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Wolves: The worst ever?

By Jerry Zgoda

McClatchy Newspapers

MINNEAPOLIS — With empty arena seats galore, minuscule television ratings and a season-opening 3-21 start that could threaten the National Basketball Association's all-time worst record, the Timberwolves' rebirth following last summer's trading away of superstar Kevin Garnett has proved more painful than team owner Glen Taylor ever envisioned.

"I said when we decided to do this that I needed to have patience," Taylor said. "It has taken me more patience than I anticipated."

Taylor and vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale tore up a team that missed the playoffs three consecutive years and won 32 games last season by trading the face of their franchise to the Boston Celtics for five players, four of them young prospects, and two draft picks in the biggest trade for a single player in NBA history.

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The Celtics, with two stunning summertime trades, have surrounded Garnett -- who advanced past the playoffs' first round once in 12 seasons in Minnesota -- with fellow stars Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and by doing so transformed themselves from the league's laughingstock to an NBA-best 20-3 record.

The Wolves are one of nine teams in NBA history that has started a season with three or fewer victories in the first 24 games and their 3-21 start invites comparisons to the worst team in NBA history, the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers that won nine games and lost 73 times.

Their current six-game losing streak is the longest of the season entering tonight's game against Indiana at Target Center. Their three victories are four fewer than any other team in the league. They have lost seven times when leading the game after three quarters and eight times have lost a double-digit lead and the game, which coach Randy Wittman likens to a schoolchild repeatedly having his lunch money stolen until he learns to stand up for himself.

"I don't think so," McHale said when asked if he has assembled one of the worst teams in NBA history. "No question we're struggling. It's an 82-game season. It's the whole body of work for those 82 games, so we'll see."

The team has traded Garnett and jettisoned four other veterans since June and rebuilt around nine players who are 25 years or younger, seven of those who have been in the NBA for three seasons or less. They also traded for three additional future first-round draft picks, including one of their own that was returned from the Celtics after a mostly unsuccessful attempt to win big by surrounding Garnett with veteran players.

Denver coach George Karl last month said he never would have traded Garnett, 31, and depended upon so much youth because "losing is the worst coach" in basketball.

"He teaches you awful habits," Karl said. "Pointing fingers and the blame game comes when you lose 75, 80 percent of your games."

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