Wolves nab Johnson first
By Jon Krawczynski, AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves were selling hope to their dwindling fan base in the form of three first-round picks in Thursday night's NBA draft.
After using their top pick on Syracuse forward Wesley Johnson, the Wolves spent the rest of the round in a dizzying trading frenzy.
The Wolves drafted Nevada shooter Luke Babbitt at No. 16, then shipped him and veteran Ryan Gomes to Portland for swingman Martell Webster. They then took Clemson forward Trevor Booker at No. 23.
The Wolves agreed to send Booker and the 56th pick to Washington for pick Nos. 30 and 35. They took Marquette forward Lazar Hayward at the end of the first round and Serbian forward Nemanja Bjelica at No. 35.
Earlier this week, team president David Kahn cautioned that just because players were taken in the draft on Thursday, doesn't mean they will be in a Timberwolves uniform come training camp.
"We might have to make a move with a player that we take Thursday night and package him in a subsequent deal," Kahn said.
It's unlikely that Johnson will be going anywhere. The Timberwolves bypassed Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins to address one of their biggest needs.
The 6-foot-7 Johnson averaged 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds and was a first-team All-American in his only season with the Orange.
"Wesley is both an incredibly talented player and an outstanding young man," Kahn said in a statement provided by the team. "He'll bring some much-needed length, athleticism and shooting ability to our roster and will be an important piece to the puzzle as we continue to build a nucleus of young talent."
Kahn said they "desperately need wings" heading into the draft and were in search of a versatile, athletic player who could spread the floor with his perimeter shooting.
Johnson, who will turn 23 in July, would seem to fit that mold. He averaged 1.8 blocks and 1.7 steals and shot 41.5 percent from 3-point range last season. He transferred there after two seasons at Iowa State and sat out 2008-09 while Timberwolves point guard Jonny Flynn was starring for Syracuse.
"I think we can bring a lot of excitement," Johnson said. "The exciting player that he is and the player that I am, I feel the chemistry's already there, so it's going to grow even more when I get there."
Said Flynn, in a tweet: "You know I'm happy! That's my bro!"
The Timberwolves entered this draft determined to make a big impact on a team that is sorely lacking difference-making players. The team won just 15 games last year, second-fewest in the league, but again couldn't find any luck in the lottery and dropped down to No. 4 in the draft.
But there are question marks all over this haul on Thursday night.
Gomes was one of the pillars in the locker room for the last three years after coming over in the Kevin Garnett trade. He averaged 10.9 points and 4.6 rebounds last season and was a calming influence on one of the youngest teams in the league.
Webster has averaged 8.5 points and 3.1 rebounds in five seasons with Portland. He is a career 37 percent shooter from 3-point range.
In Johnson, Webster and Hayward, the Wolves appear to have acquired three players with similar traits. All three are long and lean small forwards who like to shoot from the perimeter but have some difficulty creating their own shots.
Bjelica is a 6-foot-10, 223-pound forward who may wind up staying overseas for a year or two, just like their top overall pick last year, Ricky Rubio.