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Tom Gugliotta has described the constant losing as "a
nightmare." And he has played only 31 games with the
Timberwolves. Imagine how it has been for Doug West, the one
player who has been with Minnesota for every one of its six
miserable seasons. The T-wolves have never won more than 29
games in a season, never made the playoffs and never been smart
or lucky enough to pluck a franchise player out of the draft
lottery. Last year they went 21-61 and ranked last in
rebounding, 26th in scoring and 25th in turnovers. They have
lost at least 60 games for four seasons in a row--a streak that's
unprecedented in the NBA. Most depressingly, their best player,
Isaiah Rider, leads the team in scoring, trade rumors and
criminal-court appearances.

Into this pit of institutionalized defeat steps Kevin McHale, a
seven-time All-Star with the Celtics, as the T-wolves' new vice
president of basketball operations. McHale, a Minnesota native,
has no illusions about what he is getting into; he has called
this "the worst franchise in pro sports." But McHale sees
potential. "We're a long way from winning a championship," he
says, "but we're not a long way from being competitive."

Though the lockout, which paralyzed personnel movement, hindered
McHale's plans to turn over as much as 75% of his roster, there
will be changes. For one thing, coach Bill Blair wants his
players to take more responsibility for the team's welfare by
setting the rules. "These guys must be sick of losing," says
Blair. "Your best guys have to say, 'Enough is enough.' Once
they've made their rules, we're going to be very tough across
the board."

Given that, one of the biggest questions about this team is how
soon Rider, a talented shooting guard who averaged 20.4 points a
game last year, will get himself kicked off it. Rider racked up
nearly $100,000 in fines for missed practices and missed flights
last year, and he got this season off to an ominous start by
spending part of the Labor Day weekend locked up after violating
his probation for a 1994 assault conviction.

If Rider is the T-wolves' despair, 19-year-old lottery pick
Kevin Garnett is their hope. Garnett, a 6'11" forward who just
months ago was thrilling crowds at Chicago's Farragut Academy,
is a phenomenal leaper and runner, a textbook shooter and the
best-passing big man in this year's draft. Though he may be
happy-go-lucky enough to withstand the horrors of playing in
Minnesota, he needs time to develop. McHale worries that under
the new labor agreement, which lets rookies become free agents
after three years, Garnett will develop in Minnesota then
blossom elsewhere. "We have to show Kevin this is going to be a
fun place to play," says McHale.

As proof that the place can't be all that bad, the Wolves need
only point to 6'7" forward Sam Mitchell, a player who left
Minnesota three years ago and has voluntarily returned--after
spending three years with a good team, the Pacers. Mitchell, a
dogged worker who survived years in the bush leagues before
coming to the NBA, should set a good example for Garnett at
small forward.

Another good example will be set by Gugliotta, whom the Wolves
got in a February trade with Golden State for Minnesota's '94
first-round pick, Donyell Marshall. Gugliotta, who has been
called "an off-brand Larry Bird," played with intensity and
showed a willingness to pass the ball that made him a favorite
with teammates and fans alike. Gugliotta has even energized the
surly, underachieving Christian Laettner, and the former ACC
rivals (Gugliotta at N.C. State, Laettner at Duke) play well
together. Unfortunately, both want to play power forward.
Gugliotta, who had to play some small forward last year, didn't
like being exposed defensively to smaller, quicker opponents.
This year, with the passive 6'10" Sean Rooks as the only
incumbent at center, the 6'11" Laettner will probably see a lot
of time in the post.

Micheal Williams, who missed all but one game last season with a
torn tendon in his left foot, will be at point guard if he's
healthy. If not, there's second-round draft choice Jerome Allen,
who led Penn to three NCAA tournament appearances.

At shooting guard, West will be pushing Rider for the starting
spot. The battle will be fierce, and it may provide welcome
diversion from what promises to be another sorry season. Though
there are brighter days ahead, the Wolves will have to endure at
least another year of losing before they start winning.


COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Though West emerged as a leader, he'll have to push for more time this year. [Doug West]



PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)

OFFENSE 94.2 (26) .449 (21)
DEFENSE 103.2 (17) .474 (19)


Does it seem as if the Timberwolves have been spinning their
wheels since they entered the NBA in 1989? It's not your
imagination. Minnesota has a poorer won-lost record in its
first six years in the league than any other team in NBA
history--by a wide margin.

Worst NBA Teams in First Six Seasons

W-L Pct.

Timberwolves, 1989-95 126-366 .256
Trail Blazers, 1970-76 170-322 .346
Bullets, 1961-67* 169-312 .351
Heat, 1988-94 173-319 .352
Hornets, 1988-94 181-311 .368

*Known as Chicago Packers in 1961-62 and Chicago Zephyrs in
1962-63 before moving to Baltimore


Forward Sam Mitchell, a charter member of the Timberwolves who
returns to the team this fall after three years with the Pacers,
knew about long odds well before he played for expansion
Minnesota. Between the time he left Mercer College in 1985 as
the school's alltime leading scorer and the time he signed with
the Timberwolves in 1989 as the league's oldest rookie, Mitchell
rolled the dice in a variety of jobs and locations. He was in
the Army briefly, taught school and played in the CBA, the USBL
and in Europe. In his first stint with Minnesota, the hard-nosed
Mitchell took on the toughest defensive assignments and averaged
12.7 points a game. Even though he was more of a role player in
Indiana, where he averaged 6.2 points over three years, in
Minnesota he'll be asked to start occasionally and to serve as a
role model for a young team adrift. In addition to having great
skills and versatility, says coach Bill Blair, "Mitchell is the
type of man who brings character to your basketball team. He's
what we need here."



SF Tom Gugliotta 12.7 ppg 7.4 rpg 3.6 apg
PF Christian Laettner 16.3 ppg 7.6 rpg 81.8 FT%
C Sean Rooks 10.9 ppg 6.1 rpg 0.89 bpg
PG Micheal Williams 6.0 ppg 1.0 rpg 3.0 apg
SG Isaiah Rider 20.4 ppg 3.3 rpg 3.3 apg


G-F Doug West 12.9 ppg 3.2 rpg 83.7 FT%
F Kevin Garnett Rookie; 5th overall pick, from
Farragut Acad.
F Sam Mitchell 6.5 ppg 3.0 rpg 0.8 apg