TheTimberwolveshad their greatest success three seasons ago, when MVP forward Kevin Garnettand All-Star guard Sam Cassell led them to the conference finals. Last year,without Cassell, the team had its first losing record in nine years. Whichexplains why, in the off-season, Minnesota shelled out $24 million over fouryears on a free-agent point guard who's in the Cassell mode: high-energy,high-scoring Mike James.
The 31-year-oldJames was a minor revelation last year in Toronto, where he averaged 20.3points and hit 44.2% of his threes. Those stats made him ideal for theT-Wolves, who ranked 28th in scoring last season (91.7 points per game) and29th in three-point percentage (32.9%). Coach Dwane Casey says he likes James's"moxie" as well as his championship experience from the half season hespent with the Pistons in 2003--04. "He can be a leader for our guys in somany ways," Casey says. James bounced among four teams in six years beforehaving his breakout season, so he provides the right example for a rostersprinkled with players who've moved around. "This is a great group ofguys," James says, "but at some point in their careers they've all beencounted out."
Garnett, 30, isno stranger to shouldering the load for his team, but during the summer heindicated that his patience is wearing thin. It will take help from James andthe rest of the supporting cast to keep the Big Ticket from wanting out. If hegoes, the Timberwolves know that it won't be so easy to replace him. --BillSyken
ProjectedStarting Lineup with 2005--06 statistics
Record: 33--49(14th in West)
Points scored: 91.7 (28th in NBA)
Points allowed: 93.6 (8th)
Coach: Dwane Casey
(second season with Timberwolves)
Mike James *
KevinMcHale's last year. And the feeling in the league is that assistant RandyWittman will take over for Dwane Casey if things don't go well.... KevinGarnett has always been driven by a boyish enthusiasm for the game, but lastyear I didn't see that as much. He seemed to be drained mentally, as if the funhad seeped away. During the draft they considered moving him, but owner GlenTaylor decided to give it one more go-round with K.G.... Let's give them creditfor drafting Randy Foye out of Villanova. I'll be shocked if he doesn't becomea perennial All-Star. He can hit the big shots, he can make plays for others,and he's going to get better because he's a gym rat.... Free agents aren'tlooking to go to a city where you have to have an electrical cord plugged intoyour car to get it started in the morning--and that's while it's in thegarage.
Kevin Garnett's streak of 351 straight starts ended on April 9, when he sat outwith right-knee tendinitis against the Hawks; he wound up missing six games,the most in his 11-year career.
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