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ISSUE 120 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/13/2007

Inside the Lines: A troubled franchise

By Matt and Mark Everhart
Staff Writer

Friday, April 13, 2007

Another NBA season is wrapping up, and for the third straight year, the Minnesota Timberwolves will not be in the postseason. This franchise, which enjoyed many years of promise and respectability that culminated in a glorious 2003-2004 run in which they made the Western Conference Finals, has been one of the most frustrating and underachieving sports organizations in the country. Rumors are once again swirling about whether Kevin Garnett, the face of the franchise for over a decade, will demand a trade this summer. What went wrong with this franchise, and where is it headed in the next couple years?

Things looked great in 2003-2004. After making brilliant off-season additions with feisty veteran point guard Sam Cassell and high-octane (choker) scorer Latrell Sprewell, the Wolves soared into the top spot in the Western Conference, earning KG an MVP award. The team chemistry was excellent, with Garnett raving about his new teammates; the trio even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated together. The Wolves were favored by many to win the title, but injuries to Cassell and a lack of depth at the point guard spot hindered Minnesota in the Western Conference Finals, and they lost in six games to Kobe and the Lakers.

Questions about re-signing Sprewell and Cassell to longer deals loomed that offseason, with both players asking to be signed to lucrative deals before the next year began. The situation soon turned bizarre with Sprewell's infamous "“feed my family”" comment, and Wolves' management decided to sit on its hands. Neither player was happy as '04-05 began, and a combination of injuries and horrible team chemistry produced one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, as the Wolves failed to make the playoffs. Cassell was then traded to the Clippers along with a first round draft pick for Marko Jaric, and Sprewell essentially retired, focusing on his automobile entrepreneurial ventures.

Since then, it's pretty much been the one-man show for KG and the T-Wolves. The coaching position has been a revolving door with no consistent game plan or philosophy, and management has signed mediocre players to bad contracts, killing salary cap room (examples include Troy Hudson, Jaric, and Mike James). The Wolves also didn't have a first round draft pick from 2000-2005.

The team currently boasts some promising youngsters, like point guard Randy Foye and forward Craig Smith, but there are more holes in this roster than Swiss cheese.

Meanwhile, Garnett is obviously frustrated; visibly drained by the losing and apparent hopelessness of this situation, even while he continues to be one of the greatest individual players in the league. Rumors of him wanting out of Minneapolis have gone on, with Garnett neither confirming nor denying the reports. He has time and time again proclaimed his loyalty to Minnesota, saying, “"I'm the face here. I take a lot of pride in that.”"

Yet his patience has started to wear thin, especially after the front office failed to obtain Allen Iverson in December. After a frustrating loss early this year, Garnett said, “"Thank God for opt-outs,"” in reference to his option to leave his contract early after next season.

The outlook seems gloomy right now, but what about the future of the franchise? It doesn't look much better, to be honest. Many fans feels more loyal to Garnett than the Timberwolves, myself included, and would rather see him succeed elsewhere than continue to lose here. The bad contracts don't end until a few years from now, and other than Foye, Smith, and Rashad McCants, there is little promise on the current roster.

The worst part is that if the Wolves don't finish with one of the 10 worst records in the league this season, they will lose their first round pick to the Clippers, a carry-over from the already lopsided Cassell-Jaric trade of 2005.

You might notice a common thread in nearly all of the problems with this organization: the higher-up management. They're the ones who botched resigning Cassell and Sprewell, signed bad contracts to kill salary space, made bad trades to hurt our future, cheated the rules and were penalized five first-round picks, failed to institute a strong basketball philosophy to shape the team, and most importantly failed to support Kevin Garnett and Timberwolves fans everywhere.

So don't get your hopes up for the NBA title in the Twin Cities anytime soon. You might have a while to wait, and it probably won't be with Kevin Garnett, the face of the franchise.

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