By Jerry Zgoda
David Kahn and the Wolves asked me to pass this along and post it here on the blog.
Dear Timberwolves Fans and Supporters:
It’s been five weeks since I arrived in Minneapolis and I hope you can feel what I feel: change.
I especially want to talk about last night’s draft and explain why we made the decisions we did.
First, from a philosophical standpoint, I believe that teams should select players in the top 10 of the NBA Draft who have the chance — and I underline the word chance — to be special later in their careers. You do not use the fifth and sixth picks to select rotation players, but only players that figure to be starters, if not out-and-out stars.
So, we were committed to taking two players who fit that description, and we were less concerned about the positions they played, assuming they were not power forwards.
There were several two-person options we would have been comfortable with at those selections.
It wasn’t until late Thursday afternoon that I thought there was a chance Ricky Rubio might be available for us at No. 5. I had actually been told by somebody who I deeply respect in the NBA that Ricky would be selected third by Oklahoma City. But we were prepared for all options nonetheless.
Ricky has one of the most tenacious, most capable agents in our sport, Dan Fegan. He cares deeply about his clients. I explained to Dan late afternoon that we were singularly motivated to build an NBA championship-contending team in Minnesota — that it might take a few years, of course — but that nobody here cared about anything other than competing for an NBA title. That we have only one life to live, and that we must spend our lives trying, as Pat Riley once taught me, to leave footprints.
I purposely selected Ricky with the fifth pick, not the sixth, to help with his buyout situation. Ricky and his family have taken a very bold step to enter the NBA despite having two years remaining on his contract with his Spanish team. I know that they would have preferred that we try to move to the second or third pick to take him, and I respect their wishes, but my belief was that we need during these next 15 months to acquire multiple pieces to make this a championship-contending team over the next three-to-four years. The price for moving to No. 2 or 3 was far too steep.
Ricky is a proven professional who played against the USA in the Gold Medal game in the Beijing Olympics. He is a virtuoso, a rare player who may well be unique. I have long believed that he has the chance to become one of basketball’s brightest stars. You’ve seen the highlights — he is like an orchestra conductor with the basketball.
He will be our starting point guard here the moment he walks through our front door. We may have to wait a year, or even two, but he is worth the wait. We must be patient. This is a big step for he and his family.
With the sixth pick, we selected Jonny Flynn. I truly believe that Jonny is as much a scorer as a playmaker and will thrive playing off of Ricky. I also believe that, together, we will have one of the most dynamic defensive backcourts in the NBA over time. You will love Jonny Flynn. He, too, will be special.
And I also believe that there is a tendency in the NBA for all of us (myself included) to become too formulaic in our thinking. If you think of the Detroit Pistons backcourt during their championship run, with Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson, or the Celtics with their backcourt of Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson (and before Ainge there was Gerald Henderson), or the Lakers with Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, or the Knicks with Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe, there are many instances of championship success that is not so paint-by-the-numbers.
It can and will work.
At the 18th pick, we did not believe we could identify a player who would be worthy of that rookie scale slot and become part of our core nucleus, so in an attempt to further stockpile assets, we traded it for a future first-round pick with only modest lottery protection. This will prove to be valuable. We also traded one of our two second-round picks for a 2010 second-round pick.
Finally, we selected Wayne Ellington with the 28th pick, one of the stars off the North Carolina National Championship team. Wayne is a 6-foot-5 shooter who has improved dramatically this season. He will help us soon. And, last but not least, we used our remaining second-round pick to take Henk Norel, a teammate of Ricky’s in Spain, who is long and athletic. Norel has one year remaining on his contract.
What excites me most about this team is the following:
Al Jefferson, at 24, is the oldest player of our four future building blocks. Kevin Love is 20. Jonny Flynn is 20. Ricky is 18. Wayne Ellington is 21. And let’s not forget Corey Brewer is 23, Ryan Gomes is 26 and Sebastian Telfair just turned 24.
We will need a special coach who understands that we are very much in the development stage and need to be shaped and molded. I have already talked to Al Jefferson and Kevin Love about the qualities they would like to see in their new coach — what kind of person we should be seeking — and will also consult with our new players. Players respect structure and discipline. They want to know where they stand. And they want to know the coach has their back. I am eager to hear from Ricky, Jonny, Wayne and some of our existing players as we prepare our list.
These are fun times, I hope, to be a Timberwolves fan as we continue on this journey. There will be bumps and bruises along the way, but I believe we are pointed in the right direction.
As always, thank you for your interest and passion. It makes our jobs easier.