MINNEAPOLIS — This isn’t your typical May puppy-and-pony show in the Big Apple.
Sure, the Timberwolves’ chances of picking anywhere but 13th after Tuesday night’s NBA draft lottery are about as good as the possibility of a Twin Cities snowstorm in July, but there’s much more on the line here than just a rookie roster addition.
The draft lottery, always unkind to Minnesota, is the first of several dominoes to fall in one direction or another in what’s becoming a more pivotal offseason by the moment.
Kevin Love rumors swirl. The Timberwolves remain coach-less. And the direction of the franchise could be shaped, in part, by what the ping pong balls decide Tuesday at Times Square.
Whether they’ll admit it or not, team lottery representative and general manager Milt Newton and the rest of the front office will watch the proceedings’ top few outcomes with keen interest. Multiple media reports Sunday suggested Love, the Timberwolves’ star player who can opt out of his contract after next season, may want out of Minnesota.
The 2014 NBA All-Star starter’s future with the team is far from decided. But if an organization fancied by Love winds up with a top-five pick it’s willing to deal, that may facilitate a trade involving him sooner rather than later.
Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders has vehemently insisted the team has no desire to deal Love. But if Love were to make it clear he plans to become an unrestricted free agent in 2015, Minnesota may have no choice — unless it wants to let him walk for nothing in return, a disastrous course of events for a club that’s been rocked by plenty of them.
Milwaukee has the best chance — 25 percent — of receiving the draft’s top overall selection, followed by Philadelphia (19.9 percent), Orlando (15.6), Utah (11.9) and Boston (8.8). The Lakers, a long-rumored Love destination, are slotted sixth in the lottery and have a 6.3-percent chance of being drawn to pick first.
On the less speculative side of things, the Timberwolves’ search for Rick Adelman’s replacement ought to take clearer form once the draft order becomes official. By Wednesday morning, any potential candidate will know exactly what he’s dealing with in terms of draft position, while the Love situation could have a little more clarity based upon which teams select at the top.
It’s still a murky sell for Saunders. A historically woeful franchise with its No. 1 player’s status in question, on the surface at least, doesn’t look as attractive as openings in Cleveland, Los Angeles and New York. Utah also is in the running for a new coach.
Given coaching and personnel authority in Detroit, Stan Van Gundy is off the Timberwolves’ list of candidates. So are, it appears, college coaches Fred Hoiberg and Tom Izzo, who remain allegiant to Iowa State and Michigan State.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Minnesota has interviewed former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, while Yahoo! Sports lists one-time Raptors head man Sam Mitchell as a top candidate. Saunders, too, could decide he’s the best man for the job, though he told KFAN 100.3 last week that doesn’t seem like much of a possibility.
Saunders also has said he may wait until after the June 26 draft to name Adelman’s successor.
The entire picture should become a little less fuzzy Tuesday, starting at 7 p.m.
After finishing 40-42 and nine games back of a Western Conference playoff spot, Minnesota will most likely draft 13th overall next month. The Timberwolves have a 1.8 percent chance of dropping back to 14th and a less than one-percent chance to pick first (0.6 percent), second (0.71 percent) or third (0.87 percent).
If Phoenix moves up via the lottery or Minnesota moves back to 14th, the Timberwolves would forfeit their pick to the Suns. The selection is top-13 protected from the three-team 2012 trade that landed Wesley Johnson.
In 15 lottery appearances, Minnesota has never improved its draft position and has received a lower pick eight times. Charlotte in 1999 was the only team slotted for the 13th overall selection that moved into the top three since the lottery was implemented.
Thanks to a deeper draft class than last year’s, there is talent to be gleaned at the 13th spot. The Timberwolves also have three second-round picks to use or deal — 40th, 44th and 53rd overall.
They need wing help on both ends of the floor, particularly in the form of a player who can either create his own shot, provide a defensive boost or, in a best-case scenario, do both. In mock drafts updated in lieu of last week’s NBA Draft Combine, Draft Express has the Timberwolves picking Kentucky forward James Young, CBS’s Zach Harper likes Michigan State’s Adreian Payne, ESPN’s Chad Ford lists UCLA guard Zach LaVine, and nbadraft.net tabs Minnesota to snag Creighton swingman Doug McDermott.
But those projections are based upon assumptions Minnesota will indeed select 13th overall. While there’s little reason to think they won’t, much more tangible information about the organization’s upcoming summer of decisions will be available Tuesday night.
And that goes well beyond whom Minnesota will take in the draft itself.