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Answers are not encouraging in Minneapolis
by Matt Krumrie / May 8, 2002

So this is what it has come to? A superstar player with a hefty contract who is afraid to take clutch shots at the end of a game (Kevin Garnett). An All-Star shooting guard who can’t play defense (Wally Szczerbiak), a starting point guard who is better suited for the role of a backup (Chauncey Billups) and another point guard who is trying to comeback from a career threatening injury (Terrell Brandon). Throw in a bench full of average role players with fat contracts (Joe Smith, Marc Jackson, Anthony Peeler) and a good coach who is running out of chances (Flip Saunders) and what do you have?

The Minnesota Timberwolves in May. Sulking after another first round playoff loss, yet still believing there is hope for the future after a 50-win regular season. Unfortunately that future was this year, when a 30-10 start and the development of the team was expected to at least - at least - get out of the first round of the playoffs. Didn’t happen, and at this rate, it won’t happen anytime soon. Owner Glen Taylor is losing patience, players are losing patience and fans have had it. Here is what Erik Jensen of Waseca, Minnesota had to say:

“I think the T-Wolves have to explore any and all possibilities at this point to improve this team,” said Jensen. “If that means trade talks involving KG, so be it. It'll be next to impossible to move him for cap reasons, but that's the mentality this team needs this offseason - anything and everything to improve and win must be done.”

Should they trade KG? Forget it - with his contract (over $20 million per year) it will be almost impossible. Should they trade Wally? For who, for what? Reports out of the Twin Cities claim the Wolves are trying to trade Szczerbiak for Andre Miller of Cleveland. Great move if it can be done, but why would the Cavs trade one of the up-and-coming point guards for a shooting guard who can only score, especially when they have a bunch of guys who can only score - Lamond Murray, Ricky Davis, Trajan Langdon (both are free agents) and Wesley Person for example? There is still no word whether Brandon will be able to play next season or not. If so, great, but they never got out of the first round with him healthy, why should fans believe they can do so next season, a year older, a year back from a serious injury?

Billups could be a sparkplug off the bench, but as a starter is too inconsistent. Peeler? He is the Timberwolf fans love to hate. Smith? Nice guy - but nice guys don’t win playoff games. Jackson? Slow, out of shape, not worth the huge contract he is getting. Rasho Nesterovic, Sam Mitchell, Felipe Lopez, Loren Woods... Do any of these players strike fear or reason to believe things will improve?

The only fear should be on the faces Flip Saunders and Kevin McHale. They have built this team, and how many more chances will Taylor give these hometown favorites who are quickly losing support from the Minnesota faithful? Taylor even was quoted as saying one way the team can get better is through “better coaching.” Ouch! However, Saunders still has four years and $20 million remaining on a deal he signed last season. Taylor won’t let him go without Saunders fulfilling most of that contract.

The draft? Forget it - the Wolves don’t have a pick because of the Joe Smith scandal. Even if they do have a pick in the second round, they’ll likely draft a foreign player who will end up playing overseas for two or three years (such is the tradition of the Wolves brass).

Buy a draft pick? For what, a mediocre college player who they will have to guarantee a contract? See William Avery for more thoughts on that.

Make a trade? Szczerbiak is the most likely to go, and really, other than KG (who won’t be traded) the only marketable player. Miller would be a great fit, but then what if Brandon is healthy? You are stuck without a shooting guard (Billups would assume that role) and two high-paid point guards. Somewhere that doesn’t convince us that will help the team win a playoff series.

Free agents? Maybe they will get lucky and sign a veteran who can come in and help this team. That’s a big maybe.

With guaranteed contracts, salary cap issues, no first round draft picks, a loaded Western Conference, combined with internal confusion, the Timberwolves can expect more of the same for the next few years - unless changes are made. The big question is, who will be involved in those changes? The answer isn’t encouraging, that's for sure.

Matt Krumrie is a Twin Cities-based freelance sports writer who covers high school, college and pro sports. He is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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