The National Basketball Association’s Minnesota Timberwolves have had more than their share of just plain bad luck in the ping-pong ball derby known as the NBA Draft lottery process. But they have also contributed to their own franchise pain by just plain screwing up.
New President of Basketball Operations (which seems to be just a fancy title for general manager) Flip Saunders was brought back to the Twin Cities to provide expertise from a long time NBA participant as a head coach, including many years coaching the T-Wolves. Flip has been around the Minnesota scene since 1974 when he signed to play basketball for the University of Minnesota Gophers out of the state of Ohio.
Anybody that is called Flip around these parts knows it is in reference to Saunders. He has become as Minnesotan as his “close personal friend” Sid Hartman, the legendary Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist.
Flip may not have all the qualities that define a “true” Minnesotan, but he certainly is right up there in most traits that are associated with state’s self-proclaimed select status. The “Minnesota nice” moniker can be taken several different ways. It can be just plain old congenial, callously stereotypical, excessively passive or just too darn honest.
In Flip’s case, the too darn honest part just came back to haunt him in his first year in charge of the NBA draft.
He should have followed the path taken by that slick general manager of the state’s professional football team, Minnesota Viking executive Rick Spielman. He appears to be among the professions best at talking out of both sides of his mouth and can also be a master of deception regarding his true intentions leading up to crucial personnel decisions.
In 2012, Spielman had many convinced that he was going to draft LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon instead of the highly touted and eventual Viking first-round pick offensive tackle Matt Kalil. He even fabricated his way into a trade with the Cleveland Browns by feigning interest in trading the Vikings third overall to a suitor other than the Browns, who seemed convinced the Vikings were going to trade that third overall pick to Tampa Bay.
Spielman undoubtedly leaked his “possible intention” to the media, giving the Browns trepidation that the Buccaneers could then select running back Trent Richardson of Alabama, who the Browns coveted as well.
The deception game might be nothing more than a sport’s version of liar’s poker, but it is a shady tactic that is used simply because it’s effective in playing on others fears and jitters of being manipulated.
The Timberwolves and Saunders were naively straightforward in their NBA draft intents. Perhaps it was because they were fairly far down the list at the ninth selection that caused Flip to be just too plain honest indicating to the whole NBA world they were going to draft a desperately needed shooting guard.
This position is generally not highly coveted and Flipper naively assumed he could get his man at number nine. This strategy looked pretty safe after a number of early surprise developments left a surplus of guards available.
However, one by one the top shooting guards came off the available list and lo and behold, the team that picked right before the Timberwolves, the Detroit Pistons surprisingly selected Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to wipe the ‘Wolves preferred list bare. Detroit had let the NBA world know that they were only interested in acquiring a point guard, not a shooting guard with their pick.
The Pistons played the deception game to perfection and the Timberwolves had nobody left worthy of a ninth overall position on their draft board. Saunders and Company, in their own infinite wisdom, decided to trade that pick to Utah for the Jazz number 14 and number 21 selections in the first round.
This trading down strategy often works in the NFL because of the depth of talent available. In the NBA, it just means that you will likely get a very defined role player that might stay in the league for several seasons, or as one television draft expert described it, a “one in ten chance” that this player will be a starter for years to come.
The ‘Wolves took troubled UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad, who likely will play the #2 position or shooting guard in the NBA. The talented, but enigmatic Shabazz is more known for not celebrating a last second win for his UCLA team this past season because he did not get the ball for the winning shot. While his teammates celebrated together, Shabazz was off to the side pouting. Oh and did I forget, the youngster got caught lying about his true age this past year.
With the 21st pick, the Timberwolves selected Louisville center Gorgui Dieng, a very good shot blocker and decent rebounder that obviously will play a limited role as well.
The initial test for Flipper didn’t seem to go too well Thursday night in Brooklyn, the home of this year’s draft. Perhaps a training lesson from Spielman could be in order. No more Mister Nice Guy Flipper. Take a quickie course in lying effectively from Spielman and come back next year with a devilish game plan. This Minnesota nice thing sucks in sports.
Note: Tim Bouvine is a senior contributing blogger for the Howie Blog