(Note: This article appeared in this space on April 17, but is being reposted today, for obvious reasons.)
There are several great truisms of life in Minnesota: it will always snow after you’re ready for spring. It will always rain the weekend you pick to go up to the cabin. And the Timberwolves will always lose in the draft lottery.
After a 22-60 season, the Wolves are back in the lottery for the fourth consecutive year. It’s Minnesota’s 11th chance to grab the brass ring, and things have not gone well in the past. The stretch most fans remember runs from 1992-95, when the Timberwolves had the worst or second-worst record in the league every year, and ended up with a top-three pick just once. A trip down memory lane:
1992: Minnesota has the league’s worst record, but Orlando (second-worst) and Charlotte (tied for seventh-worst) come out of the ping-pong ball hopper before the Timberwolves. Orlando gets Shaquille O’Neal; Charlotte gets Alonzo Mourning. The Wolves are stuck with Christian Laettner. Here’s the thing: this is, by far, Minnesota’s greatest lottery success – it’s the only time they’ve "won" the lottery and been one of the top three picks.
1993: Minnesota has the league’s second-worst record, behind only abysmal 11-71 Dallas. Incredibly, Orlando (41-41 that year, out of the playoffs only on a tiebreaker) wins the first pick again, despite being tied for the league’s 14th-best record. Philadelphia (fifth-worst) and Golden State (sixth-worst) also come out of the hat ahead of Dallas and Minnesota, a result so patently unfair that the league changes the lottery system the following year to weight it more heavily in favor of the worst teams.
1994: Minnesota is tied with Milwaukee and Detroit for the league’s second-worst record, behind only Dallas. Milwaukee wins the first pick and gets Glenn Robinson; Detroit gets the third pick and drafts Grant Hill. Dallas comes second, and gets Jason Kidd. Minnesota ends up fourth and drafts Donyell Marshall… one spot ahead of Juwan Howard. (Talk about nothing going right.)
1995: For the fourth consecutive year, the Wolves are bottom-drawer, finishing once again tied for the second-worst record in the league, this time with Washington. Golden State, fifth-worst, wins the lottery; the Clippers, the worst team, get the second pick; and Philadelphia, fourth-worst, gets the third pick. With Washington winning the tiebreaker to pick fourth, the Wolves are left to pick fifth. Luckily, that pick turns into Kevin Garnett.
Ultimately, the stats look like this: 10 trips to the lottery. Zero first picks. Zero second picks. Zero times moving up in the draft.
Do you ever ask yourself, "What are the odds?" By my calculations, using the historical probabilities available here , I examined Minnesota’s odds of both never moving into the top three, and moving down at least two spots each year they belonged in the top three. The results showed that the answer to the question "What are the odds?" is right around 40-1 against.
Heck, in their entire history, not only have they never moved up, they’ve managed to avoid moving down just four times (7th in 1991, 5th in 1996, 14th in 2005 – when they couldn’t move down – and 6th in 2006).
Adding insult to injury: in 2007, Minnesota finished the season tied with Portland for the league’s sixth-worst record, giving both teams the same chance of moving up. The Blazers won the lottery and selected Greg Oden first. The Wolves ended up picking seventh.
This year, the draft lottery is on May 20. The Timberwolves will have the third-best chance of moving up to #1, along with Memphis. Their chances of moving to #2 or staying at #3 are virtually the same.
But ultimately, they have the best chance to move down, statistically speaking. Knowing the team’s history… I wonder who might still be left at #6?