Michael Olowokandi: "I'm very happy I got traded"
Michael Olowokandi: I think they can be a very good team. Their bigs are young and very good. It’s one of those situations where you can see a year from now or two years from now that they’ll make a lot of noise. They’re very athletic and they play good defense. They’re very capable of doing good things.
How do you see yourself helping this team?
MO: Right now I’m on the bench cheering and giving them support and when my number is called I need to make sure that I’m ready. That’s all I can do for now.
I would imagine that you would eventually want to be a starter for this team.
MO: Oh, yeah. I know I can play. It’s just a matter of being given an opportunity. When I was with the Clippers, I was in a situation that was very different than advertised. With the Wolves, I was told what my role would be and then, when I got there, there was some disparity. So I’m looking forward to being on a team where I’m needed.
The Celtics are 18-26, four games back in the loss column for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Do you think the Celtics can make a surge and earn a playoff spot?
MO: I do think so. Look at the third and four-place teams and all the way down and there’s only a few games difference between all of them. I don’t think it’s too late at all.
Of all the players involved in the Boston-Minnesota trade, was there a more delighted player about being moved than you?
MO: You’re right. I’m very happy I got traded. Back in Minnesota, I think I’d come in each season and have a good, strong start, only to, I guess, be involved in politics. So I’m definitely happy to be out of there.
You mentioned your role in Minnesota was different than what you told it would be after you signed with them as a free agent. How was it different?
MO: I was there two and a halt seasons and, if anything, I should express gratitude. But my role was different than what I would have liked it to have been. I still tried my best by rebounding and playing defense. But I’m not an outside player. Every time I played against the bigger teams like San Antonio I thought I did a pretty solid job on Tim (Duncan) and did the things they wanted me to do. But, obviously, things didn’t work out.
Not to belabor the point, but how did Timbewolves officials renege on the promises they made to you as a free agent?
MO: We talked and I expressed the fact that I saw the player they had before, Rasho Nesterovic, who went to the Spurs, and they didn’t really utilize him. I knew Rasho back in Europe, where he had a pretty good career. He was a very good, low-post player there. And I told them that I felt he was often overlooked and I expressed that concern about that happening to me. And they told me that I would be playing more in the post. But that didn’t happen. I was always on the weak side.
The Timberwolves made a major push the last couple of seasons to challenge for a championship, adding Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell. After losing in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers two seasons ago, they bottomed out and didn’t even make the playoffs last season. What happened?
MO: That’s a good question. The makeup of the team was a lot different. I believe the way Spree, Sam and Kevin were played the year before and the year after was completely different. And, once things started to go south, it’s easy for players to become selfish. Spree, Sam and Kevin were the main focus of the offense and then the year after, I thought Spree was taken a little more out of the mix; he wasn’t as involved.
With all the changes the T-Wolves have made, could they be in trouble?
MO: I don’t know. I wish them all the best.
Would you be surprised if the Timberwolves traded Kevin Garnett?
MO: (Long pause) I think everybody would be surprised if that happened. But I think that’ll depend on how the team does. If the team isn’t doing so well, as a business, they’ll have to weigh the costs and benefits and make a decision based on that.
You were once the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and thus a lot of lofty expectations were placed upon you. But in seven seasons, you have averaged double figures in scoring twice. How would you summarize your career?
MO: I think I had to contend with a number of things. Perhaps if my stay with the Clippers had been longer, it would have been smoother. And, then when I went to Minnesota, hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. If I could have done it differently and gone somewhere else, perhaps things would have worked out differently. But it isn’t about how you start something; it’s about how you end things. So that’s what I’m looking forward to. I see this as year one. I think this is a massive restructure for the teams and it’s a massive restructure for myself also.
Gery Woelfel covers the Milwaukee Bucks and the NBA for The Racine (Wis.) Journal Times
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