View Full Version : Timberwolves not likely making major changes

04-29-2002, 08:02 PM
Timberwolves not likely to make major offseason moves
AP Sports Writer
April 29, 2002

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Timberwolves are playing the patience card again as yet another offseason begins earlier than they envisioned.

The Timberwolves made their sixth straight first-round exit from the playoffs Sunday when Dallas finished off a three-game sweep on Minnesota's home court.

``There's disappointment, no question, but we're not going to make changes just to make changes,'' said coach Flip Saunders, whose team's playoff record fell to 5-18 after the Mavericks' 115-102 victory at Target Center.

``We'll sit down and evaluate everything, and we'll only do something if it'll make us better,'' Saunders said. ``We've been through some tough times -- a lot of it's been our own doing -- but all we can do is fire back.''

The Timberwolves started out looking like they'd be playing well into May. They had the league's second-best record, 30-10, just before the halfway point and still held the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference with a quarter of the season to go.

Twenty-two losses in their final 42 games were enough to tie the franchise record for regular-season wins with 50, but it left them without homecourt advantage once again for the opening round.

``It was like a tale of two seasons, man,'' said point guard Chauncey Billups, who stepped in for Terrell Brandon when he underwent season-ending surgery on his left leg in February.

Brandon's injury didn't seem to some like it would be that big of a deal, especially since he hasn't played a full season since 1992-93 and Minnesota went on a nine-game winning streak without him in December and January.

But the absence of Brandon's calming presence on the court and the hit his injury took on the team's depth clearly caught up with the Timberwolves by March, when they went 6-10.

``We went through a couple of tough stretches,'' said Wally Szczerbiak, who made the All-Star team and averaged 18.7 points on 50.8 percent shooting. ``We lost Terrell -- that was big.''

Brandon's injury did, however, allow Billups to make some breakthroughs.

Playing all 82 games for the first time and setting a career high for minutes, Billups averaged 15.1 points as a starter in Brandon's absence and contributed 22 points per game on 45 percent shooting in the playoffs.

Still prone to some erratic stretches, Billups showed better ability to run and attack the basket than Brandon, who's more of a pull-up jump shooter.

``Chauncey grew up a lot,'' Saunders said. ``He got a lot better.''

The Timberwolves don't know yet how quickly Brandon can return, which will definitely affect their offseason.

Billups has an opt-out clause in his contract he can exercise this summer, but he would be OK coming back as a backup to Brandon next year provided he's still playing a lot.

``I want to be here,'' said Billups, who played with four teams in three years before joining Minnesota for the 2000-01 season. ``I've finally got to a place where I feel comfortable. I just hope my situation doesn't change. The opportunity I got this year was priceless, man.''

The Wolves are still without a first-round draft pick in three of the next four seasons for trying to sign Joe Smith to an illegal contract in 2000, and Kevin Garnett's $126 million contract -- two years are left on the deal -- continues to eat up lots of space under the salary cap.

Nobody in the nucleus of Garnett, Szczerbiak, Smith, Billups and center Rasho Nesterovic is older than 26, but Minnesota must find a few more consistent scorers and reliable defenders if it wants to keep up with the rest in the West.

The Wolves can use two cap exceptions for signing free agents, but they might have to make a trade to add some real value.

Garnett is going anywhere, so that might mean Szczerbiak has to go.

``I can't worry about any rumors going around,'' he said. ``I've had a lot of fun playing here and I want to continue playing here. But I can't worry about what happens.''

Kevin McHale, vice president of basketball operations, feels the same way Saunders does. They're not blowing up the team just to blow it up.

``I've had feelings for a while that we need to tweak some things on this team,'' McHale said. ``With 29 teams, it's harder and harder to make a viable trade. I'll call for Shaq every day if I could get him, but they ain't trading Shaq.''

04-29-2002, 08:09 PM
And they'll be eliminated in the first round again next year.

04-29-2002, 08:40 PM
Sad, isn't it?

04-29-2002, 09:11 PM
Sad, very sad.

One thought: it's hard to remember the "superstars" that never achieve playoff success. has there been anyone more "unsuccessful" than KG?

Thought number two: with Jerry West taking charge in Memphis, building that team around Gasol and Battier (and maybe Brevin Knight?), Memphis should improve in a hurry. T-Wolves might be stuck in Western Conference mediocrity for a long time to come.

04-29-2002, 09:25 PM
And they'll be eliminated in the first round again next year.

That was exactly my thoughts when I read the title of the thread......sad....poor Wolves fans.

04-29-2002, 10:59 PM
Well, when so much money tied to a second banana... it's hard to get a go to guy.

04-29-2002, 11:12 PM
They won't win a first round series next year because they won't be as good as the Lakers/Kings/Spurs/Mavericks. Either they improve or they stagnate.

04-30-2002, 12:06 AM
DTL - Jason Kidd was actually getting much of the same reputation, which had a big impact on the Suns decision to trade him. You can buy into the story that Coangelo wanted to clean up his image, but if you think that the Suns actually thought that Marbury was an upgrade in that department, I've got some ocean-front property in Arizona you might be interested in. They were just sick of being the fifth or sixth seed in the West year after year after year.

04-30-2002, 07:47 AM
Good story about the Wolves options (http://www.startribune.com/stories/511/2416213.html)

Analysis: Wolves changes could be drastic or tweaking
Steve Aschburner
Star Tribune
Published Apr 30, 2002

Do something. Do anything.

The consternation of Timberwolves fans after the team's sixth consecutive, too-early playoff elimination Sunday was palpable. Underdogs are lovable, but this was getting ridiculous.

Year after year after year, the Wolves have lived down to expectations. They nearly changed that this season, racing to a 30-10 record and teasing folks into visions of home-court advantage, the second round and beyond. The air up there apparently was thin, though, and they spiraled in a 20-22 finish to their usual spot in the second tier of Western Conference playoff teams.

That meant starting on the road against someone better, and that turned into an 0-3 sweep against the Dallas Mavericks.

Now the Wolves head into their most pivotal offseason in years, with eight potential free agents, two stars eligible for extensions, a pricey, 5-11 question mark at point guard and a brain trust at risk of being tuned out. Both by the players and the marketplace.

So what should the Wolves do to improve? Blow up the team? Overhaul it? Or, as coach Flip Saunders and Vice President of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale suggested, "tweak" the roster while preserving continuity?

Option A: detonate

Possible moves: Trade Kevin Garnett. Replace Flip Saunders. Replace Kevin McHale.

Readers got mad at this newspaper a year ago when it ran a what-if story on the pros and cons of trading Garnett. One season later, the topic has resurfaced, with an extra elimination's urgency.

Garnett, of course, is the Wolves' most coveted asset. He is their best defensive player, their "face" to the nation's basketball fans, their emotional leader, their hardest worker in games and the embodiment of where they've been and where they'd like to go.

He also is nearly untradeable, with a $25.2 million salary next season and $28 million in 2003-04. Under NBA rules, the salaries of any players the Wolves got back would have to match, within about 15 percent. That creates an instant imbalance: Almost any team trying to land him would have to swap two or three stars, a steep price. But exchanging him for a handful of solid players wouldn't help enough.

Saunders? He's not going anywhere with four years and $20 million left on his contract. Even if the Wolves needed a fresh pair of eyes -- a case could be made, after seven seasons -- owner Glen Taylor isn't about to eat that amount of money. Taylor believes Saunders can work smarter and demand more, with no ax necessary.

The Wolves owner also believes McHale is committed to a breakthrough. Taylor doesn't take seriously his vice president's annual will-he-or-won't-he-stay job frustration.

Option B: overhaul

Possible moves: Trade Wally Szczerbiak, Terrell Brandon, Joe Smith and/or (in a sign-and-trade) Rasho Nesterovic. Spend both the mid-level ($4.5 million) and $1.4 million salary-cap exceptions. Buy a first-round draft pick.

Trading a starter or two, enticing a couple of free agents to sign and getting back into the NBA draft would qualify as major surgery.

Szczerbiak, because of his age, health, contract status, talent and box-office appeal, is the Wolf most likely to be peddled. There's also his alleged awkward fit with teammates, a chemistry cloud that hovered all season.

By the All-Star break, Garnett and Szczerbiak -- once locker-room combatants -- had found peace, or at least a truce. But as shown in the prickly ESPN The Magazine story, some teammates chose up sides anyway. His six-shot, three-point game at Cleveland, on the night he was named an All-Star, was no fluke.

But if the Wolves do move Szczerbiak, Saunders and McHale will have failed at a basic level. Garnett and Szczerbiak ought to complement each other; the former is a playmaker, the latter is a scorer. Imagine Garnett with a decent low-post game, with Szczerbiak coming off screens or spotting up. Worth a try, right?

Also, the coach and GM never met the personality/chemistry issue head on by getting the two in a room to clear the air (not since November 2000, anyway, when they made sure Szczerbiak apologized first for the post-practice scuffle). They never reminded the other players -- journeymen, failures at other stops -- that a pecking order isn't a democracy.

Another problem with trading Szczerbiak is his salary: He will make $2.9 million next season, too low to match many stars (Cleveland's Andre Miller might work). Even packaging him with others wouldn't pry Stephon Marbury from Phoenix -- the Suns can do much better, if they wish.

Brandon? By the time camp opens, the impact of his knee injury on the Wolves' season will grow to Magic Johnson/Bob Cousy proportions. But he will be a damaged, 32-year-old point guard whose desire, even when healthy, was suspect. Oh, and he'll be making $10.2 million and due $23.1 million more.

The Wolves won't know for months whether to count on Brandon, rule him out, trade to replace him or prepare for his retirement. Neither will other teams.

Smith only tantalizes the Wolves, no one else. Nesterovic suddenly is a priority to retain, considering the team's other options at center. Spending the exceptions should be a no-brainer, but Taylor already is skittish about the luxury tax. Buying a pick? Long shot.

Option C: tweak

Minimum moves: Revamp the bench. Spend one or both exceptions. "Improve" from within.

Kinda drops off the sexy scale, doesn't it? No blockbusters here, although Marc Jackson could be the first player shipped out, if they find any takers.

The big fellow got by for a week on adrenalin, but he was in poor shape, blamed others for his light minutes and got too physical in practice to vent his frustrations. Griping to Taylor didn't help, either.

Jackson -- perhaps salvageable with a training camp -- wasn't the only grumpy Wolf. Gary Trent gave the offense spice early but lost standing with two injuries and wanted to play more. Felipe Lopez felt neglected with no defined role. Sam Mitchell wants to play one more year, but it might be elsewhere. And Anthony Peeler stormed off Sunday, more peeved by his playing time in Game 2 than the Wolves' elimination.

Tweak away, fellas.