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NCAA Basketball: Memphis at Oregon

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Request Denied: Why the Timberwolves Should Still Draft James Wiseman

The Memphis center expressed disinterest in coming to Minnesota because he plays the same position as Karl-Anthony Towns. Should the team listen?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know if you, dear reader, have realized the Minnesota Timberwolves are not an NBA glamour franchise. This makes acquiring talent sometimes difficult. You have to pay a little more for free agents if there is mutual interest and sometimes draft prospects don’t want to play here.

This is understandable, to a degree. A 19-year-old draft prospect has seen this team make the playoffs just once over the last sixteen years and may (or may not) also know that Minnesota has the worst winning percentage among active franchises. At this point, the likelihood of a draft prospect in 2020 remembering what it was like to see Kevin Garnett play in a Timberwolves uniform is microscopic. Moreover, none of these prospects can probably recall the team’s one deep playoff run (from when they were four or five years old) — the only word association they have with the Minnesota Timberwolves at this point is futility (save for maybe 2018).

With that said, many of us from the area know that Minnesota is a great place to live and professional athletes can make a strong name for themselves here, especially in the age of the Internet and social media. However, not everyone feels that way.

The Timberwolves, of course, will pick first first overall in this month’s draft. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst told KSTP last week that Memphis big man (and projected high-lottery pick) James Wiseman “wants nothing to do with the Timberwolves” mainly because Karl-Anthony Towns plays the same position as he does.

First off, Wiseman’s stance is indeed reasonable. He wants a path to large amounts of playing time and desires to play the only real position he’s ever known. However, honoring that desire is not in the team’s best interest if they feel he is the best pick. As has been documented countless times, the Timberwolves have made the mistake of listening to these wishes at their own expense.

NCAA Basketball: Memphis at Oregon Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The One(s) That Got Away

You might remember a former draft prospect from Davidson University who the Timberwolves didn’t draft because he, too didn’t want to play in Minnesota. Why did Steph Curry refuse to work out for the team? His father told the team he didn’t want his son in Minnesota, plain and simple. This “leverage play” by Curry and his father ultimately worked out great for him and, well, not so great for the Timberwolves (to say the least).

To this day, the Curry situation is still particularly funny because David Kahn says, in the same story, Ricky Rubio wasn’t thrilled about playing in Minnesota either. But as Kahn explained, he felt drafting a “disgruntled” Rubio was worth the risk, while betting on the “disgruntled” kid from Davidson was a less valuable alternative (Curry wasn’t projected to be a future league MVP at the time but passing on him for this type of logic was dumbfounding then and remains so today).

Just one season later, then-Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins was coming out of the draft. The Timberwolves picked fourth overall and were looking for a complement to rising star Kevin Love. Uh oh. Much like Wiseman, Cousins said the presence of talented big men on the roster (at that time it was Love and Al Jefferson) squashed any desire he had to play in Minnesota.

Because of this (at least partly), the Timberwolves would go on to select Wesley Johnson instead of Cousins, only to watch another prospect they passed on become a dynamic player for another team (at least for a few seasons). And here’s the kicker — the Wolves traded Jefferson two weeks after the draft anyway!

Sure, Cousins could (and probably would) have been upset if Minnesota called his name on draft night, but adhering to a prospect’s “requests” and “desires” based on trivial things like the current depth chart or winter temperatures is an inexcusable way to build a team and is one of the main reasons that bad teams remain bad. It sure would have been far more enjoyable for fans to see a Love/Cousins front court experiment than it was to watch countless games of the pu-pu platter that was Anthony Randolph, Darko Milicic, and Kosta Koufos.

2019 NBA Finals - Game Four Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Another Chance to Get It Right

During the same time frame describe above, the Timberwolves would win 15 and 17 games, respectively, and during that time were still passing on talent they so desperately needed.

Fast forward to 2020, and while the record has (slightly) improved, the circumstances surrounding the team have not. The Timberwolves are coming off another dismal season and again project to be one of the bottom teams in the Western Conference next season.

By the way — that last second says just as much (if not more) for the overall strength of the conference than it does about any one team, Minnesota included. The competition in the West appears formidable and the Wolves are just not there yet. One sure way to help their cause is to acquire the best talent possible if/when it becomes available to you. Possessing the top spot in the 2020 NBA Draft means Minnesota has the opportunity to select any player they want, which cannot be said for the other 29 NBA franchises.

So back to my point — Wiseman may not want to play in Minnesota, and that’s fine, but that decisions should be up to the team and not the individual prospect. Gersson Rosas could simply pick Wiseman and flip him on draft night or sometime during the season. Just because he doesn’t want to play behind or next to Towns doesn’t eliminate the Wolves’ leverage whatsoever. After all, the Timberwolves would own his rights and no other team could acquire him unless they reach an agreement.

With all of this being said, if the Timberwolves don’t take Wiseman, it may have little or nothing to do with Wiseman’s (publicly stated) desires. Thanks to Gersson Rosas, the team currently possesses a very strong scouting department, and they may see other prospects as being more talented and/or possessing a much higher ceiling. That’s totally OK.

But if they DO think Wiseman is the cream of the crop, let’s hope this front office can avoid the same pitfalls that ghosts of GM’s past have repeatedly made for Minnesota (not having David Kahn running your draft is definitely a big step in the right direction).

The Minnesota Timberwolves are (still) on the clock.

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