Every Wednesday, Pick and Popovich will dive down the rabbit hole and explore a different NBA “What if.” The only rule is that the scenario must come from a place that is somewhat realistic and grounded in at least somewhat believable rumor or hearsay. Otherwise, anything goes.
Minnesota general manager David Kahn likes to think outside of the box. Why is it, he wonders, that most NBA teams use only one point guard? Surely you could benefit from having two floor generals on the court together? So he enacts his master plan on draft night, take Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio with the No. 5 pick, and then pair him with another point guard at No. 6. Initially, he plans on Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn, but when he tells Rubio’s agent at the last minute he is informed that Rubio will stay in Spain if Minnesota takes Flynn. The pair settle on a compromise: Kahn will take Davidson’s Stephen Curry and turn him into an off-ball shooting guard.
The plan pays immediate dividends. Curry and Rubio pair together brilliantly, as Rubio’s passing and defense allow Curry to focus on his shooting. The point guard duo along with Kevin Love makes Minnesota the envy of coaching staffs around the league. They pass so willingly, work so well as teammates, that it’s surprising when they don’t create a good shot.
Golden State, meanwhile, settles for Flynn and regrets the pick almost immediately. The Syracuse point guard is a disaster from the get-go, and the Warriors finish with one of the worst records in the league. The one benefit is that it puts them in position to draft promising young center DeMarcus Cousins in 2010. Of course, without a point guard to get him the ball, his rookie season is nothing to write home about.
They decide to cut bait with Flynn only two years after drafting him and go into the 2011 draft eager to replace him. They end up with UConn hero Kemba Walker. This devastates the Charlotte Bobcats, who wanted Walker badly. They settle on San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard. The surprise of the night, though, is when San Antonio trades up to No. 15 to snag Washington State’s Klay Thompson. Rival executives groan. Of course the Spurs grabbed the one player who fell without a good reason. What else is new?
Those two drafts prove equally fruitful for Minnesota. In 2010 their pass-happy offense adds yet another selfless stud in Butler’s Gordon Hayward, and a year later they snag Kansas’ Marcus Morris at the bottom of the lottery.
Their defense is laughable, but by the 2012-13 season Minnesota sports the NBA’s best offense. Teams simply can’t stop that combination of shooting, ball movement and Kevin Love’s low-post dominance. Rick Adelman wins NBA Coach of the Year, and Minnesota loses a tough series to San Antonio in the second round en route to their best season since the Kevin Garnett era.
Adelman doesn’t take Minnesota any further. He retires after a first round loss in 2014. Luckily for them, Golden State fires head coach Mark Jackson after his failure to connect with Cousins for two years. Kahn signs him in the hopes that his defense-first attitude will rub off on the team. The Warriors miss out on first choice Steve Kerr, who goes to the Knicks, and are forced to settle for retread George Karl. Sooner or later, they have to find someone who can coach DeMarcus Cousins.
The Jackson hire carries Minnesota over the top. Kahn urges him not to mess with their league-best offense, so he leaves it in the hands of Rubio and Curry so that he can focus solely on defense. Nobody confuses them for stoppers, but they’ll gladly settle for average with the offense they boast. They avoid the Spurs thanks to a Round 1 upset at the hands of the Clippers, and LeBron James’ aging Heat are just too slow to keep up with Minnesota in the Finals.
When Curry stands on the podium to accept his Finals MVP award, coaches from the lowest youth leagues on up smile. Minnesota plays basketball the right way. They can help children do the same. The Timberwolves make passing cool again, and that is their greatest contribution to the game of basketball.