Time for Wolves to be bold

What they have is not enough

MINNEAPOLIS -- Time; to reconstruct. First-round playoff exits hold no interest anymore.

The Minnesota Timberwolves need not start completely over. They have a superstar in Kevin Garnett and he needs to stay right here. There are a couple of other pieces that should stick around, as well. Rasho Nesterovic has developed nicely at center this season, and Joe Smith can still be an upper-level power forward.

But to stand pat after six straight first-round playoff exits, including the last three with predominantly the same cast of players, would be foolish.

Wolves management just finished watching this franchise take a step backward in getting swept by the run-and-gun Dallas Mavericks in a series that concluded Sunday at Target Center. If that didn't leave them wanting to take this off-season by the throat, then nothing will. Something bold is required. If that means taking a chance, and that chance is on potentially great talent, then go for it. Because it has become painfully obvious that what they have is not enough.


If there is any hesitation here, all they need do is remind themselves that until this year, they were neck-and-neck with the Mavericks, both considered young and up-and-coming franchises. Today, that comparison can no longer be made. Dallas took a quantum leap this season. The Wolves also had movement, only in the wrong direction, losing 25 of their final 45 games. That included three straight against Dallas in which the Wolves showed just how overmatched they now are against the sharp-shooting, poised and innovative Mavericks.

The time has come for the Wolves to trade their second-best player, sharpshooter and All-Star Wally Szczerbiak. And point guard and former All-Star Terrell Brandon should be on his way out if anyone is willing to take on his $10 million contract and his penchant for missing chunks of each season with injuries.

Best-case scenario is that the team packages both of them for a single star. And best case-scenario is that single star is a point guard with immense individual talent, someone who can take a game over by himself with scoring and passing.

In other words, someone who can be the kind of perimeter player the Wolves -- a bunch of skilled jump shooters -- are currently woefully short of.

They're out there

These kind of massive difference-makers exist. There is Baron Davis in Charlotte, Jason Kidd in New Jersey, Steve Nash in Dallas, Steve Francis in Houston, Gary Payton in Seattle. There is also the man who Wolves watchers are more familiar with than any of these. You know, the guy who ran out on them in March of 1999. The guy who slipped off to New Jersey in order to escape Garnett's talented shadow, only to be labeled a talented cancer. And the guy who is now in Phoenix, having earned a similar reputation -- talented but not a win producer.

That guy is Stephon Marbury. The Wolves need to take a chance on him, again. And maybe, because of these labels, he might just be available.

"My answer for our team is that we stick with the guys we have and grow together," Wolves current starting point guard Chauncey Billups said after Sunday's concluding loss. "We lost so many games to youthful inexperience."


Now, Billups is a wonderful guy, tries real hard, and can't take full blame for this season's Wolves' playoff flameout. But the truth is he's got it wrong. The Wolves can no longer lean on youth as an excuse. They had not a single first- or second-year player getting any significant minutes this season. And Garnett, who came straight out of high school to the pros, is a few seasons removed from any longer being called "Da Kid." Garnett is now a man, already in his seventh year in the league.

As good as Garnett is, he needs someone on the Wolves roster to make his job a whole lot easier. To create offense. To come knifing into the lane, draw two defenders, then slip it to him for energizing dunks.

Brandon, as steady, smart and deadly a shooter as he is, does not have that knifing all-around game. Neither does Billups, who at this point is nothing more than a poor man's Brandon, though less of a passer.

Actually, the Wolves haven't had this kind of difference-maker since a certain guy slipped away to New Jersey. It's time to get him to slip back to Minnesota.

Pat Ruff is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He can be reached at

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