MINNEAPOLIS – As about 90 NBA scouts and executives, Flip Saunders included, sat scattered across the lower bowl of the Target Center on Tuesday evening, the smoke could almost be seen rising off the mirrors.
It’s a closed-door, mostly clandestine juncture in the offseason, when organizations quietly maintain a poker face while determining which skill sets meet their desires and which teams might be interested in helping fulfill them.
Much is happening behind the scenes during what seems like a quiet time for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“We’ve got a pretty good list and have an idea where players are rated,” Saunders said Tuesday between sessions of pre-draft workouts open to several other franchises. “We kind of have people boxed in, but there are a lot of other things that can happen, whether it’s moving up in the draft, whether it’s moving down in the draft, depending on if you make a move with players.”
The Timberwolves’ needs for a shooter or two and a backup center are already well-documented. How Saunders, in his first year back in Minneapolis, chooses to procure them is beginning to play out.
A two-to-three year project shooting guard or post presence awaits the Timberwolves’ top pick June 27, assuming they hold on to the ninth and 26th first-round slots they’re currently assigned. Saunders has characterized a trade to procure a higher selection as a far-reaching possibility.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not asking.
“People are talking here tonight,” Saunders said. “The process is starting right now, so you really find out more than anything where people are, who they like, who they might have interest in.”
The congregation of NBA brass at gatherings like the two-day one Minnesota’s hosting this week offer prime real estate for those private conversations to take place. They also give Saunders and company food for thought when it comes to the Timberwolves’ two second-round picks.
In an event featuring players that all project well below the lottery threshold, two sets of six prospects donned Minnesota practice attire and performed before the player personnel contingent there to check them out. Twelve more will do the same Wednesday morning, then branch out to participate in similar workouts from now until draft week.
And while their future employers secretly decide who to pursue and who to cross off their wish lists, the lower tier of draft hopefuls dream of becoming this year’s not-as-sought-after gem.
“I think it’s a mental thing,” said former Florida guard Kenny Boynton Jr., who spent a lot of time as a shooting guard but will likely switch to the point in the NBA. “You’ve just got to be mentally strong, never get down on yourself. There’s different ways to make it, but I think if you keep at it at a consistent level, you’ll make it.”
The Timberwolves will have to wait until, at the earliest, later this week for privately-scheduled individual workouts with top potential selections – players that already know they’ll make it. “We’ve got some guys coming in,” Saunders said. He declined to say who.
Guards C.J. McCollum and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and big men Alex Len and Cody Zeller top the list of picks that should be in play if Minnesota does indeed draft ninth.
But the earlier part of this week’s about the Carlos Boozer and Danny Green types – those guys who are picked later on and work their way into key roles.
“You’re always surprised” by somebody, Saunders said. “Strange things happen.”There are also developing stories travelling through town.
Take home-grown Wisconsin center Jared Berggren, a Princeton, Minn., native who led the Big Ten in shot-blocking as a fifth-year senior. After a redshirt year and playing sparingly his first two seasons in Madison, he was reunited with former Badger and current Timberwolves center Greg Stiemsma on Tuesday before working up a sweat in the arena he used to frequent as a kid.
“I was thinking back when I first walked in here, kind of looking through the stands here,” said the 6-10, 235-pound Berggren. “I remember sitting way up top when I was 7, 8, 10 years old watching KG and the Timberwolves play back in the day. It was always kind of a dream of mine to make it to the NBA and play in this arena.”
Or a guy like Iowa State wing Chris Babb, who transferred from Penn State to Iowa State midway through college and finished ranked seventh on the latter school’s all-time 3-point shooting charts. Widely regarded as a likely rookie free agent signing, Babb’s had an eye on currently successful NBA players that once filled his shoes.
“Guys that go second round, undrafted, I feel that their work ethic is pretty indescribable,” said Babb, who hadn’t worked out in a couple weeks since visiting the Los Angeles Lakers. “They just take what they can do. Guys just find a niche or find a role and what a team’s looking for and just build off of that.”
Guards Anthony Marshall (UNLV), Michael Snaer (Florida State), Brandon Paul (Illinois) and Will Clyburn (Iowa State), forwards DeWayne Dedmon (Southern California), Carrick Felix (Arizona State) and Solomon Hill (Arizona), and bigs Derrick Nix (Michigan State) and Mouhammadou Jaiteh (France) also showcased their abilities Tuesday. Only the final 10-15 minutes of each session were open to media and featured a heavy dose of full-court, three-on-three scenarios.
Wednesday’s batch will work through a similar regimen. All the while, Saunders will be watching.And talking. And listening.
With the futures of key free agents Nikola Pekovic and Chase Budinger up in the air, now’s the time when the former Timberwolves coach will gauge what personnel possibilities are out there.
2011 second overall pick Derrick Williams’ name has been mentioned as possible trade bait, either to plug a current gap or perhaps move up in the draft order. The likelier that possibility becomes, the better chance Minnesota has of wooing higher-rated players to Minneapolis for an evaluation session, Saunders said.
There’s a deep free agent market that will open for business in July to consider, too, and what Saunders feels he can achieve there will influence his decisions between now and the draft”We’re pretty free, looking at a lot of different types of situations,” Saunders said. “We like our team … We’re not in a situation we’re just desperate.”