the Atlantic yet? Each could prove to be penny wise and pound foolish, but he has to do something and soon. July 1st is rapidly approaching and if he can’t ‘secure’ a suitable talent in the draft, finagle another cap clearing trade or discover compromising pictures of LeBron James then he’s going to learn very quickly what it’s like to be a Wolves fan. Dependent on a lottery you can’t win, flush with cash you can’t convince anyone to take and stockpiled with assets that will eventually go for 20 cents on the dollar.
At this point, idle speculation is useless. But prayer couldn’t hurt.