Last year I wrote about the misdeeds of Timberwolves management and that Kevin Garnett deserved to be traded. That's exactly what happened.
It's tough to understate the significance of this change for the franchise. Since he was drafted straight out of high school in 1995, Garnett has been the face of the T-Wolves as a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate. You saw KG on the billboards, KG on the cover of the game programs and KG on the TV commercials. Where do the Wolves go from here? Who will be on the billboards?
If you've been a fan for more than a few years, you might wonder about all these new faces, these mystery men. Only one player on the current roster played for the Wolves during their now legendary 2003-04 season: Mark Madsen, who is hardly a marketable star. The rest of the current roster could be termed the "Boston Celtics Rejects."
Seven Wolves players who will make major contributions this year have played for the Celtics at some point in their career. The Garnett trade alone brought in five former Celtics to join the previously acquired Ricky Davis and Mark Blount.
The question for this year is not how well the Wolves will do. They are pretty much guaranteed to be in the lottery again, and will be hard-pressed to even match last year's disappointing 32-50 mark. Rather, the question should be who is going to lead this team? Who is going to be the face of this team?
Will it be Ricky Davis, who once tried to complete a triple-double by bouncing the ball off of the wrong rim to get a rebound? Will it be Randy Foye, last year's rookie of the year runner-up? Or Al Jefferson, who now has to go up against the likes of Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzski twice as often in the Western Conference?
When the team lost Garnett, they also lost an identity. Only the season will reveal who steps up to provide the new identity.
Meanwhile, Garnett has joined Boston, and according, to all sources, is the happiest he's been since the 03-04 season when he had Cassell and Sprewell. He's arguably surrounded by even better talent, such as perennial All-Star Paul Pierce and three-point shooting master Ray Allen.
Many Wolves fans attached themselves to Garnett as much as to the organization itself. I like to see Garnett happy and hopeful about his personal chances for success this season, regardless of which team it's with. The Celtics will be an exciting team to watch and have a shot at winning the Eastern Conference with their new "Big Three".
Currently, the T-Wolves are holding training camp in Europe as part of the NBA Europe Live 2007 program. It could be a valuable bonding experience for the fresh young players, especially considering that nine players on the roster are less than 25 (including one, draftee Corey Brewer, who is younger than myself!).
The players and organization know that this year signals the start of a rebuilding effort, and, as much harsh criticism as the front-office has deserved over the past four years, they finally have the team moving in the right direction with promising youth, draft picks and cap room (once Theo Ratliff's contract expires). The current environment doesn't place undue pressure on the young kids to win now. Rather, the low expectations allow them to hone their skills and bond as a unit.
As for this year, don't expect much from the Wolves in terms of their record or playoff successes. Tickets at least should be readily available, because there could be a lot of empty seats this year in the Target Center.
Though this may sound cliché, when you go see the T-Wolves this year, think about the near future, two or three years down the road. Imagine that the young players blossom just like some analysts predict. When you go to watch a game this year, you're paying to taste a slice of the future. I hope it tastes sweet.