Dwane Casey hopes what happened in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas. In August, Casey, the Timberwolves' new coach, held a voluntary camp in Sin City, and most of the team showed up. (Like most Vegas trips, it was costly; the NBA fined the team a reported $200,000 for holding an unauthorized workout.) Owner Glen Taylor went too, and everybody got along swimmingly, which wasn't always the case last season, when Minnesota missed the playoffs a year after reaching the conference finals.
In addition to hiring Casey, general manager Kevin McHale did what he does best: tinker with the roster. He got rid of two of his most recognizable players, guards Latrell Sprewell (free agent) and Sam Cassell (traded). How will their departures affect the team? "It will be less comical," says forward Kevin Garnett, who was referring to locker room levity but could have been talking about the team's play. Cassell and Sprewell averaged a combined 26.3 points per game, 10.3 fewer than in 2003-04, as the T-Wolves staggered to a 25-26 start. That's when McHale decided to fire Flip Saunders and coach the rest of the season himself.
One of Casey's first acts was to reach out to Garnett, who 30 times last season finished a game as Minnesota's leader in scoring, rebounding and assists. The only other returning starter to average in double figures last season was Wally Szczerbiak, who after having his minutes reduced in the second half, issued a start-me-or-trade-me ultimatum.
If Garnett doesn't get some help, the goodwill the team built on its Vegas trip could vanish in a hurry. "We have a lot to prove," says Garnett. "Nobody in this gym should be happy. So if you sense a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, there is."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Timberwolves
"Can Dwane Casey bring energy to a stale team? They don't force turnovers, they're not explosive offensively and they've never been a tough team, so it's hard to see how they're going to get it done. Other than Kevin Garnett, there's not a lot on this roster to frighten you.... The key is whether they can win early; if they can, maybe they can sell Garnett on the idea that everything will be O.K. If not, it may be hard for him to generate the enthusiasm for a rebuilding era. Of course, part of the reason they can't rebuild around him is because he's making so much money.... Eddie Griffin is skilled as a three-point shooter, but Garnett needs help on the inside, not on the perimeter. Nikoloz Tskitishvili is another big man who plays on the perimeter.... Wally Szczerbiak is still an excellent catch-and-shoot player who can hit big shots, but defensively he's a step slow.... Mark Madsen is a productive, high-energy player, but once he goes past 18 to 24 minutes, it's like his tank runs low.... A lot of people like Rashad McCants's talent as a catch-and-shoot scorer with great range, but you hear a lot of people describe him as disrespectful and selfish. They're counting on him to be the backup to Trenton Hassell, who's just the opposite--a terrific defender who doesn't need the ball to help his team."
The Timberwolves forced an NBA record-low 963 turnovers last season. Their 460 steals were also the fewest since steals became an official stat in 1973-74.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 44-38 (9th in West)
Points scored: 98.6 (16th in NBA)
Points allowed: 95.3 (9th)
Coach: Dwane Casey
(first season with the Timberwolves)
BENCH 2004-05 STATS
RASHAD McCANTS (R) [NEW ACQUISITION]
NIKOLOZ TSKITISHVILI [NEW ACQUISITION]
(R) Rookie (college stats)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (SZCZERBIAK)
DAVID E. KLUTHO
¬†POINT MAN With the departures of Cassell and Sprewell, Garnett is one of only two remaining Timberwolves who scored in the double figures last season.