Andy G: SCENARIO: You just pressed rewind all the way back to June of 2010. You are David Kahn and you possess the rights to the fourth pick in the NBA draft. You have two choices. Draft Wesley Johnson out of Syracuse or DeMarcus Cousins from Kentucky. You cannot draft any other player and you cannot trade the pick. Oh, and most importantly, you have all the benefit of hindsight from mid-November 2012 going backwards. What do you do?
Patrick J: I’m not super-enthused about either player. But look at the differences: Cousins averaged about 14 and 9 as a rookie. He averaged 18 and 11 last season. DMC is on the same track this year, averaging 17.3 and 9.
Wes Johnson’s production has gone down from 9 ppg as a rookie to 6 ppg last season. Now he’s putting up a rosy 1.3 ppg for Phoenix after the guy who drafted him, David Kahn, cut bait with him in the offseason. (Johnson doesn’t really do anything else, so it isn’t worth mentioning his peripheral stats.)
But despite Cousins’ talent, he is wildly erratic.
Last year, (now former) Kings coach Paul Westphal remarked that Cousins was “unwilling/unable to embrace traveling in the same direction as his team; it cannot be ignored indefinitely.” Shortly thereafter, DMC was suspended.
This year, DMC has already been suspended again, this time for a seemingly-odd confrontation he had with Spurs play-by-play man SEAN ELLIOTT.
After the incident, a friend of mine commented, DMC is “50% clown, 50% dickhead.”
He’s right. And I knew that going into the 2010 Draft. I would’ve taken Cousins over Johnson then. And I’d still take Cousins now.
So G, I see where you’re going with this. The question is, if you knew then what you know now about how Pekovic would develop, do you still roll the dice on the troubled big? The answer is obviously yes–even moreso in retrospect, because there’s no opportunity cost outside Cousins himself – Johnson is a non-factor, and Cousins still has (presumably) at least some trade value. So If you’re looking at assets, Cousins has some value, and the Wolves could’ve exploited that way more than they did Wes Johnson’s non-value.
Andy G: The Pekovic angle is exactly where I’m going with this. (Hence the ARTWORK–more on that below.) Isn’t this comparable to the Pistons choosing Darko over Melo? Detroit drafted a bum who never played… but things worked out pretty well in the end. The team in place–with a key mid-season addition of Rasheed Wallace–went on to win the title with Darko on the bench and Melo (importantly) not in the game, training on the job as an aspiring star. The year after that they made the Finals and the three years after that they made the Conference Finals. That’s a mini-dynasty right there, and if they drafted Melo instead of Darko, I doubt the chips fall the same way. Despite the fact that Melo >>>>> Darko, the decision to draft a non-factor proved to be beneficial.
Wes Johnson is a non issue. He was traded away for a bag of chips. And look where we are: Projected by some smart statisticians to win over 50 games, and currently on that pace without the team’s best players even on the floor! In Summer 2010, we were fresh off a 15-win season, the worst in franchise history. Had we drafted DeMarcus Cousins in 2010, there would’ve been a lot of pressure on Coach Rambis to play him over fellow rookie Nikola Pekovic; particularly when you consider that Pek was a trainwreck foul machine as a rook. Instead Pek was only up against the miserable Darko Milicic (DOUBLE DARKO REFERENCE!) for playing time, eventually winning the job early last season. By now, after extended work with Bayno, Sikma, and the rest, he’s a Top-10–maybe even Top-5–center in the NBA. Last year, he stopped fouling and committing 3-Seconds violations (on both ends of the floor). This year, he shows improved defense and passing. He’s leaner and in better shape. The team has Greg Stiemsma to spell Pek when he’s in foul trouble or tired. Stiemer blocks a lot of shots on defense and on offense, he makes open ones. Does the “fantasy basketball” potential of having Cousins on the roster outweigh the probability that he would’ve forced Pekovic out of improvement and/or a spot in the rotation? With the benefit of hindsight, I like where things sit with Pekovic at the 5, and DMC suspensions being somebody else’s problem. I’d draft Wesley Johnson and be happy with where things are today.
Oh what the hell, I’ll even add this one: If we draft DeMarcus Cousins, and he develops a similar relationship with Coach Rambis as he did with his first NBA coach in Sacramento (the now-fired-largely-because-of-Cousins Paul Westphal) does Rick Adelman agree to come out of retirement to coach this team? Or instead, is Don Nelson spending his winters in Minneapolis rather than Maui? (!!!) And instead of The Adelman Family calling personnel shots, is it still Kahn? These are some “proximate cause” questions, I realize, but I think you can make (or hell, I just DID make) a pretty strong case that the Wolves are in better position now than they would have been had they drafted DeMarcus Cousins instead of Wesley Johnson.
Patrick J: G–I like where your head’s at here, but you’re overthinking this one. What are the odds of all those things happening like they did? Close to zero, I reckon – and there’s no way anyone could’ve known it at the time. I mean, look at the scenarios you describe above: they’d read like science fiction – or like many of the emails we used to send each other before starting this blog as a way of entertaining ourselves despite Real-Life Wolves Misery (BTW: that was totes a missed opportunity for a solid reality show, which former Wolves 1st rounder Rashad McCants would’ve gladly headed up) – so it’s all well-and-good that like a billion other things kinda sorta worked out, but when you’re holding the joystick, you’ve gotta hit the right buttons. And POBO David Kahn seems a lot like the kid who joined the game late after hearing a lot about it from his more-experienced peers–his learning curve has had him hitting a lot of buttons while he’s figured out which are the right ones.
This is a way-fun thought experiment, but in all seriousness, let’s just state the obvious, for the record and for any readers who don’t traffick in irony the same way we do: Kahn f*cked up by not taking Greg Monroe. Or Paul George. Hell, maybe even Gordon Hayward. Who could’ve known?
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM – To cap off what’s turned into a fairly self-referential INBOX exchange (thanks Twitter followers – ahem, cough, *follow us* – you guys keep us between the lines most of the time, and mostly for better), we have this
nifty BADASS (dang caps lock, again) artwork at the top of the post.
So tell me, G – where did it come from, and what does it have to do with THIS post?
Andy G: Although I am not one myself, I come from a family of artists–as I’ve mentioned before my dad designed our blog headline (That M/T Wolves logo was submitted to the team in the late 80′s as a contender for the inaugural logo. They obviously went in a different direction, but it’s now being put to good use!)–and my sister recently finished up her MFA at San Francisco Art Institute. Naturally, I have leaned on both of them for help in spiffing up this site. I was going to use the Pek/DMC piece on the Kings Game recap, but had some tech issues. So I had to save it and come up with a different excuse–hence this oddball email chain. How did I do? In any case, the favor she paid in providing artwork deserves a plug which I happily include below. She has a basketball background, having lettered 4 years for her college team, and has produced some great pieces that portray NBA players. (A Christmas-gift example is one of Kobe Bryant that hangs in my apartment.) If she has time and the inclination she might contribute here again.