MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — More than 8,000 Minnesota Timberwolves fans filed into Target Center on Thursday night, knowing that Karl-Anthony Towns was coming. They hoped Tyus Jones might be sticking around, too.
For once the Timberwolves gave their long-suffering fans exactly what they wanted.
The Wolves drafted Towns, the Kentucky big man, with the first No. 1 overall pick in franchise history, then traded up to No. 24 to nab Jones, the standout at Duke and a beloved Minnesota high school legend who happened to be in town watching the draft.
The combination has engulfed the organization in the rarest of emotions: optimism.
“It feels like it’s our time again,” said Timberwolves president of business operations Chris Wright after watching the throng go crazy when Towns was selected.
That was before the Wolves sent two second-round picks this year — Nos. 31 and 36 — and a second-rounder in 2019 to Cleveland to jump up and get Jones, who will backup Ricky Rubio at point guard.
“This is the beginning of something great,” GM Milt Newton said.
Actually, the beginning came last summer, when Newton and Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders were able to get Andrew Wiggins as the headliner of a package from Cleveland for disgruntled star Kevin Love. Wiggins turned into the rookie of the year, and now the Wolves have added a dominant post presence in Towns and a heady winner in Jones to the talent around him.
Towns and Jones join a promising young roster that includes Wiggins, Rubio, slam dunk champion Zach LaVine and franchise icon Kevin Garnett, sending a jolt through dusty old Target Center on Thursday night.
“It reminds me a lot of Kentucky. We have an abundance of talent,” Towns said. “As soon as we come together and get on the same page I think we can be a force to be reckoned with.”
Thousands of fans waited in long lines to get into an arena where they watched their team lose a league-high 66 games last year and one that hasn’t made the playoffs in 11 years. It was the fourth time in the last eight years that the Wolves have lost at least 60 games, a string of futility that prompted everyone aside from the most passionate fans to turn away.
“Even though it’s hard to say we won 16 games, there’s a lot of teams that probably wish that they were us today,” Saunders said. “I really believe that. I couldn’t be happier right now in the direction we’re going in all aspects of our organization.”
But all the injuries, all the misfortune, all the ineptitude of last season became worth it when the Wolves secured the top pick for the first time in franchise history. Saunders and Newton have assembled a roster teeming with young talent. Rubio is returning healthy from a season in which he only played 22 games because of ankle issues, veteran shooting guard Kevin Martin is back and Garnett, the franchise icon who returned in a trade deadline deal last February, is expected to sign a new contract in July.
“We’ve been waiting for this for years,” said Justin Glomski, one of four friends wearing blue t-shirts with “KARL!!!” in white letters.
Saunders called Towns’ workouts for the team the most impressive he’s seen since Garnett’s back in 1995.
“When he came in here, it was a wrap,” Saunders said. “There was no questions on what we were going to do.”
Jones did not attend the draft in New York, preferring to celebrate with his family at a bar and restaurant just half a block down from the Wolves’ new $25 million practice facility. The place erupted when news of the trade spread, and Jones said when the night began he had a feeling this is where he would end up.
“I always have wanted to play for the Timberwolves and be a Timberwolf,” Jones said. “Just growing up in Minnesota, it’s what you dream of as a kid, going to games, watching on TV. To know I’m going to put a Timberwolves jersey on, it’s truly a blessing.”
It almost didn’t happen.
After the Wolves chose Towns, they immediately started working on trying to move back into the first round to get Jones. Newton took the lead on the negotiations and Saunders said the Rockets at No. 18 “wanted my first born.” They also had conversations with the Cavaliers earlier in the night, but couldn’t reach an agreement until the Cavs called with two minutes left on the clock.
The Wolves thought Jones was going to Memphis at No. 25, but they were able to swoop in just ahead of the Grizzlies to get their guy.
“I know one thing, when it comes down to it, this is a basketball town, too,” Saunders said. “And when we win, they will follow us.”
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