Thursday, February 4, 2010

Talking Basketball

It's no secret that the Minnesota Timberwolves are bad. Terrible, in fact. They aren't quite the New Jersey Nets, but the fact is the team is hurting for NBA-caliber talent, and they really are going to need to use their many assets wisely over the next few years. I refuse to agree with many of the sportswriters who believe David Kahn botched the Ricky Rubio situation. Kahn made it clear Rubio would start from day one if he came over, so I don't agree that drafting Flynn immediately after Rubio had any effect on his decision to stay in Spain. Money, as is often the case, was the biggest obstacle, and the Wolves hands were tied.

Now, the consensus number one player in the upcoming draft is Kentucky's superstar freshman John Wall. He's incredibly talented, and deserving of being the top rated player in the class. Of course, he's also a point guard, like Flynn and Rubio, so if the Wolves finally do win the lottery, they would have a small dilemma on their hands. Wall is a better point guard and has a much higher ceiling than Flynn does, so it would be foolish for the Wolves to pass on Wall simply because they have Jonny Flynn. However, with Rubio waiting in the wings, the Wolves do have options.

If I were Wolves GM David Kahn, I would tell teams the pick was available, but only in one trade: The rights to John Wall for the rights to Evan Turner and the rights to Cole Aldrich. By draft time, Turner and Aldrich could very easily be the #2 and #3 players on most teams boards, but it's also possible they could slip a bit if teams have other needs. Now, no team has two top ten picks in this upcoming draft, but if a team really wanted Wall they could try to trade other assets to get another lottery pick. Some people will read this and think I'm crazy. Why trade a once-in-a-decade talent at the point for two less certain prospects?

First, and foremost, I think Aldrich and Turner are two of the safest prospects in the draft. Wall has a higher ceiling than both of them, but Aldrich and Turner are far more mature players and their ceilings are plenty high on their own. Wall is immensely talented, but he's been pampered his whole life and he doesn't seem to take criticism well at all. After a pretty terrible stretch of games recently, Coach Cal called out Wall and said he needed to make better decisions and play better. Wall was offended, and said there was tension between him and Cal, and he disagreed that he had played poorly. This wasn't simply a small disagreement; Wall was upset, and he let reporters know it rather than talking to his coach about it behind closed doors.

Bringing Wall to a team full of other young players could be dangerous. The Wolves lack the veteran leader to tell Wall when he's out of line, and if the coaching staff were to let Wall get away with certain things, other young players would assume they could get away with it as well.

If I was building a team, I would do just that: Build a TEAM. Evan Turner has been doing everything for tOSU this year, and he's come back as strong as ever after his scary back injury. He's probably not quite 100%, but he's still playing exceptionally well and he would fill a major need for the Wolves at the 2. Turner has rubbed me the wrong way during games when tOSU was playing the Gophers, because he can be whiney at times and he's a hack occasionally. However, he's always been there to defend his teammates and stand up for them, which is a good sign of a leader. Turner is very talented, but he also seems to have his head on straight which can't be overlooked when building a young team.

Cole Aldrich, on the other hand, has been all over experts draft boards. After starting the year in the top five basically everywhere, Cole had a stretch of games where his numbers just weren't quite what they were a year ago. As experts continued to pile on to Cole, saying he'd been disappointing thus far, and his draft stock was dropping, Cole didn't make excuses. There weren't any post-game interviews where Cole blamed his coaching staff or his teammates because he wasn't getting enough touches. He didn't tell anyone he was dealing with Bronchitis, and only those very close to him knew that he was dealing with the death of a very close family member. He didn't make excuses.

Cole simply went to practice, went to class, and went to the games, without as much as mumbling an excuse. Now, for you Gopher fans, compare that to Al Nolen's situation. Nolen was ruled academically ineligible for the rest of the year because he didn't have the grades to qualify last semester. The Gophers appealed, citing a family death, but the NCAA correctly denied that appeal. Family deaths are hard for everyone, especially division 1 basketball players who are already trying to juggle several tasks at once, but if Cole Aldrich can be a potential Academic All-American while dealing with his own illness and a family death, with Kansas' travel schedule, it's inexcusable for Al Nolen to fail classes and not show up.

I've known Cole personally for a long time, almost ten years now, so yes, I am absolutely biased. However, if Cole sucked, I wouldn't want my favorite NBA team to draft him. I would hope for the best for him, but my love for the Timberwolves would have me hoping the Wolves would pass on him on draft day. However, Cole doesn't suck. He's the best center in college basketball, and as he's shown over the last week and a half, he can be dominating on both ends of the court when he's given touches on offense. He's also the rare college kid who would love to be drafted by and play for the Minnesota Timberwolves, as he grew up here and most of his family still lives here.

If the Wolves were able to turn the #1 pick into Evan Turner and Cole Aldrich, Kahn could then swap Jefferson to someone like Chicago for Loul Deng and a future #1 pick or something along those lines. The Wolves future would be very bright, and if the players developed as expected, there might even be more than 3,000 fans in the Target Center every night.