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With spotty Draft history, it's time for Wolves to get it right

Minnesota may have nailed it if 7-footer Towns is the selection

POSTED: Jun 25, 2015 11:22 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


NBA TV Mock Draft: Minnesota Timberwolves

The Mock Draft team make their mock selection for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The nattily attired gentleman steps up briskly to center stage, smiles at the eager audience before him, clears his throat and begins.

"Wesley. Johnson," he says.

Some folks titter. Others turn to look quizzically at their neighbors. Many keep their gaze fixed on the solitary figure on the stage, blinking in anticipation as he speaks again.

"Rashaaaaaad," the fellow says, drawing out that name for effect. "McCants."

Laughter fit for canning erupts from the seats before him.

Oh, OK, they've got it now. This isn't Adam Silver leading them through the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft. This is late-night talk show host -- one of the Jimmys, maybe, or Conan or whomever -- unveiling a brilliant, draft-related monologue that's sure to kill.

"Jonny. Flynn."

"Derrick. Williams."

The jokes, er, names are coming rapid-fire now, building a wall of hoots and cackles. The audience is putty in his hands.

"Isaiah. J. R. ... Riderrrrrrrr!"

Hilarity ensues. Bwahahahahahaha!

Draft Media Availability: Karl-Anthony Towns

Karl-Anthony Towns addresses the media leading up to the 2015 NBA Draft.

Playing the folks like a fiddle, the host steps forward, motioning conspiratorially with one hand to figuratively draw them near, as if he is about to let them in on a secret.

"Ndudi," he says in a stage whisper.


Those tears you see people wiping from their eyes, they aren't necessarily from laughing uproariously. Not in Minnesota, where a recitation of the Timberwolves' first-round draft selections can do double-duty as a comedy bit.

Other NBA franchises may have their own sorry draft stories -- Portland, for instance, with its history of injury blowouts (Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, Brandon Roy) or whatever the Los Angeles Clippers were doing for so many years -- but none has combined lousy lottery luck with failed decision-making and unrealized potential quite like the Timberwolves. That team's draft timeline is so miserable it's funny, in that poetic "Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone" way.

That's why, if you have any sort of heart, you're pulling for Minnesota to get it right with Karl-Anthony Towns.

The Wolves have drafted 7-footers before (Felton Spencer, Luc Longley). They've tried to build from the baseline out with centers (Rasho Nesterovic, Paul Grant). They've trusted the quality player-development of the basketball-factory schools (Christian Laettner, Donyell Marshall, McCants). They've even gone with the chalk (Williams, Laettner, Marshall) only to have it wind up, in relative results, as an outline on the pavement.

But in Towns, finally, it appears Minnesota will get it right. He has become the consensus No. 1 over the past two months, edging ahead of Duke's Jahlil Okafor not through any head-to-head competition but through individual workouts and the micro-scrutiny the top college prospects face each spring.

Towns, the experts concur, can do so much so well: defend, rebound, block shots, score inside and shoot from the perimeter. Whatever the praises heaped upon other big men picked No. 1 overall who might serve as cautionary tales for the Wolves -- Pervis Ellison, Kwame Brown, Michael Olowokandi (whom Minnesota traded for in hopes of unlocking his code) -- Towns is seen by the cognoscenti as the real deal, an NBA center-for-a-decade and an ideal companion piece to Andrew Wiggins, the rising star and No. 1 pick from 12 months ago.

Draft HQ: Mock Draft

Stu, Mike and Ron have their own Mock Draft.

Minnesota wasn't the team that picked Wiggins, of course, nor the ones who grabbed up fellow Wolves player Anthony Bennett No. 1 in 2013 because, simply, it never has had the No. 1 pick in the Draft. If Towns, Wiggins and Bennett become the first three consecutive top picks to play on the same team (trade speculation on Bennett might intervene), it will come by virtue of the Wolves' trade with Cleveland last summer that sent unhappy All-Star forward Kevin Love to be part of LeBron James' crew with the Cavaliers.

Love, certainly, qualifies as one of Minnesota's few draft successes (he came in a draft-night swap in 2008 for Wolves' pick O.J. Mayo, but the fruits of those typically pre-arranged deals count as a team's draft haul for our purposes). The obvious, unqualified best choice in franchise history was Kevin Garnett, the future Hall of Famer grabbed at No. 5 in 1995 after that crop's alleged sure things (Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace) came off the board Nos. 1-4.

Garnett logged 12 seasons in Minnesota, anchoring the club's most successful stretch (eight consecutive playoff appearances, none before or since). Love neither experienced nor produced no such stability; he played for four coaches in six seasons and got spun around twice in regime changes, from the one that acquired him (Kevin McHale) to the one that paid-but-insulted him (David Kahn) to the one that tried too late to salvage a relationship with him (Flip Saunders).

Love is a free agent again, but no one is talking about him returning to the Twin Cities the way an aging Garnett did in February. Actually, if you could add Love to the young core of Wiggins, Towns, Zach Lavine, Ricky Rubio, hmm... no, that ship undoubtedly has sailed for the 6-foot-10 power forward.

After Garnett and Love, the Wolves have had at most modest success in the draft. Wally Szczerbiak in 1999 made it to an All-Star team and, when fully healthy, could have been the third-best member of a legit contender. Rubio, due to the two-year delay in starting his NBA career and the injuries he has dealt with since, merits only an 'Incomplete' as far as grades go.

Then there's Stephon Marbury, the headstrong point guard who arrived in 1996 in a draft-night trade with Milwaukee for fellow rookie Ray Allen. Rather than having two-thirds of the core of the Boston Celtics' eventual 2008 title team, Minnesota opted -- correctly it seemed at the time -- for a new-age Stockton-Malone. Except that Marbury's ego issues kicked in, he lost his basketball mind and he wound up swapping dreams of NBA hardware for Chinese facsimiles.

GameTime: Karl-Anthony Towns

Get a inside look at the Kentucky Wildcats top draft prospect Karl-Anthony Towns.

And that's pretty much it. The Wolves have drafted players who eventually filled NBA roles (Nesterovic, Longley, Marshall, Corey Brewer), but that's not what lottery picks are meant to be. Typically, they would sit at No. 3 in what was considered a two-player draft or No. 4 in a three-player, though that tends to let their various scouting staffs off the hook for solid talents and even All-Stars selected deeper in Round 1.

We won't even get into the three forfeited No. 1 picks Minnesota lost for its salary-cap dalliances involving Smith, the affable journeyman and Garnett pal who never fully panned out.

Bottom line, this team that never has moved up in the lottery and often has moved down is overdue for a draft victory. After a dreary and cynical year of diving to the league's basement the Wolves hold the No. 1 pick for the first time in their 26-year existence. There still are reasons to be skeptical about their future -- an insular, country-club approach reigns, with Saunders and now Garnett dug in after owner Glen Taylor got burned going outside with Kahn.

But this is even bigger than them, appealing to a cosmic sense of fairness and penances served. Towns needs to be the goods and the Wolves need to pick, develop and retain him long enough the pieces all to fit and this umpteenth plan to actually lead to something.

After a while, it's no longer funny to see the sad sack get hit in the face with another pie. He actually sling one back at, in this case, the basketball gods.

Karl-Anthony Towns needs to go on Minnesota's short list. Please. Not at the end of the one with Flynn, McCants, William Avery and Gerald Glass.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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