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MFFL
04-30-2002, 08:06 AM
LINK (http://www.sportsline.com/b/page/pressbox/0,1328,5288738,00.html)

Timberwolves' dilemma: What to do with Kevin?
April 29, 2002
By Mike Kahn
SportsLine.com Executive Editor
Tell Mike your opinion!


You have to wonder when Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor will invite comedian Bill Murray into management. Every April, Taylor and the Timberwolves awaken to the same song, the same set of circumstances, just as Murray did in his classic comedy, Groundhog Day.

The 82-game regular season had moments of incredible highs and desperate lows. Kevin Garnett became one of four players in NBA history -- with Larry Bird (five), Wilt Chamberlain (three) and Oscar Robertson (three) -- to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for a third season in a row.

Then came Monday morning, April 29. The clock-radio kicks on, and the phone lines on the talk shows are lit up like Christmas Eve with the response to yet another first-round exit from the playoffs. Reality lands in the hearts and souls of all involved with the impact of nuclear waste.

How does it ever change?

Trading Places
The following players were traded after their teams failed to meet playoff expectations:
Player Traded from Traded to
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Milwaukee -- Los Angeles
2. Wilt Chamberlain San Francisco -- Philadelphia
3. Oscar Robertson Cincinnati -- Milwaukee
4. Charles Barkley Philadelphia -- Phoenix
5. Patrick Ewing New York -- Seattle
6. Elvin Hayes Houston -- Baltimore
7. Bob Lanier Detroit -- Milwaukee
8. Earl Monroe Baltimore -- New York
9. Clyde Drexler Portland -- Houston
10. Robert Parrish Golden State -- Boston
11. Moses Malone Houston -- Philadelphia

"Maybe this time they're going to have to look at doing something with Kevin," one Western Conference executive told SportsLine.com. "How long can they go on paying his salary, and not going anywhere? Players of his caliber rarely get traded, but sometimes ... "

Sometimes, it just isn't working, and a change is necessary, even for a Kevin Garnett, he of the six-year, $126 million contract that paid him more than anyone else in the NBA this season, $22.4 million. It's that contract (which ends after the 2003-2004 season) that essentially scared owners into the lockout of 1999, creating the first work stoppage in NBA history.

That said, isn't moving the cornerstone of the franchise a little drastic?

Why it happens

You hear it all the time. Wilt got traded; so did Kareem and Oscar, so anybody can be. If players who are recognizable without surnames get dealt, then it's always reasonable to hypothesize.

The Timberwolves do have to figure out something with their 25-year-old superstar. If there is nothing more futile than mediocrity in the NBA, then the Timberwolves have cornered the market with an unusually, quick, agile and charismatic 7-foot forward who might want out two years from now.

They've been in the playoffs six consecutive years, all first-round exits. They're 5-18 there after getting swept by Dallas (by an average of 10.7 points a game) as Sunday completed the latest rerun for Taylor and Co.

Most of the time, when superstars get traded, it's either at the end of their careers and they want a chance to play on a championship team, or a contract squabble makes the relationship untenable.

Years ago, Elvin Hayes wanted out of Washington as the Bullets were about to rebuild just three years after winning an NBA title. Clyde Drexler had seen enough of where the Portland Trail Blazers were going in the mid-1990s, so he wanted out, too. Both ended up in their college town of Houston with the Rockets.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak played with Hayes in Washington before moving on (to Los Angeles) that same summer of 1981. He was in management when the Lakers and Mavericks almost made a megadeal that would have sent, among others, James Worthy to Dallas for Mark Aguirre. And despite all the talk of Kobe Bryant being on the trading block in December of 2000, there was never more to it than teams with interest.

"It was all part of the rebuilding in Washington," Kupchak said. "Wes (Unseld) had just retired, and there were just a lot of movable parts. The fans don't like to see that happen. Sometimes, it's just going to happen.

"We never discussed trading (Bryant). It didn't happen. But you always think of different scenarios, and trading a superstar is something the entire organization has to agree on, because you are going to be moving in a completely new direction."

There are endless ramifications. Drexler was an icon in Portland when Bob Whitsitt had to give him away for aging Otis Thorpe and a future first-round pick. His addition helped the Rockets win their second successive NBA title in 1995.

Drexler asked to be dealt, wanting a chance to win a title and a new bigger contract, and in Houston, he got to play with old college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon while putting a wrap on his NBA career.

"It was a little easier for us because as a franchise you try to honor that player's request because they'd done so much for your franchise over the years," Whitsitt said. "It's always difficult. One, fans don't like when you rebuild, and No. 2, when a popular player moves on, that's hard also. But when it came down to it, I think they understood because it was what was best for him and when it comes to rewarding guys who gave you everything they've got, you try to accommodate them."

Why it doesn't happen

At the end of the 2000-2001 NBA season, there were plenty of questions involving superstars. The Philadelphia 76ers got to the NBA Finals starring MVP Allen Iverson, who was traded to Detroit before that season, only to have the deal nullified when Matt Geiger refused to waive his exorbitant trade kicker. Iverson and coach Larry Brown -- at least temporarily -- kissed and made up, producing the Sixers' best season in 20 years.

By the same token, the San Antonio Spurs had to decide what to do with David Robinson, an aging free-agent and former superstar center who was a bust as they were swept by the Lakers in the 2001 Western Conference finals by an average of more than 22 points.

The Seattle SuperSonics didn't make the playoffs for the second time in three years, and mercurial All-Star point guard Gary Payton had run off coach Paul Westphal and had been too mouthy for new coach Nate McMillan and his teammates.

At what point do you forego history for the sake of the future? The Sixers did it with Charles Barkley, and it caused the franchise to flail aimlessly for nearly a decade before Iverson and Brown put the team back on course.

"Sometimes, it's just time for somebody to move on for the benefit of everybody," NBA commissioner David Stern said, emphasizing he wasn't talking about Garnett in particular. "Basically, little kids growing up know about their local team. They're ours. They're mine. They're the community's, whether they win or lose, they are with their players.

"There's no question that there are certain contracts around the league that are going to be a burden, or at least affect what teams can do around them. That was the goal. We have teams with high payrolls with certain decisions that are going to burden them for a number of years. The issue comes when you're making certain decisions, and believe me, our teams are now focusing on them with laser-like accuracy ... because you begin to realize you could be impacting your franchise for six or seven years or a decade."

That explains why the Spurs didn't trade Robinson, or let him go and make a full-blown effort for free agent Chris Webber, who had expressed interest. Had they renounced Robinson, and Webber changed his mind about going to San Antonio, coach Gregg Popovich would have had a team in revolt and a public relations disaster on his hands, having rejected one of the classiest team leaders in sports history.

He had already struggled after Robinson went publicly ballistic over a proposal for him to accept more than a $10 million pay cut, so Pop made the wise decision to get out the tools and paintbrush and put that fence back together in a hurry.

"You look at all the possibilities," Popovich said. "When we had David as a free agent, we had to stop and think what we're going to do. Do you want to sign with us? We had the responsibility to look at all the options. And when we looked at all the options, we decided no way we wanted to trade him. He's such a big part of San Antonio, he's been here forever. So no way could we do that. We lose our soul if we let him go, but on July 1, we did put in a call to everybody (including Webber) because that's our job, to make sure we look at everything.

"When you ask about trading a Kevin Garnett, a club has to look at every possibility. But again, I can't imagine Minnesota trading him. Whatever happens, they'll be putting their team together with Kevin the one they're building around. He's too good. He's too large. He's what they're all about."

That's what happened in Seattle. Sonics president Wally Walker had traded Shawn Kemp after the 1996-97 season in a deal that brought underachieving Vin Baker, but coming close to dealing Payton last June was an entirely different deal. Walker was part of a splintered new ownership group under Howard Schultz. Besides, Payton was breaking nearly every non-big man record in franchise history, they had failed to make the playoffs two of the past three season, and dealing him would end any hope of making it this season and perhaps too many more.

The night before the draft in June, Payton's agent, Aaron Goodwin, faxed out a letter from his client to various media outlets, thanking the city of Seattle for its support. It was a farewell, with a trade to the new Memphis Grizzlies that included Shareef Abdur-Rahim (also a Goodwin client) on the verge of completion. But it fell through at the last moment, and Abdur-Rahim was dealt to Atlanta instead.

"We didn't find the right deal, so we weren't going to make a trade," Walker said. "It has to be an organizational decision where you have to agree to a change of philosophy and direction. Usually that change of direction is getting rid of a superstar, getting younger, laying a foundation and struggling for a couple of years. We didn't trade Gary, we're still getting younger, and the goal was to still be competitive enough to make the playoffs. When it comes to those exceptional players, making a decision like that is really a difficult thing to do."

Still, Payton, who will be 34 soon, has just one year left on his contract. Do they extend him for the huge bucks beyond his $12 million-plus salary through next season, or put him off until then? They're in the playoffs this season with a much younger group with Payton, but they were a lottery team without him.

It's not my team

Whatever you do, don't tell Garnett the Wolves are his team.

Before the third month of the 2001-2002 NBA season was complete, Garnett made it perfectly clear where he and the Minnesota Timberwolves were headed. Seemingly more than any other, the team had embraced the nuances of the now legal zone in the NBA. They were long and quick, with too many arms and legs for opponents to get comfortable offensively.

"This is a different team this season," Garnett said emphatically. "We do more things than we have before, and we can beat any team in the Western Conference. We want home court in the first round and get it going in the playoffs from there."

It sounded good, even looked good at the time. Coach Flip Saunders was glowing, Joe Smith was back after a one-year absence, starting up front with Garnett and Rasho Nesterovic, and Wally Szczerbiak slid into the backcourt and became an All-Star shooting guard. Chauncey Billups had grown up, making insiders wonder aloud if the team wasn't better with him at starting point guard than Terrell Brandon.

Yes, it really was the Timberwolves, the quintessential first-round-and-out gang kicking it, like never before. They raced out to a 40-19 record, best start in franchise history, and were threatening for the No. 1 seed in the talent-laden Western Conference through the All-Star break, let alone just getting home court.

Then it happened. Brandon got hurt for the second time this season, but this time he was finished. Knee surgery. Career actually threatened. Not only was Billups the point guard, there was no choice. Now his freewheeling style, compared to that of the ultra-careful Brandon, became a major issue, not a refreshing change.

The focus on Garnett intensified 10-fold. By the playoffs, they had finished 10-13 and slid to the fifth seed, handing over the home-court advantage to Dallas. There were even arguments during the broadcasts on TNT, with Barkley and Magic Johnson criticizing Garnett, and Danny Ainge sticking up for him and Wolves vice president Kevin McHale (his old friend from the Boston Celtics) saying Garnett didn't have enough help. Oddly enough, Ainge was indicting McHale for putting such bad players around his star.

The comments reverberated. They emphasized this wasn't the team that Garnett built; he just tries to do what he can to make a pronounced difference every game.

"It's not my team man ... I don't distribute checks around here," Garnett said in a 2001 interview after a loss in Seattle. "I will take the leadership responsibility and voice my opinion to my teammates. I get sick of hearing that ...'This is this guy's team or that guy's team.' I think everybody in the world thinks Gary Payton ... (Seattle) is his team. Look at all the stuff that went on with him. I don't distribute checks and tips. I'm not the boss here. He's not the boss there. I'm the guy. I'm the leader. This is not my team. This team is not designed by Kevin Garnett. I don't make choices. I don't make draft picks. I don't bring people in ..."

So do they trade him?

It will be nearly impossible for the Wolves to move him, if for no other reason than his contract is a problem, not only now, but when it ends in the summer of 2004. They'd either have to give up all of their good players just to make cap room, or he'd have to go to a very young team that would be sending players that wouldn't necessarily make the Timberwolves good enough to justify the deal.

The problem really comes down to the players McHale elected to put around Garnett. When Taylor and McHale undermined the salary cap in 1999 with Joe Smith, agreeing to three one-year deals at a bargain basement price, and a maximum seven-year deal of $93 million beginning in the fourth year, the NBA found out, fined Taylor in excess of $3 million, suspended him and McHale for one year and took away five consecutive first-round draft choices.

Even though Stern ultimately softened the penalty to three first-rounders, the damage was done. Smith's contract was voided, he signed with Detroit and didn't come back until this season. The loss of draft choices and the organization's credibility was palpable. The bigger question was even more discombobulating:

Why Joe Smith?

He started off well again this season, as did the team, then slipped to the point that he hardly played in the playoffs. On a good team, he is only marginally in the rotation, with a new six-year deal they committed only $34 million to. His close friendship with Garnett was certainly part of the equation, but there are more reasons to take at look at the team around him.

In the summer of 1998, McHale turned a deaf ear to an offer of Elden Campbell and Eddie Jones from the Lakers for Tom Gugliotta, who wanted out of Minnesota. He would have done a sign-and-trade to go to the Lakers in the deal, but McHale wasn't too fond of Jones and didn't like Campbell's contract.

So they lost Gugliotta as a free agent to Phoenix and never made up for the players they could have had. Less than a year later, they were forced by budding star Stephon Marbury to make a deal before the trade deadline that brought Brandon, who has been unspectacular, if quite efficient, for parts of four seasons. They had a significant opportunity to trade Brandon before his knee surgery for high maintenance, but highly productive, Nick Van Exel from Denver. But the trigger wasn't pulled on that deal, either.

Szczerbiak and Garnett don't get along, and Brandon's future (he will be 33 next month) is murky at best. Saunders, after early accolades, looks to be a guy without many answers either. Insiders wonder why he hasn't done more to get Garnett to develop his inside game and get to the free-throw line, plus maximize Szczerbiak, who slipped after the All-Star break. Courtesy of Whitsitt, who brought him out to interview for the Portland head-coaching job last summer, Saunders got a three-year extension on the contract that ends after next season. So he has Taylor on the hook for what is nearly $20 million, according to reports.

It's not Kevin Garnett's team. It belongs to Glen Taylor, and changes are coming. Szczerbiak is the most likely one to go, although he was nearly traded to myriad teams last summer. But what about Garnett?

"Most people consider Garnett a top five player," the Western Conference executive said. "But if you don't ever get your team out of the first round, are you really a top five player?"

Payton, Iverson, Vince Carter, Ray Allen, Latrell Sprewell and maybe a few other high-priced names will be floating around as we get closer to the draft in June. That's when trade talks get serious. Trading a great player is certainly easier said than done, and if the Timberwolves really do concede they can't get any further under existing circumstances with Garnett, the package proposals will come rolling in to McHale. They'll turn his head, make him laugh or cause him to vomit.

But that very well might be the consequence of having your franchise wake up at the end of April every year on the outside looking in.

seelenjaeger
04-30-2002, 11:53 AM
yes, i know i will get dissed for this, but ...

isnīt Garnett exactly the type of guy (good, on the plate, overpaid) that CuNellie usually go for?

nekked
04-30-2002, 12:21 PM
that's funny....as i read this, i thought, what combo of players (salary-wise) could the mavs put together to get him here. talk about the last piece of the puzzle. you'd probably have to take too much from the core to get him here, so i wouldn't consider it. but, what if...

nash
fin
kg
dirk
mantis

sign and trade with lafrentz, then throw in nve, and ???
the wolves would never do it.

must do more research.

Hoopsmeister
04-30-2002, 01:07 PM
I'll believe Garnett is on the trading block when I actually see him in another uniform, but with that said, if he were on the block, he would be an obvious target for 'CuNellie.' However, we would have to give up one of the big 3 (probably Finley for salary cap reasons as much as anything else) + Van Exel + a bit more to get him. And I don't think Minnesota would be interested. They need draft picks in any such trade and Dallas doesn't have a lot to offer there and those we do have to offer won't be worth much--not with Dirk and KG playing together.

nekked
04-30-2002, 01:15 PM
hoops, you're right, i can't see the wolves trading kg, much less to a division foe. but....

is it possible we could get kg for jho and timbug and ?? if i can add, which is in doubt, let's see...

nickie v. 11.061
lafrentz 7.510 (sign-n-trade) estimated
taw 5.625
esch 3.103
total 27.299

garnett 22.400++
(2002 - can't find his salary for next year)

they'd never do it. but that would make them look like..

guards: brandon, billups, van exel, peeler
forwards: wally, smith, lafrentz, trent, taw
centers: nesto, esch

naaahhh...

plus, as i've said before, i want to see THIS team together for awhile.

Hoopsmeister
04-30-2002, 02:38 PM
Would you do that trade? If Minnesota trades Garnett, they will want a top 10 player in return (Iverson from Philly?) or multiple high picks. They might be able to sell the trade to their fans if they are picking up LeBron James, but not if they are bring back Lafrentz and Van Exel.

nekked
04-30-2002, 02:45 PM
although it balances the team out and makes them considerably deeper, if i'm kevin mchale, there's no way i trade kg unless there's some big blowup there this summer and he demands to leave. the problem the wolves have is that they only have the exceptions to sign people and, although wally's good, he's probably not even a top 10 sf/sg (or just around 10), so you can't get alot for him. any change they make probably won't make them significantly better, but be more of a chemistry change.

Murphy3
04-30-2002, 06:04 PM
kg might be the third leading scorer on that team

Drbio
04-30-2002, 08:50 PM
maybe...