The Timberwolves showed Kevin Garnett how much they love him in
the last month by giving up salary-cap space for a new backcourt
of Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell, who will make a combined
$18.8 million next season and give Minnesota one of the five
highest payrolls in the league. But that $70 million tab--not to
mention the $20 million in additional penalties and lost refunds
that the T-Wolves may incur for surpassing the $55 million luxury
tax--will be worthwhile if it gives Garnett enough confidence in
the team's direction that he re-signs as a free agent next
After Minnesota lost for the seventh straight time in the first
round of the playoffs, Garnett made it clear to owner Glen Taylor
that he wanted an improved supporting cast. Turns out that Taylor
and KG were on the same page. "I'm 62, so it's not like I want to
wait 15 years to rebuild either," says Taylor. "[G.M.] Kevin
McHale believes we're darn close. And I can tell you that Kevin
[Garnett] is very excited too."
A big reason for the optimism is that coach Flip Saunders is able
to incorporate new players quickly, a talent he developed while
managing the ever-changing rosters of the CBA. He welcomes the
team's emotional makeover. "For the last few years we've been
trying to get players who were more aggressive," says Saunders.
"We've always overachieved, and because of the way we play and
move the ball, we'll continue to do that."
While Sprewell earned notoriety by choking P.J. Carlesimo in
1997, then missed eight games at the start of last season after
failing to inform the Knicks that he'd broken his right hand in
mysterious circumstances, McHale finds no fault in his behavior
on the court. Sprewell should improve Minnesota's defense--at
6'5" he can cover the best shooting guards and small
forwards--and joins Cassell, Wally Szczerbiak and new center
Michael Olowokandi (who averaged 12.3 points and 9.1 rebounds
last season) in providing Garnett with a multitude of passing
options when he's double-teamed.
Though improved, the T-Wolves could still lose ground in the
Western Conference. Last season they finished fourth before
losing to the Lakers in six games, but the Spurs, the Kings and
the Mavericks remain hard to pass, and Los Angeles has added Karl
Malone and Gary Payton. Minnesota still needs backups at the two,
three and four positions, and concerns about Garnett's fellow
starters linger. Can Cassell, who turns 34 in November, and
Sprewell (33 next month) keep up with the faster pace in the
West? Will Olowokandi blossom away from the negativity of the
Clippers franchise? And how many shots will be available for
Szczerbiak, whose primary value is as a scorer?
The biggest question is how well the strong on-court
personalities of Cassell and Sprewell will mesh with Garnett's.
"Everybody says you have to acquire the most talent, but they've
got it ass-backwards," says McHale. "You can have all the talent,
and it doesn't mean anything if you don't play the right way."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (GARNETT) How well will Sprewell complement the high-flying Garnett?
COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES [See caption above]