The Timberwolves, who ended the season with the league’s third-worst record, will be followed by the Golden State Warriors, who ended the season with the worst record, and then the Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls in the draft on Oct. 16.
“There’s a lot of steps left in this journey for us, but today was a significant one,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said afterward. “We’re excited about the potential level of player that we can add to our organization, but at the same time, we are going to be very aggressive and look at every avenue to improve this team. We have two young stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell that we’re building this together [with]. We’ve got a great young core that’s young and being one of the youngest, if not the youngest, team in the NBA. We have a lot of upside.
“But this allows us to take a major step in talent acquisition, whether it’s in the draft or the trade market, whatever the case may be. It really positions us well moving forward.”
The irony in the Wolves and Warriors being the final two teams to receive their picks Thursday night was that the two had engaged in a blockbuster trade at this year’s deadline, sending Russell from Golden State to Minnesota in exchange for Andrew Wiggins and a top-three-protected first-round pick in next year’s draft.
Russell and Stephen Curry — who began the season as Golden State’s starting backcourt — were the last two faces on the screen representing their respective organizations before it was determined that Minnesota would get the first overall pick for the first time since drafting Towns in 2015.
“That’s why we brought D’Angelo here,” Rosas said. “He’s one of the faces of our organization, and he’s a closer, as he showed tonight. We’re excited.
“This is what it’s all about. We’re building this the right way, step by step. We want to make sure we do things the right way, and the opportunity … you want to be in a situation where hard work meets opportunity and you catch a break like this, and that’s where we are at tonight.”
While Minnesota is building around pillars in Towns and Russell, who are in their mid-20s, the Warriors are in an entirely different place. Golden State, of course, made it to the past five NBA Finals — and won three titles — before injuries decimated the roster this season. The Warriors plummeted to being the worst team in the league as Curry missed all but a handful of games with a hand injury and fellow guard Klay Thompson sat out the entire season with a torn ACL.
“It’s weird,” Curry told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols before the draft order was revealed. “You showed that clip of the journey we’ve been on the past five or six years. … We want every experience in the league, so now we are in the lottery trying to get a high draft pick.
“We’ll see what happens, but it gives perspective on what team we’re going to have next year with the guys coming back off injury, Klay, what Draymond [Green’s] been through this last year, myself coming off the hand. … So, we’re obviously confident and know what we’re capable of and we’ll see how it all shakes out.”
Now armed with the second pick, the Warriors could go into the trade market and aggressively pursue talent to upgrade the roster around their veteran core of Curry, Thompson and Green to try to launch themselves back into the championship chase next season — presuming all three stars are back to full strength.
“I know there’s a lot of narrative around us trading and what we’re going to do with it, but we don’t really know anything at this point,” Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers said. “We found out half an hour ago that we had the No. 2 pick so that’s the first step as far as getting some clarity. And now it will be, ‘Do we like somebody there?’ We don’t entirely control the draft, but all you got to like is two guys to be happy, so that makes it a little simpler.
“But I have no idea what the value is of that pick, how much people covet it, and I don’t think I’ll know that anytime soon. That’s something that might play out over the next couple months. But usually the No. 2 pick is pretty good so I imagine either we’ll be happy — I think we’ll be happy with whatever options, whatever route we take, we’ll be pretty happy about it.”
Myers also said Curry, Thompson and Green will have input on what the team does with the selection.
“Those guys, I feel like they’ve earned a right to say whatever they want,” Myers said. “And I’ve also earned the right to listen and do what we think is right, too. It’s a mutual respect.
“They’ve always been cooperative and thoughtful, and whether it’s a minimum player, we ask their opinion, sometimes on trades we ask their opinion. When guys win three championships for you, I think they deserve that.
“I hope they’ve liked what we’ve done. We haven’t been perfect, but I think we’ve given those three guys some good tools to go out and win with, and I think that they would say the same thing … but I don’t think they are the type, nor do they want to have the responsibility, pushing us in a direction that we don’t want to go in. That’s not something they’ve ever done before.”
The Hornets and Bulls jumped up from the eighth and seventh spots, respectively — although they weren’t quite as lucky as the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies were in moving up from those spots to the top two last year.
For Charlotte, it allows the team to get a young building block to put alongside point guard Devonte’ Graham, the team’s representative for the draft lottery, and forwards Miles Bridges and PJ Washington.
“I think I’ve been pretty consistent with what we need,” general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “I don’t think our team is at the stage of development where we could say, ‘Hey, we need a big or we need a guard or we need a wing’ and we pass on maybe better talent to fill a position. We’re not at that stage right now. We need to add talent to this team no matter what position it is.”
Chicago gets a little bit of luck early in the tenure of executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas, who took over for John Paxson as the team’s top decision-maker earlier this year.
The Bulls, who are searching for a new coach after firing Jim Boylen last week, will add another young player to a core of guards Coby White and Zach LaVine and big men Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.
“I don’t think you address needs at [No.] 4,” Karnisovas said. “You get the best talent. That’s what we’re going to be looking for, the highest-upside player.”
Instead of the usual gathering of representatives from the 14 teams participating in the lottery, this year’s drawing was done virtually, with all 14 teams represented in a video teleconference as the pingpong balls were drawn in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Unlike last year, when Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were the clear first and second picks in the draft, this year’s crop of prospects is wide open, with no consensus about who should go where. Two of the potential options, though, are LaMelo Ball, the younger brother of Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball, and Georgia guard Anthony Edwards.
LaMelo Ball, who spent the season playing in Australia, said during the lottery telecast on ESPN that the experience was beneficial for him.
“I think it made me a better basketball player that I am today,” Ball said. “I really started taking stuff serious and just saw the world differently.”
Edwards, meanwhile, said playing at Georgia prepared him for the ups and downs of life in the NBA.
“I feel like it prepared me because I learned how to deal with bad games,” Edwards said. “I had a lot of bad games, so it taught me how to take them on the chin and move on to the next.”
The other piece of business from the lottery was that the Grizzlies did not move up from the 14th spot — meaning that pick will go to the Boston Celtics, as it was top-six protected. The Celtics now have three first-round picks (14th, 26th and 30th) in this year’s draft.
ESPN’s Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez and Royce Young contributed to this report.