The Minnesota Timberwolves have to start being honest with themselves.
Kevin Garnett isn't going to take them any further than he already has, especially without any semblance of help -- and no, Michael Olowokandi's recent awakening (42 points, 20 rebounds combined in the past three games) doesn't count. So, if the Timberwolves are trying to rebuild, then they should rebuild, thank Garnett for his contributions to the organization and grant him his freedom.
The Timberwolves would be doing Garnett and the league a favor.
Despite eight all-star appearances, all-NBA credentials, the league's 2004 Most Valuable Player trophy and posting more than 15,000 points, 8,000 rebounds, 3,500 assists and 1,300 blocks, Garnett hasn't received the appreciation he deserves for being a truly great player because his teams have foundered so often. "With the exception of Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan, he's the third best player in the NBA in the last 10 years," TNT analyst Charles Barkley said last week.
But unlike O'Neal (who had Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles) and Duncan (who had David Robinson in San Antonio), Garnett has never been teamed with a superstar talent. Who's the best player Garnett has played with? Terrell Brandon? Wally Szczerbiak? Stephon Marbury was around only long enough to leave behind the ghosts of what could've been.
Although Minnesota vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale and owner Glen Taylor have vehemently denied that they would consider trading Garnett, there might not be a better time to move him. Garnett has been with the same team longer than anyone else in the league (Allen Iverson is right behind with nine years in Philadelphia). He suffered with knee tendinitis almost all of last season and although just 29, Garnett has played a whopping 29,943 minutes and has missed a total of 13 games in his career.
There's no need for his talents to rot on a team with no chance.
This isn't a plea for the Timberwolves trade Garnett for nothing. They shouldn't settle for anything less than a package including at least one all-star talent, draft picks and/or expiring contracts. That's a high price to pay, but you can't trade the franchise for the equivalent of what's left behind in the arena stands after the games (somehow Toronto and New Orleans didn't get the memo last season).
Garnett already is beginning to show signs that he's tired of the grind that comes with being the Lone Wolf. He's too professional to create an ugly situation, but his calculated comments on TNT last week -- right before he almost messed around and got a triple-double on the Washington Wizards -- were the first public expressions of his disappointment about the Timberwolves subpar campaign in which they failed to make the playoffs last season.
He also set the stage for what should be a season-long subplot if Minnesota fails to either trade him or improve quickly by getting him a suitable running mate.
In the interview, Garnett called out McHale for being unwilling to handle the full responsibility of coaching the team following his ouster of Flip Saunders and was critical of upper management's handling of the contract status of both Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, which was credited with ruining the season. "You got the organization saying it's Sam's fault, it's Spree's fault . . . Flip's fault, Kevin's fault, Kevin Garnett's fault. You know what? It's everybody [expletive] fault," Garnett said. "No one person looked themselves in the mirror."
McHale and Taylor didn't sound too upset with Garnett's assessments but they have to know that their superstar is unhappy with the direction of the team. Garnett didn't exactly go the route Barkley took before he was dealt from Philadelphia to Phoenix and call his general manager a "clown" and a "caddy" for the owner. He isn't the second coming of former New Jersey Nets forward Chris Morris, who once wrote "Trade" on one shoe and "Me" on the other. And, he hasn't officially used the words, "I want out of Minnesota."
But Garnett wants out of Minnesota.
When Garnett looks at his roster and sees Olowokandi, Szczerbiak, Troy Hudson, Trenton Hassell, Mark Madsen and Richie Frahm, he also realizes that simply making the playoffs is the best the Timberwolves can do this season and in the near future. And, to get that far, it would take a gargantuan effort from Garnett every night.
Garnett suffered through first-round flops for seven straight seasons and watched the organization botch contract negotiations with Joe Smith, which set back the franchise for several years. And of course, the financially crippling, six-year, $126 million contract Garnett signed in 1997 kept the Timberwolves strapped for some time. But he recently took a pay cut to help the Timberwolves get better and no matter how much he's getting paid, no one should be expected to do all of the heavy lifting his entire career -- Wilt needed West; Oscar needed Kareem; Jordan needed Pippen.
The Lakers, Pistons and Knicks are among the teams reportedly interested in acquiring the Big Ticket.
Maybe the Wizards should take a shot. Why not present a package including Antawn Jamison, Jarvis Hayes and a first round pick or two as the pawns? Can you imagine Garnett playing alongside Gilbert Arenas with Caron Butler at small forward? Just a thought.
The most intriguing scenario involving Garnett, however, is the possibility of him reuniting with Marbury, either with Garnett going to New York or Marbury returning to Minnesota. Garnett and Marbury were friends until Marbury's ego couldn't allow him to play second banana in Minnesota, and he left Garnett behind in 1999. Marbury later compared Garnett to Mario Elie when praising Amare Stoudemire and avoided Garnett at the All-Star Game in Atlanta, responding to a question about again being on the same team as Garnett with a bristling, "Next question!"
The financial hurdles to moving either player are numerous -- Garnett makes $82 million over the next four seasons; Marbury is owed $73 over the same time period -- but a reunion could display the growth and maturity of both players, who seemed destined to become the next Stockton-Malone before Marbury forced each to do it alone. Marbury's star has faded at his three stops since leaving Minnesota, but perhaps they are better together than apart.
Garnett had his best chance to win an NBA championship in Minnesota two seasons ago -- when Cassell put up a career year and Sprewell, spurned by his trade from New York, played above his head as well. Now Cassell is in Los Angeles, Sprewell is unemployed and the Timberwolves are moving backward.
This has to be written now before the bottom eventually falls out: The Los Angeles Clippers have the second-best record in the Western Conference.
Remain calm. Do not adjust your computer. Read the first paragraph again if you like. It's the truth. The Clippers, a league-wide punchline because of decades of lousy play, their penny-pinching owner Donald Sterling and an inability to keep good talent, are 8-2 -- the best start in franchise history -- and sit atop the surprisingly weak Pacific Division after two weeks of action.
The franchise has had only five winning seasons and six playoff appearances in 34 seasons. It hasn't finished at .500 in more than a decade or been to the playoffs since 1997, the second-longest drought in the league. You want to believe Corey Maggette when he says, "These are the new Clippers." But given that level of continuous ineptitude, it's difficult to get overly excited about this start.
Let's try for a moment.
Obviously, the additions of Cassell and Cuttino Mobley have given the Clippers a swagger that hasn't been seen in, well, forever. With Elton Brand, Maggette and an improving Chris Kaman, the Clippers are confident that they are a legitimate playoff contender this season. They have already surpassed the Lakers as the best team in Los Angeles, after winning their third consecutive game against their crosstown rivals last week.
"It's not a big deal," Brand told reporters after the Clippers beat the Lakers, 97-91. Except that it was the first time in 30 years that the Clippers had defeated the Lakers three times in a row, and the game also brought out Sterling, who understandably rarely attends Clippers games.
Kobe Bryant considered joining the Clippers in the summer of 2004 before signing a seven-year, $136 million extension to remain with the Lakers. He doesn't regret his decision, but the Clippers appear to be the team that's built for the long haul.
"Their management team went out there and made some big acquisitions and brought in some very talented players along with the players that have been here," Bryant told reporters after the game. "It is a good team."
Brand was named Western Conference Player of the Week after averaging 25 points, 11.7 rebounds in three wins last week and may finally earn his first playoff appearance after suffering Chicago and Los Angeles his first seven season. Coach Mike Dunleavy has been fortunate to have the veteran Cassell (and his two championship rings) to serve as his extension on the court and avoided a potentially nasty situation with Maggette, who had been reluctantly coming off the bench before a back injury to Quinton Ross placed him in the starting lineup. Another injury to seldom-healthy second-year point Shaun Livingston hasn't derailed the enthusiasm for L.A.'s "other" team.
But you have to wonder how long the 36-year-old Cassell holds up; what happens if, and when, Maggette has to go back to being to the sixth man; or if they can continue to play at his pace for a full season. The sun shines on one Los Angeles team at a time, and for now, it's the team that has no championship banners or a Zen Master on the sideline.
The NBDL underwent a major transformation this offseason. It changed its name to the NBADL so that it could become the official minor league of the NBA. Each of the developmental league teams was affiliated with at least three NBA teams, and under the latest collective bargaining agreement, NBA teams were allowed to send players with less than two seasons of experience down for seasoning.
But if the first week of the season said anything, it's that NBA teams are going to be cautious about utilizing the NBADL as a true minor league. Just six of the NBA's 30 teams -- Washington, Minnesota, Toronto, New Orleans, Phoenix and Milwaukee -- assigned players. Washington's Peter John Ramos, Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova, Minnesota's Dwayne Jones and Bracey Wright, New Olreans' Sean Banks, Phoenix's Dijon Thompson and Toronto's Pape Sow are the only NBA players wearing NBADL uniforms.
According to a handful of general managers interviewed during the preseason, many teams were fearful of sending players down to unfamiliar situations, preferring to keep a watchful eye on their own talent and develop players from within. The primary concerns were forcing the player to learn a foreign system and, since there are no playing-time guarantees, riding the bench in the NBADL could be more detrimental to a young players' psyche.
Ramos came off the bench in his first game on Sunday for the Roanoke Dazzle, posting six points with four rebounds and four fouls in 14 minutes.
Team of the Week
The Cavaliers have won seven games in a row, and former Washington Wizards assistant Mike Brown has them off to their second-best start in franchise history at 8-2. Forward LeBron James led the Cavaliers to wins against Washington, Orlando and Philadelphia, averaging 29.7 points, nine rebounds and six assists and is thrilled to be part of team that has more talent and depth than any team he has played with. "This is the most fun I've had in my 2 1/2 years so far," James told reporters in Cleveland last week. The past four games, Larry Hughes has averaged 23 points, 6.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds. Looks like he's finally beginning to find his rhythm. The Cavaliers are also 5-0 at Quicken Loans Arena this season, winning each game by an average of 20.
Team of the Weak
Granted, the Rockets had the toughest schedule in the league last week, with Minnesota San Antonio, Detroit and Indiana. And, Tracy McGrady has been battling an assortment of injuries, including a strained back. But is there really any excuse for a team that was considered second-best in the West to be 3-7 and staring up at the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets in the standings?
Player of the Week
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Nowitzki has put up better numbers -- 26 points and 9.1 rebounds -- over a three game stretch, but now he is the best player and the leader for one of the hottest teams in the league. The Mavericks are the only team that can claim victories -- blowouts, at that -- over the Spurs and Pistons. Nowitzki is finally starting to make his teammates better.
Player of the Weak
Tim Thomas, Chicago Bulls
The underachieving Thomas cannot find his way into Bulls Coach Scott Skiles' rotation unless Skiles suffers with bouts of boredom. Skiles has put Thomas -- and his $10 million salary -- on the inactive list rather than allow him to dress up in an NBA uniform, so Thomas decided not to watch the games from the bench. He watched two games from the locker room last week, then found a front row seat for the Bulls' win in Los Angeles against the Lakers.
1. Detroit Pistons (8-1)
The Pistons were due to lose a game this season -- maybe a 37-point shellacking in Dallas wasn't the way they were supposed to go out -- but they are still on pace to win 73 games this season.
2. San Antonio Spurs (9-2)
The Spurs managed to win with Michael Finley out and Manu Ginobili not at full strength. Now Finley is back and Ginobili is getting healthy. Is the rest of the league scared yet?
3. Dallas Mavericks (7-2)
Can Avery Johnson coach or what? He actually has the Mavericks playing defense, as they held opponents to a combined 240 points during their recent three-game win streak. Any man who can get DeSagana Diop to have a 16-rebound, six-block night is a miracle worker.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-2)
LeBron James drops a triple-double on the same night Larry Hughes goes for 37. Whew. They may not be ready for Jordan-Pippen comparisons, but that is, in the words of "Curb Your Enthusiam" star Larry David, "pret-ty, pret-ty good."
5. Los Angeles Clippers (8-2)
Raise your hand if you knew that the Clippers would have the same record as the Spurs after 10 games. Okay then, raise your hand if you knew the best team in Los Angeles wasn't the Lakers. That's better.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (7-4)
The Grizzlies quietly have something brewing with the bearded wonder, Pau Gasol, leading the way. With one more win, they set a franchsie record for wins in November.
7. Indiana Pacers (6-3)
How did they lose in Charlotte by 32 points? No knock on the Bobcats, but that is inexplicable and unforgiveable for a team with championship aspirations.
8. Miami Heat (6-4)
How did they lose to Toronto? Yeah, Dwyane Wade has been doing it pretty much by himself, lately, and the Heat is 5-3 without Shaquille O'Neal. So, that helps you look the other way (a little) on the Canadian collapse -- especially with the Raptors due for a win.
9. Philadelphia 76ers (7-5)
The 76ers rebounded nicely from their two-game skid with the help of who else? You know the Answer. Allen Iverson and Chris Webber are shooting down the critics who don't think they can play together.
10. Denver Nuggets (6-5)
Marcus Camby is the best center in the West right now and is playing the best basketball in his life. Every night, he's looking like he's back playing with the Knicks during their run to the NBA Finals in 1999.
Five games to Watch This Week
1. Philadelphia at Milwaukee (Wednesday)
They played a thriller in the season opener, a game the 76ers should've won. The Bucks are reeling and need to get back on track.
2. Cleveland at Indiana (Thursday)
The Cavaliers have won three straight on the road. They'll get a measure of how good they really are against the Pacers.
3. Dallas at Miami (Friday)
Too bad Shaquille O'Neal isn't playing. It's never a bad time to hear the Big Yo Mama Joke take potshots at Erick Dampier.
4. New Jersey at Phoenix (Friday)
Jason Kidd vs. Steve Nash. The best over-30 point guards in the league go head-to-head.
5. Washington at Detroit (Friday)
Think the Wizards struggle only against the Heat? Well, the Pistons have won 10 in a row against the Wizards and haven't lost to them in the Palace of Auburn Hills since December 2002.