MINNEAPOLIS For the first time since 2004, the Minnesota Timberwolves will barely take notice of the NBA draft lottery on Wednesday.
Fans who enjoy the punishment of what could have been might want to tune in when NBA officials and general managers gather in Secaucus, N.J., for the drawing that determines the selection order for the 2012 NBA draft. They can hold their breaths and wait to see if somehow the Timberwolves' 11 lottery entries out of 1,000, which the Hornets now hold, earn New Orleans a top spot. Of course, there's only a 1.1 percent chance that will happen.
However, with the Timberwolves' 11 chances and their own 137, the Hornets have a 14.8 percent chance of winning the first pick. That's a worse shot than the Bobcats (25.0 percent chance) and the Wizards (19.9 percent chance), but the Timberwolves' entries leapfrog New Orleans ahead of the Cavaliers, who have a 13.8 percent chance of getting the top pick.
The Timberwolves, despite trading their 2012 first-round pick, will select 18th overall in this year's draft. They hold that pick, which previously belonged to Utah, as the result of the 2010 trade that sent Al Jefferson to the Jazz. The terms of the trade were such that the Timberwolves received the Jazz's first-round pick in 2012 only if Utah made the playoffs.
In last year's draft lottery, Cleveland ruined Minnesota's dreams of winning the first overall pick for the first time in franchise history. Although the Timberwolves finished the 2010-11 season with the worst record in the NBA, 17-65, the Cavaliers had a good chance of winning the first pick after they received the rights to the Clippers' lottery chances, as well, when they took Baron Davis off the Clippers' hands.
Going into the May 17, 2011 lottery, the Timberwolves had a 25.0 percent chance of winning the top pick. The Cavaliers, with their pick and the Clippers', had a 22.7 percent chance and went on to win the first pick. They did it with the Clippers' lottery combination, which had only a 2.8 percent chance of yielding the top pick.
The Timberwolves ended up with the second overall pick, which they used to select Derrick Williams. Williams was the Timberwolves' highest overall pick; their highest before him was Christian Laettner at No. 3 in 1992.
The current weighted lottery system, in which non-playoff teams earn chances out of 1,000, was instituted in 1994. The weighted lottery system itself began in 1990, the second year of the Timberwolves' existence. In it, teams earned chances out of 66, and it was significantly less likely for the worst team to win the lottery.
Since the advent of the current system, the Timberwolves have had lottery picks in 11 seasons. They've traded their pick for other lottery picks in past seasons to acquire Stephon Marbury, Randy Foye and Kevin Love. The team also received New Jersey's lottery pick in a 1999 trade, when it selected Wally Szcerbiak sixth overall. In 2009, the Timberwolves had two lottery picks; they acquired the fifth overall pick, which they used for Rubio, from Washington.
Overall, the Timberwolves have acquired 16 players as lottery picks. Those include franchise names like Kevin Garnett and current stars Ricky Rubio and Love, whom the team traded O.J. Mayo to acquire in 2008. But not every lottery pick has gone on to become a star. There was Laettner, the only college player to be selected for the 1992 Dream Team, who then had a lackluster NBA career. There were guys like Donyell Marshall, Felton Spencer and Luc Longley, who had decent NBA careers but didn't last long in Minnesota. There were the disappointments, like Rashad McCants, who was a star at UNC and now, just seven years out of college, last played in the Philippines. More recently, the Timberwolves selected Corey Brewer (now with Denver) and Jonny Flynn (now with Portland), neither of whom lived up to initial expectations.
The highlights of the Timberwolves' lottery picks are easy to identify. Garnett pushed the team to relevance in the 1990s. He still holds Timberwolves franchise records, and the team made the playoffs eight times during his tenure. More recently, Love and Rubio have seen success, perhaps more than many imagined. Williams has yet to assert himself as the kind of player he was touted as, but next season could be a turning point for the second-year player who was denied a normal offseason before his rookie year.
The disappointments are also present among the ranks of these picks, which shouldn't come as a surprise. The draft is nothing more than an educated guess, and many top players don't pan out. However, some of those picks hurt more than others in hindsight. Just look at the 1996 trade of Ray Allen's draft rights for Stephon Marbury's. It worked in the short term, but Allen is still in the league, his Celtics battling for the Eastern Conference championship. Marbury lasted not even three seasons in Minnesota, and he left the NBA in 2009 to play in China.
On the 2011-12 Timberwolves squad, just four of the team's lottery picks remain: Love, Rubio, Williams and Wes Johnson. The team will likely build its future around Love and Rubio, and if Williams can come into his own in 2012-13, he could be another key piece for the team going forward. Regardless, the Timberwolves' moves in the draft in recent years have paid off; to have picked two potential franchise players in two years (Love in 2008 and Rubio in 2009) is more than many teams can boast.
The 2012 NBA Draft Lottery will be televised on ESPN at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
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