Photo - Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - It was June 28th, 1995. Flip Saunders had just been hired as the General Manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves one month earlier, but on this night he found himself stepping into his first NBA Draft "war room".
Armed with the fifth overall selection in the '95 Draft, Saunders wanted to make an impression proving to his boss and the rest of the league that he wasn't just a hot young name, but that there was substance as well. When the decision was made and the Timberwolves announced they were taking a chance on a lanky seven-footer from Farragut Academy, Saunders began a journey that has led him around the league and back to Minnesota for a second attempt at saving the Timberwolves organization.
That seven-footer in 1995 was Kevin Garnett. Safe to say he panned out for the Wolves. So did the Timberwolves 1996 pick, Stephon Marbury (at least temporarily).
"I've always felt that drafting Garnett and drafting Marbury at the time, those were great picks," Saunders said Monday afternoon. "Look what we did, we went from a 20 win team to a 41 win team in one year."
Having improved the team so drastically in a matter of two seasons, Saunders then found himself with picks in the late teens and twenties for the next few seasons. Draft positions that Saunders himself admits carry with them a 20% success rate.
In 1999, Saunders pulled the trigger on another future all-star, Wally Szczerbiak. The pick made Saunders three-for-three at identifying All-Star talent when drafting in the top ten.
If Saunders had not been stripped of three first round picks (1999-2001), stemming from the illegal Joe Smith contract, he may have never left Minnesota and the Timberwolves may have avoided the irrelevancy that plagued them during the late 2000s.
Having gone full circle once again, Saunders finds himself back in that very same war room where he started his NBA career eighteen years ago. This year, the selections come in the form of the 9th and 26th overall selections in the first round, but the expectations to find an impact player are not less than they were in 1995.
Monday afternoon, Saunders met with the local media to discuss his final thoughts heading into Thursday night's draft.
Potential to trade up?
Whether it has been an elaborate ruse or there is actual substance to his claims, ever since the NBA Draft lottery determined the order for this year's draft, Flip Saunders has used KFAN airwaves as well as other media outlets in town to highlight the potential interest that the Timberwolves may have in moving up in the draft to grab top-tier talent.
"We're pretty much touching base with everybody on a daily basis," Saunders said of the Timberwolves trade talks. "Depending on how much you want to give up, you can always move up. Usually that price a lot of times gets to be steeper and steeper the closer that you get to the draft."
According to Saunders, players named in trade talks have included everyone on the team's roster outside of point guard Ricky Rubio.
While Saunders continues to insist there is "interest" in players projected near the top, he also claims that there are no "impact players" (players who project to be all-stars within two years) in this year's draft class.
"There's good players in this draft, but right now there's not impact players," Saunders explained. "In order for you to move up and deplete your talent pool on your roster, you've got to get an impact player."
Targeting a three-point shooter.
It's no secret that the Timberwolves biggest weakness comes from outside the three-point arc. In fact, the Wolves were last in the NBA last season in three-point shooting. In lieu of this, Saunders thinks that acquiring a shooter in this year's draft is integral to the team getting on a winning path once again.
"I don't think you can win in college or in the NBA anymore if you can't shoot the three," Saunders explained. "The finals were a prime example. Usually the team that was more successful, either with the number of threes made or the higher percentage, were the teams that won."
Citing the performances of Danny Green and Shane Battier as his examples, Saunders explained that adding a shooter to the Wolves lineup would both open up the middle for the big men and allow Rubio the space needed to work his magic.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Timberwolves updates and breaking Wolves news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN