MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Barring a big surprise, everyone knows what's going to happen with the top two picks in Thursday night's NBA draft.
Derrick Rose, then Michael Beasley. Or Michael Beasley, then Derrick Rose. In either order, it's as close to a sure thing as LeBron James going No. 1 to the Cavaliers in 2003.
The real mystery begins at No. 3 with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
For a team that hasn't had the best history in the draft, the Timberwolves are in a powerful position to influence how the rest of the 2008 lottery shakes out. It's the first spot in the draft where anything can happen - a trade up, a trade down, a swapping of players or simply, an actual draft choice.
Kevin McHale says the team has whittled the possible candidates for the pick down to four - excluding Rose and Beasley. Of course, McHale plays it coy when defining that pool, but the Wolves have worked out UCLA forward Kevin Love, Stanford center Brook Lopez, USC guard O.J. Mayo and Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless in the weeks leading up to the draft.
``We're going to get a really good player, there's no question,'' McHale said earlier this week. ``We're very comfortable with a lot of these players and there's a lot of good players in this draft.''
They have also looked closely at Italian forward Danilo Gallinari, Indiana guard Eric Gordon and Kansas forward Brandon Rush, though it is widely thought that No. 3 would be too high to choose any of those players.
That's where the intrigue begins.
Several teams are believed to be very high on Mayo, a combo guard with excellent shooting range who has been on the national stage since he was a sophomore in high school. That includes the Miami Heat at No. 2 and several other teams below Minnesota that might want to trade up to take him.
``We've got offers. There's not an offer I'd do today,'' McHale said last week. ``If we do anything, it will probably happen that night because we want to see what happens in front of us.''
The Timberwolves could move down to allow another team to select Mayo while stockpiling more picks or players, or select Mayo themselves and pair him with Randy Foye in a versatile - though a little bit short - backcourt.
There are other options.
The Wolves like Lopez in part because it would allow them to move Al Jefferson to his more natural position of power forward. Drafting Love would keep Jefferson at center, but also give the Wolves a multi-talented power forward with shooting range, a deft passing touch and a knack for rebounding.
Whatever they do with the pick - the franchise's highest since selecting Christian Laettner No. 3 behind Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning in 1992 - assistant GM Fred Hoiberg said the team can't afford to miss.
``That's what I think we all want,'' Hoiberg said. ``A guy that can come in and make an immediate impact.''
That is easier said than done for a lot of NBA teams when it comes to the draft, including the Timberwolves.
Minnesota has missed badly several times with lottery selections, including Laettner, J.R. Rider and Will Avery. Successes include Kevin Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak.
The jury is still out on Rashad McCants and Corey Brewer, though both have shown flashes of ability in their short careers.
This year's decision may be tougher than any that has come before it. McHale acknowledges that the gap between all four candidates he is considering at No. 3 is minuscule at best. After Rose and Beasley, there isn't another prospect thought to be a cornerstone player.
``There's a lot of responsibility for that,'' McHale said. ``You see these young kids come in and there's all this responsibility thrown on them when a team's saying, 'We're hanging our future on this rookie.' That's hard to do. It's a lot of pressure.''
The Timberwolves also hold picks No. 31 and 34 at the top of the second round and could either package them in a trade to move back up into the first round or sit tight and take two more players to help the rebuilding process.
``It's a very deep draft. That's why I'm excited about 31 and 34,'' McHale said. ``We can package those up if we move. I'm looking more and more at staying there because some guys might drop. It's going to be a fun Thursday night.''

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