Wolves Should Be Done Selling Draft Picks


According to RealGM, “[T]he New York Knicks are in active discussions offering cash considerations to acquire a draft pick in the late first-round to early second-round range.”  Tell me when you read that you don’t immediately think the Knicks are talking with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

You should be forgiven if you did because the Wolves have a record of selling their assets for cash.  According to a 2014 Seth Partnow column in Upside & Motor, Minnesota has done so far more often than any other NBA team in recent history, selling an average of “one draft pick per season over the last decade.” This includes selling two of their three second round picks in last year’s draft.

If they truly want to build a championship-contending team, 2014 will have been the last time they did so.

More from Free Agency

This year, the Wolves have the first and sixth picks in the second round, which are at #31 and #36 overall.  Second-round picks are not slotted into a salary scale like first round picks are, giving teams more financial flexibility and allowing them to retain the rights to players playing overseas without having to sign them immediately. It’s what the Timberwolves did when they selected Nikola Pekovic with pick #31 in 2008 and waited until 2010 to bring him to the NBA.

The chances of these later pick panning out are spotty, but they can pay off big when they do.  In five drafts between 2008 and 2012, players selected in the 30s included Draymond Green (#35, 2012), Jimmy Butler (#30, 2011), Chandler Parsons (#38, 2011), Hassan Whiteside (#33, 2010), DeAndre Jordan (#35, 2008), and Pekovic.

Flip Saunders defended the team’s auction of its two second-round picks (#s 44 and 53) last year by saying he didn’t believe that anyone available at those picks would have made the team.  “If you don’t have a player who you think will be in your program, I’m not going to draft somebody just to say we drafted him,” he said, according to a report from the Star Tribune’s Jerry Zgoda.

Wolves head coach, President of Basketball Operations, and minority owner Flip Saunders. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

“Those picks had nothing to do with trying to get money,” Saunders said, adding that one “can ‘probably count on both hands and feet’ the number of impactful players taken 44th and 53rd since 2008.”

First off, that would be a lot (20) of impactful players.  But assuming Flip meant that very few players in the 40s and 50s do make it, that still leaves us with Isaiah Thomas (#60, 2011), Lance Stephenson (#40, 2010), Patty Mills (#55, 2009), Danny Green (#46, 2009), Patrick Beverley (#42, 2009), Goran Dragic (#45, 2008), Marc Gasol (#48, 2007), Paul Millsap (#47, 2006), Monta Ellis (#40, 2005), and Marcin Gortat (#57, 2005) between 2005 and 2011. (Late picks often take longer to develop, making it hard to judge the most recent drafts.)

One wonders if Saunders believes what he’s selling or is selling what he has to.  There is no good basketball reason for selling its assets.  A team can use picks like the raffle tickets that all draft picks are and try for a potentially big gain.  Or, if the team is confident that no player would be worth taking, then the response of a great organization is not to sell the picks.  It is to retain its assets by trading them for other assets, most likely future picks.

The Wolves have made significant strides in setting their front office and roster aright since seeing David Kahn out the door.  But ownership will not show themselves to be fully committed to building a championship team until they stop selling their basketball assets for nothing.