The Minnesota Timberwolves haven't been to the postseason since 2004, the longest drought in the NBA. When you consider what has been a decade-plus of tragedy, misery and buffoonery, it's a miracle the dubious streak isn't longer.
Now, with the Wolves playing the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, let's take a moment to review a day five years ago that has quietly contributed to the extension of Minnesota's long basketball winter. Though there are others, the Rockets have played the largest part in this extended chapter.
This is not meant to be yet another missive on deposed general manager David Kahn, whose tenure spawned plenty of angst. But he was at the controls on draft night, June 23, 2011, when the Wolves executed a series of moves whose consequences have fully come to light.
And it may add some perspective for the Wolves and their fans to once again give a shoutout to the late Flip Saunders, who helped bleach this mess and give the team some legitimate hope for the short-term future.
Minnesota started that night five year ago with the No. 2 pick, the No. 20 pick and a $4 million problem. Kahn intended to fire then-coach Kurt Rambis, but he hadn't and let him twist in the wind for months. Rambis was owed about $4 million on his contract and, based on conversations with other executives, it seems that Kahn was under a de facto mandate he had to raise that money to pay off Rambis before firing him. For the record, Kahn strongly denied this was the case. But many competitors who were doing business with him did not believe him.
With the No. 2 pick Kahn selected Derrick Williams, a power forward, when he had Kevin Love on the roster. Kahn later suggested fans would've come to his office with pitchforks had he not taken Williams. But it's not worth the time rehashing this choice. Great players were left on the board, a theme of that era in Minnesota.
The Williams pick set the stage for what happened next. In a 90-minute span, Kahn would pull off five trades which saw a dizzying array of talent pass through the Wolves hands. It would take days for the NBA to figure out it all out and the moves launched several investigations.
The first deal was to send that 20th pick and Johnny Flynn, an infamous 2009 draft pick, to Houston for Brad Miller, the No. 23 pick, the No. 38 pick and a 2013 first-round pick. This initially seemed odd because Miller was coming off microfracture knee surgery and was expected to miss at least half of the next season. It ended up making more sense in the following days.
The Rockets used the No. 20 pick on Donatas Motiejunas.
Then the Wolves took the No. 23 pick and sent it to the Chicago Bulls for the No. 28 pick, the No. 43 pick and a check, their first cash transaction of the night.
The Bulls used the pick on Nikola Mirotic.
Though teams across the league were having trouble keeping up, the Wolves then traded the No. 28 pick to the Miami Heat. The Heat gave the Wolves the No. 31 pick, which was actually was originally Minnesota's that was sent to Miami for Michael Beasley in 2010. This was a transaction that proved to be vital to allow the Heat to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh, but there simply isn't time now for that digression. The Heat also tossed in some cash.
The Heat used the pick on Norris Cole.
As it turned out, the Wolves only had their No. 31 back for a few seconds. They quickly sold it to the New Jersey Nets for $1.25 million.
The Nets used the pick on Bojan Bogdanovic.
At this point, Kahn had turned the No. 20 pick into the No. 38 pick and the No. 43 picks and about $2.5 million. But, as was pointed out, he needed $4 million. So when the Rockets called about the No. 38 pick -- which the Rockets had just traded to Minnesota less than two hours earlier -- Kahn sold it right back to them for $1.5 million.
The Rockets used the pick on Chandler Parsons.
The Wolves did finally use a pick, No. 43, on Malcolm Lee. Later Kahn made a sixth trade, sending a 2015 second round pick to Portland to draft Tanguy Ngombo with the 57th pick.
Almost immediately, things started to unravel.
Flynn flunked his physical in Houston for a reason the Wolves did not previously disclose. This caused a dustup because the Wolves proceeded to make four subsequent deals that all threatened to get blown up if the Flynn deal was voided.
To end the mess, the Wolves gave the Rockets another future second-round pick that ended up becoming the rights to Will Barton, who right now is a Most Improved Player candidate for the Denver Nuggets.
Then it turned out Ngombo was five years older than the Wolves thought he was, meaning he was ineligible to be drafted. After considering options for a few days, the league let the pick stand, but the Wolves no longer wanted him as a prospect.
Parsons has career averages of 14 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists and is now on a max contract with the Dallas Mavericks. Motiejunas averaged 12 points and six rebounds for the Rockets last season, though this season has been plagued by a back injury. Mirotic and Bogdanovic came to the NBA last season, both were named to the All-Rookie team. Cole won two rings as a backup point guard for the Heat. The pick traded for Ngombo's rights eventually became Richaun Holmes, a forward currently having a promising rookie season for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Kahn explained his reasoning by saying the Wolves had enough young players and weren't interested in adding more, preferring to add veterans. He spent $35 million to sign Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea instead.
Of all the players who passed through the Wolves hands that evening, the player who got the longest guaranteed contract was Lee. Kahn gave the No. 43 pick a three-year guaranteed deal. After he had knee problems for two years, the team traded the 2013 first round pick it got from Houston as part of the 2011 draft to get off the $900,000 Lee was owed in the final year of the deal. That pick was eventually used by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Andre Roberson, who is currently their starting shooting guard.
As part of that deal, the Wolves got the rights to a European player named Alessandro Gentile and promptly sold them for $1 million -- to the Rockets. He's currently averaging 16 points a game in the Euroleague and regarded as a significant prospect.
Miller played just 15 games for the Wolves. They ended up trading him away with a future second round pick to get out from $850,000 he was owed in the last year of his contract. In return Minnesota got a second round pick from the Charlotte Hornets in 2017 -- a pick that only conveys if it is one of the last five picks in the draft.
In summation, as a result of the 2011 trades -- Miller, Parsons, Motiejunas, Mirotic, Cole, Bogdanovic, Barton, Holmes, Gentile and Roberson came and went (there are actually a few more ancillary names, they sold the rights of another pick involved for $1.1 million to the Nets, but someone has to draw the name line somewhere).
To show for it, the Wolves have a 2017 top-55 protected pick and about $6.1 million in cash, the majority of which went to a fired employee. This trail of misery was tracked by an amateur NBA researcher, Mark Porcaro, who has detailed it on his Twitter account.
As bad as passing on Stephen Curry in the draft or refusing to sign Love to a five-year extension? No, but it sure makes for a tantalizing transaction tale.