It would be amiss to suggest that Zach LaVine looked enthused last Thursday when he learned that he had been drafted by the Timberwolves. His facial expression appeared as if he had just learned his mother died, and clever lip readers in the audience could see him utter a curse word to himself.
Why on earth would he be so averse to playing in Minnesota? The quality of life here is good, he could join with fellow UCLA alum Kevin Love, seasons are well-defined, housing is affordable, people are friendly, etc. Perhaps he is just nervous about surviving a brutal Minnesota winter, or maybe he gets homesick when he is far Los Angeles.
Remove the cloak of naïveté and it’s hard not to blame LaVine for his reaction. Considering that draft prospects are coached to feign some excitement when they are picked by a rubbish team, the incident immediately tells us two things: the kid wears his emotions on his sleeve and he’s not the only player that feels this way about becoming a Minnesota T-Wolf.
Coming off of a promising 2013-14 season, the drama of the offseason has deflated the team’s momentum bubble. With Kevin Love, the team’s best player, demanding to be traded and now the LaVine snub, it is time to come to grip with the reality that the T-Wolves are now the NBA’s version of the old Cincinnati Bengals – an island of misfit toys where careers end before they begin.
LaVine and other players understand this. They talk amongst themselves, and LaVine surely had a few conversations with Kevin Love where dirty laundry was aired. While landing with a crummy team is part of being a lottery pick, there is an understanding that if you are going to be stuck with a bad team, you at least want to be with one that will allow you to showcase your abilities and cash in later on.
Why do so many players want to go to New York? The team isn’t any good, but the exposure the market provides is generally enough to garner increased attention elsewhere. Cleveland is an attractive option too, mainly because the NBA has committed to rigging the draft lottery in its favor every year.
Even Philadelphia, which lost 26 games in a row last season, has its appeal. Michael Carter-Williams isn’t that good, but he put up stellar numbers in his rookie year that will prompt a better team to trade for him.
There is less reason to be excited about playing for Minnesota. The team’s draft picks are generally busts and rarely find success elsewhere. The list is long and growing – Rashad McCants, Randy Foye, Corey Brewer (though he has resuscitated his career nicely), Wesley Johnson, Derrick Williams – of first-rounders that for one reason or another just didn’t make the cut. Shabazz Mohammed appears to be heading quickly in that direction as well.
Let’s hope that past performance is not indicative of future results, and that LaVine, fellow draftee Glenn Robinson III and the players acquired in any potential Kevin Love trade will be the catalysts that result in the team being taken seriously by players again.