Timberwolves prez tries to downplay lottery hype

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — If the Minnesota Timberwolves didn't have bad luck in the NBA draft lottery, they wouldn't have any luck at all.

Perhaps that's why Wolves president David Kahn is downplaying the need to win the lottery this year.

"I just don't see tomorrow night as being nearly as conclusive to our future as some may want it to be," Kahn said Monday.

After finishing the season with the second-worst record in the league at 15-67, the Timberwolves have the second-best odds to get the No. 1 pick on Tuesday. The farthest they can fall would be No. 5. The best odds — at 31.85 percent — are that the team will fall to No. 4.

The Wolves, and a disillusioned fan base that has not seen their team in the postseason since 2004, desperately need something good to happen. The franchise has been eligible for the lottery in 12 of the previous 20 seasons and has never improved its position. Six times the team has stayed in the same spot six times it has fallen.

With that in mind, Kahn spent most of Monday tempering expectations, saying that just because the team is in one spot on Tuesday night does not mean that it will occupy the same position on June 24, the day of the draft's first round.

The Timberwolves have three first-round draft picks, an abundance of salary cap room and a few attractive contracts to peddle on the trade market to try and move up if need be.

"Tomorrow night is the first step toward understanding where our first pick is," Kahn said, "but it's not the last step, no matter where we finish."

Still, there is no question the Wolves would love to have the No. 1 pick or stay put at No. 2. Kentucky point guard John Wall and Ohio State swingman Evan Turner are widely considered the two best prospects in a deep draft, and the Wolves sorely need a star.

Kahn said slyly that he thinks another unidentified player already deserves to be mentioned with Wall and Turner in the upper echelon of the draft, even before the workouts begin and players have the chance to improve their stock.

To that end, Kahn named former Detroit Pistons executive Tony Ronzone as Minnesota's assistant general manager/player personnel on Monday. Ronzone spent nine years with the Pistons and also serves as director of international player personnel for USA Basketball.

He is well thought of in NBA circles as an international scout, but Kahn said Ronzone will play an integral role in help filling the void created when vice president Fred Hoiberg left to become the head coach at Iowa State.

Ronzone will help with draft preparations, including bringing prospects in for workouts and evaluating the roster when free agency opens on July 1.

"He has a very firm handle on college players and NBA personnel," Kahn said. "Most of all, he is very well networked. Tony really does know everybody."

Ronzone is not a direct replacement for Hoiberg. Kahn said he is still trying to decide if he will hire a new vice president for basketball operations or realign his front office staff.

"There's opportunity with five draft picks, a lot of opportunity to get better," Ronzone said, including Minnesota's two second-rounders. "For me it's a passion to do whatever I can to help an organization to get better."

It all starts on Tuesday night and, as cool as Kahn tried to sound at times on Monday, it is still clear that this team is hoping to get lucky. The Timberwolves distributed boxes of Lucky Charms cereal with a picture of the mascot and ping pong balls on the front and "lottery luck guaranteed" in the box.

"If there's anything we could do tomorrow night to manufacture the first pick, freeze an envelope or anything like that, we would," Kahn said, jokingly referencing a conspiracy theory that New York's envelope was frozen in 1985 so it could be easily picked to ensure Georgetown star Patrick Ewing went to the Knicks. "But there's nothing we can do."