The Timberwolves lost their fourth consecutive game and their sixth in the past seven on Monday, 107-89 to Houston at Target Center.
At 24-28, they are four games under .500 for the first time this season and the Western Conference’s eight and final playoff spot is disappearing from their sights by the game.
So just how did they get here?
There are so many reasons — Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin both were out injured again Monday while Kevin Love played battered and bruised to name three — but at least a part of the answer resides in decisions made on draft night 2011.
That’s when the Wolves understandably drafted Arizona’s Derrick Williams second overall and then used the 20th overall pick they had obtained from Utah in the Al Jefferson deal to trade down four times in a dizzying series of moves that left even a draft prospect from Florida named Chandler Parsons befuddled.
When it was all over, the Wolves had raised millions of dollars in cash and acquired second-rounder Malcolm Lee and a 2014 first-round pick they later sold, too, to clear salary cap space. At the time, Wolves executive David Kahn said the team made all those deals because he didn’t want with that 20th pick to add another young player to a roster already filled with so many talented ones.
The Rockets — their first trade partner that night — walked out that night with European prospect Donatas Motiejunas chosen with that 20th pick and Parsons drafted 38th overall, five slots ahead of Lee.
Williams and Lee both have since been traded by the Wolves while Parsons and Motiejunas took center stage Monday in an 11-0 Rockets run that started the fourth quarter. It also repelled a Wolves comeback from 15 points down to just four and ultimately won the game on a night the home team played without coach Rick Adelman, who missed the game because of personal reasons.
Parsons scored six of those 11 points on a night when he scored a team-high 20 points and the Wolves’ depleted second unit couldn’t keep the team in contention for the third consecutive game. Motiejunas provided a three-pointer in that stretch that gave the Rockets a nine-point lead on their way to a 93-78 bulge midway through the fourth quarter.
The Rockets drafted Parsons in 2011, technically traded him to the Wolves in a deal that brought back both the 20th pick they used to select Motiejunas and absorb former lottery pick Jonny Flynn’s contract that the Wolves wanted to dump. Then the Rockets bought back Parsons’ rights for cash.
There was so much maneuvering that night, Parsons initially didn’t know who drafted him. He had heard Charlotte did, then Golden State.
“I had no idea,” he said after Monday’s game. “When I actually got drafted, I didn’t even realize who it was to and I had to hug everybody. I asked my brother, where am I going?”
He ended up, of course, in Houston, where he now is a minutes-eating starting forward and indispensable glue guy on a Rockets team battling the Los Angeles Clippers for the West’s last home-court advantage spot.
The Wolves, in turn, are injured and reeling. Less than two weeks ago, they had won five of six games and crept over .500 for the first time since November. They trail Dallas by seven games for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot with one game left before the All-Star break.
“It’s burning the candle at both ends basically, with there being less and less games and we just can’t continue to lose,” said Love, who delivered 31 points and 10 rebounds while playing with a hurting bruised thigh. “Hopefully, we’ll win this game [against Denver] on Wednesday, go into the break, get a few days’ rest and guys will get healthy, get a little break with their mind and body and be ready to go.”
Meanwhile, the Rockets have won six consecutive games and are aimed at the playoffs with James Harden and Dwight Howard at the wheel while Parsons is thankful he fell to the 38th pick and Houston.
“I remember that night like it was yesterday, man,” he said. “That night is a lot of the reason I keep motivated. It keeps me trying to be the best player I can become. I was frustrated that night but at the end of the day, I couldn’t be in a better place for me.”