MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Zach LaVine heard his name called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the UCLA freshman dipped his head, let out a big sigh and appeared to mutter an expletive as he rose out of his seat and headed to the stage.
Immediately, nervous Minnesota Timberwolves fans and draft observers surmised that LaVine was upset about being drafted by a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in 10 years and spends four months of the year buried in snow.
What they were watching, LaVine said, was about the exact opposite.
“I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment,” said LaVine, who was chosen 13th overall Thursday. “It was just a rush of emotion that came through me. I’m on cloud nine, still. I’m ecstatic.
“I put my head down, thanked God, hugged my mom. You think of this as a kid and can’t believe it’s actually happening. I’m just ready to put my whole heart into Minnesota and just go out there and do my best.”
The Wolves drafted Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III with the 40th pick in the second round and sold their other two picks — No. 44 to Brooklyn and No. 53 to Houston.
Saunders said LaVine was the player he wanted all along, even going so far as to write his name on a piece of paper when he woke up Thursday morning. The 19-year-old LaVine is considered raw but also viewed as one of the most athletic players in the draft.
“Some players that are ready-made, they’re only going to be doubles hitters,” Saunders said. “This guy has the ability to be a home run-type player with development. I believe our staff is going to do a great job developing him and he’s going to work at it.”
The 6-foot-6 LaVine averaged 9.4 points and shot 37.5 percent from 3-point range as a freshman for the Bruins last season. The Timberwolves were in the market for a dynamic perimeter player to run the fast break with Ricky Rubio, and Saunders thinks LaVine will be a shot of adrenaline to the team’s transition game.
“He’s a highlight reel,” Saunders said. “Ricky loves to throw lob passes and he’ll have no one better to throw it to than him.”
LaVine averaged fewer than 25 minutes per game for the Bruins last season while jockeying for time with other ballyhooed UCLA recruits including Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson. He was a Ben Howland recruit, but Howland was fired before LaVine arrived on campus. He didn’t fit as well with new coach Steve Alford and decided to leave early rather than stick around for his sophomore season.
All of that factored into LaVine’s reaction on draft night.
“I’m going into Minnesota full-fledged and ready to become a Timberwolf,” he said.
Whether he’ll ever play with Kevin Love remains to be seen.
The Wolves entered draft night engulfed in uncertainty surrounding Love, who can opt out of his contract after next season. That has prompted Saunders, who is also taking over as coach next season, to explore his options.
Saunders said trade talks quieted as the night progressed.
“We had a few people call on trades for picks,” he said. “As far as trades for players, it was pretty quiet.”
The Warriors have an intriguing package that could include young shooting guard Klay Thompson and former All-Star forward David Lee, but the two sides were butting heads over other parts that could be included in a potential deal. The Timberwolves wanted to send Kevin Martin and the final three years and about $21 million of his contract with Love to the Bay Area, a proposal that was giving the Warriors pause.
Now the Wolves will wait until free agency begins on July 1 to establish a new market for the face of their franchise. Any teams missing out on LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony during that period could turn their attention to Love, a three-time All-Star and one of the best power forwards in the league.
Saunders also has said he would be comfortable starting the season with Love on the roster, making adjustments to the roster through the draft, free agency and other trades to improve a team that finished 40-42 last season and trying to change Love’s mind about his long-term future in Minnesota.
“I’m sure the next frenzy with our league is going to be July 1 when free agency starts and a lot of people have the ability to have some movement,” Saunders said.
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