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Timberwolves third in draft lottery

By Jerry Zgoda

Minneapolis Star Tribune

In Tuesday’s television undercard to Kevin Garnett and Flip Saunders in the Eastern Conference finals, the Timberwolves received exactly what they deserved in the NBA’s annual game of chance, the draft lottery: the third overall pick in the June 26 draft.

That position matches the team’s earned slot after it won a tiebreaker with Memphis after the two franchises tied for the league’s third-worst record (22-60) this season.

It also matches the Wolves’ highest draft position ever, equal to 1992 when the team finished with the NBA’s worst record and took Christian Laettner third after Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning already were gone.

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You might say it figures that the Wolves — given their absence of lottery luck going way back to the days of Felton Spencer and Luc Longley — finished third in a year when Kansas State forward Michael Beasley and Memphis guard Derrick Rose are considered the consensus best two players in the draft.

Instead, the Wolves will choose from a group that includes Stanford sophomore center Brook Lopez, USC freshman guard O.J. Mayo, Arizona freshman guard Jerryd Bayless and Italian forward Danilo Gallinari, among others.

"Hey, we ended up where we were," Wolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale said. "I’m very happy with that."

Fans gathered for a Wolves draft party at a restaurant inside Target Center cheered with increasing urgency as the lottery’s 14 selections were revealed from a New Jersey TV station in reverse order, roaring when Seattle’s logo — and not the Wolves’ — appeared for the fourth pick. After a television-commercial break, the crowd fell silent when the Wolves’ logo appeared for the third pick.

Chicago busted the odds, turning its 17 chances out of 1,000 into the draft’s first pick. Miami, and its league-worst record, will pick second.

McHale threw his hands up when asked about the Bulls, a young team just a year removed from a 49-victory season, winning the first pick and he refuted the notion that Beasley and Rose are this year’s only big prizes.

"It’s supposedly a two-man draft," he said. "I love being third. We have eight players that you look at in this draft and you really, really like. It gives us a lot of flexibility at that third spot."

Lopez, a 7-footer, would give the Wolves a big body to place next to blossoming star Al Jefferson, a 6-9 power forward who played most of last season at center. Mayo, a talented scorer whom basketball junkies have talked about since he was in grade school, teases with perhaps the most superstar potential. He also is the subject of an NCAA investigation for allegedly taking thousands of dollars in cash and gifts from a sports agent.

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McHale called Beasley the draft’s most NBA-ready talent.

a player whose size and shooting, scoring and rebounding gifts most readily "translate" into the pro game. He seemed suspect in a post-lottery interview of Rose’s shooting abilities.

"If you’re going to play next to Al Jefferson, you better be able to do this," McHale said, making a shooting motion with his right arm.

McHale said he was more excited to watch returning players Corey Brewer, Rashad McCants, Chris Richard (a restricted free agent this summer) work out Tuesday morning with Jefferson and Craig Smith due in town shortly than he was with the team’s lottery result that night.

"I never thought we were a 22-win team," McHale said, referring to the absence of guard Randy Foye for three months last season. "We didn’t do as good as Chicago, but we’re adding a heckuva good player to a really good, nice nucleus of guys that I really, truly like."

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