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07-08-2003, 08:54 AM
Ford: Is Minnesota Howard's end?
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Thursday, July 3
Updated: July 3
1:02 PM ET


T-Wolves GM Kevin McHale is howling at the moon.


Coming off his seventh straight first-round playoff defeat, McHale knows he has one last shot at convincing Kevin Garnett that he should retire in Minnesota.
Juwan Howard
Power Forward
Denver Nuggets
Profile


2002-2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
77 18.4 7.6 3.0 .450 .803


He's off to a good start. McHale got the ball rolling by performing an exorcism of sorts on the Wolves. He kicked Joe Smith -- the guy that cost them three first-round draft picks and a $3.5 million fine -- to the curb one day after the draft. In return he landed mercurial veteran Sam Cassell -- a slick, sweet-shooting point guard who, if nothing else, can keep up with Garnett in the trash talking department. And the team appears to be close to locking up center Rasho Nesterovic to a long-term deal.


And now for the kicker: Insider has learned the Wolves may be on the verge of grabbing one of the most coveted free-agent bargains of 2003 -- Juwan Howard.

Last summer, McHale's attempt to turn things around was an unmitigated disaster. He let Chauncey Billups slip away without a solid backup plan at point guard, watched the Cavs match an offer sheet for Ricky Davis, couldn't get Nesterovic signed to a long-term deal, and then, in frustration (he was spurned by every major free agent including the likes of Devean George, Jeff McInnis and Rodney Rogers), spent his offseason cash on the likes of Troy Hudson and Kendall Gill. That's ugly, folks.

McHale vowed that this summer would be different. It had to be. Garnett began balking over an extension last summer just about the time McHale panicked and overpaid Wally Szczerbiak to spend the rest of his career in Minnesota. He saw a team with no cap room and dwindling assets that had just sentenced him to a lifetime of playing next to a guy he couldn't stand. Garnett's departure looked like more than a possibility -- it appeared inevitable.

But with the addition of Cassell and the likely signing of Nesterovic, the karma in Minnesota appears to be changing. If they can lock up Howard, Garnett will have to think twice about walking away from the Wolves.

A starting five of Cassell at the point, Szczerbiak at the two, Howard at the three, Garnett at the four and Nesterovic at the five would give the Wolves their most potent lineup since Starbury and Googs were running with KG.

Can McHale seal the deal with Howard? Two league sources told Insider on Wednesday afternoon that Howard had significantly narrowed his choices and that the Wolves were in his top two. The other top teams appear to be the Lakers and Magic.

Howard has been saying for months that he wants to go to a team with a chance to win now -- essentially ruling out his current team, the Nuggets. Howard's stock, which used to hover around the same place as Enron's, took a dramatic upturn last season after he endured a nightmare in Denver without so much as a peep. Instead of complaining, Howard worked with the team's young players and drew rave reviews from everyone, including Coach Jeff Bzdelik and GM Kiki Vandeweghe.

When Howard's $100 million contract expired on July 1, he went from being the most overpaid guy in the league to an instant free-agent bargain. While Howard wouldn't mind pocketing more than the mid-level exception if a team like the Spurs or Jazz came calling, he has made it clear that he'll take a pay cut, up to the $4.9 million exception, to play for a winner this year.

If Howard does spurn the Wolves, they have other options. Karl Malone, P.J. Brown, Derrick Coleman, Tyrone Hill, Robert Horry, Stephen Jackson, Jim Jackson and Jumaine Jones could all fill holes in Minnesota. However, none of them has the upside Howard has.

Moreover, the Wolves still have the option of trading Terrell Brandon, who is expected to retire this year, and acquiring a good player or two that way. Players such as Jalen Rose and Eddie Jones are believed to be available in such a trade. However the ideal situation has the team signing Howard, hanging onto Brandon and saving roughly $22 million in salary and luxury tax fees this season when Brandon's contract comes off the books.

McHale can only get away with that if he can land a big-name free agent -- their first in many years. His future, as well as the future of the franchise, depends on it.

Around the league
Elton Brand
Power Forward
Los Angeles Clippers
Profile


2002-2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
62 18.5 11.3 2.5 .502 .685


Did Donald Sterling find his wallet? Several league sources told Insider on Wednesday evening that the Clippers had offered Elton Brand a max-type deal. The L.A. Times reports the deal is for five years, $65 million -- essentially a max deal for five years.

Now here's the great part: Brand is seriously considering signing it. Brand's agent, David Falk, is looking for assurances that Brand won't be alone in L.A.. But there's at least hope in L.A. that the Clippers might start paying guys.

What in the name of Elgin Baylor is going on in L.A.?

"We've consistently said we like our players and would like to re-sign them," Executive Vice President Andy Roeser told the Times. "Our first choice is to sit down with them and make a fair deal. We respect their right to go out and see what their alternatives are, but we would be inclined to match any offers."

Really? Everyone? That could mean trouble for the Nuggets, who are wooing two Clipper restricted free agents -- Corey Maggette and Andre Miller.

And it could mean trouble for Maggette and Miller -- both of whom are trying to get out.

Maggette was in Denver on Wednesday and liked what he saw.

"It's a great opportunity," Maggette told the Rocky Mountain News. "They're trying to do big things in Denver. It was great meeting with Kiki (Vandeweghe, the GM) and Jeff Weltman (assistant GM who previously was with the Clippers) and the other guys. I love the facilities. I love everything about Denver. ... It was a great experience. Hopefully, they'll make a decision, and I'll be here."

And Miller claims someone in Denver is also giving him some love.

"They said I'm their No. 1 point guard," Miller told the Rocky Mountain News.

Vandeweghe wouldn't go that far, instead emphasizing that Miller plays the right position.

"The point guard position is definitely our top priority," said Vandeweghe, when asked about Miller's comment. "Andre is one of the top point guards."
Gilbert Arenas
Point Guard
Golden State Warriors
Profile


2002-2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
82 18.3 4.7 6.3 .431 .791



So how did Miller leapfrog Gilbert Arenas to become the Nuggets' top point guard? Don't believe everything you read. While some in the organization do love Miller, Arenas is the top guy -- if he comes at the right price.

Right now, however, it appears the two sides aren't even close. Agent Dan Fegan told the Rocky Mountain News the two sides haven't begun talks. That may be, in part, because Fegan still is insisting on a starting salary of $9 million a year. The Nuggets won't pay that for Arenas -- nor will anyone else.

"The nature of free agency is you overpay, but I want to be smart about it," Vandeweghe said. "It's not like the government, where if you fail to spend all the money in your annual budget, you lose it."

Arenas, however, really wants to play in Denver. He loves Carmelo Anthony and wants to play in the up-tempo style that coach Jeff Bzdelik has promised.

"I'm a perfect fit (for the Nuggets) because they're a young team, and I'm one of the youngest players in the free-agent market anyway," Arenas told the Denver Post. "With those two, you can just grow together."

A lineup of Arenas, Maggette, Anthony, Nene Hilaro and Marcus Camby (when healthy) would be the most exciting in the league. The Nuggets also would like to add Michael Olowokandi into that mix. They can get that done via sign-and-trade or by shipping Camby to Portland in return for Arvydas Sabonis' expiring contract. Then the team would have enough money to sign all three players.
Gary Payton
Point Guard
Milwaukee Bucks
Profile


2002-2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
80 20.4 4.2 8.3 .454 .710



The Lakers need a power forward in the worst way, but at first blush it appears point guard Gary Payton is their first choice -- if he'll play for the mid-level exception. While some within the Lakers organization are still pushing for the team to add a player like Karl Malone, P.J. Brown or Juwan Howard, owner Jerry Buss is enamored with Payton.

Malone was in L.A. on Wednesday talking with GM Mitch Kupchak about ending his career there. Like Payton, Howard and possibly Brown, Malone appears to be willing to take the mid-level exception in hopes of winning a championship.

One place Payton probably won't land is Indiana. Recent reports have pointed to Payton agreeing to a sign-and-trade that would would send Al Harrington and Austin Croshere to Milwaukee in return for The Glove.

Not true, according to Pacers president Donnie Walsh. "I'm not sure where that's coming from," Walsh told Insider. "We've never talked about a trade. I think that Milwaukee will either sign him and keep him, or he'll go to the West Coast."

While Walsh won't deny trying to find a new home for Croshere, he claims that Harrington isn't for sale. Harrington has been working at IMG all summer, has dropped his playing weight down to 240 and appears to be in the best shape of his career.

"He's not just a pretty good player," Walsh said. "He's got the chance to be a great player."

If Malone leaves Utah, the Jazz won't be shy in using all $18-20 million of its cap space. With Andre Miller and Elton Brand currently at the top of their list and Corey Maggette, Juwan Howard, Brad Miller, Rasho Nesterovic and P.J. Brown also in the mix, they should have plenty of opportunities to spend with few, if any, regrets.

That's because next summer the contracts of Greg Ostertag and DeShawn Stevenson come off the books, freeing up another $10 million in cap space for next year.

In other words, the Jazz are in a great cap situation. "No matter what happens, we could be a player in the market next year," Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz's vice president of basketball operations told the Salt Lake Tribune. "If you have young players, you have options. ... This isn't a one-time shot."
Speedy Claxton
Point Guard
San Antonio Spurs
Profile


2002-2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
30 5.8 1.9 2.5 .462 .684



Speedy Claxton alreadys has visits scheduled in Orlando, Seattle, Utah, Denver, Washington, Cleveland and Detroit. But, ... "I've always dreamed of playing for the Knicks," Claxton told the NY Daily News. "That is definitely something that would interest me." Claxton grew up in Queens and attended Christ the King HS.

And finally, from the irrelevant files comes this New Jersey Ledger story. Andre Cornwell, an old friend of Jason Kidd, states: "I think he's going to stay in New Jersey, because that's home now," Cornwell said. "He's not the kind of guy who likes to keep moving and moving. I heard someone saying, 'Oh, he just wants teams to salivate over him.' But that's not it. He's been in the league nine years. It's his first time being a free agent, and he knows its going to be the last time, too. He just wants to see what's out there."

Cornwell adds, though, that Kidd hasn't made up his mind for sure, yet. "The stuff Jason is saying (publicly) is the same stuff he's saying to me," Cornwell said. "I think he's being very true in what he says. The people out there (in New Jersey) have been wonderful to him. He wouldn't want to lead them on, because they've treated him so well, and because he knows he'd have to live with that."