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Mark Bechtel
October 30, 2000
A Tale of Twin Cities: tragedy, reunion and a hopeful newcomer with very large shoes to fill
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October 30, 2000

8 Minnesota Timberwolves

A Tale of Twin Cities: tragedy, reunion and a hopeful newcomer with very large shoes to fill

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Projected Lineup



1999-2000 KEY STATS


Kevin Garnett


22.9 ppg

11.8 rpg

5.0 apg

1.56 bpg

1.48 spg


Joe Smith


9.9 ppg

6.2 rpg

1.09 bpg

46.4 FG%

75.6 FT%


Radoslav Nesterovic


5.7 ppg

4.6 rpg

1.04 bpg

47.6 FG%

57.3 FT%


Chauncey Billups


8.6 ppg

3.8 apg

2.6 rpg

33.7 FG%

17.1 3FG%


Terrell Brandon


17.1 ppg

8.9 apg

3.4 rpg

1.89 spg

40.2 3FG%



1999-2000 KEY STATS


Wally Szczerbiak


11.6 ppg

3.70 rpg

2.8 apg

51.1 FG%

35.9 3FG%


Anthony Peeler


9.8 ppg

2.8 rpg

2.4 apg

43.6 FG%

33.3 3FG%


LaPhonso Ellis


8.4 ppg

5.0 rpg

1.0 apg

45.0 FG%

69.5 FT%


Sam Mitchell


6.5 ppg

2.1 rpg

1.7 apg

44.7 FG%

88.0 FT%


William Avery


2.6 ppg

1.5 apg

30.9 FG%

28.6 3FG%

66.7 FT%

New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)

Back in April 1995, Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups stood in the St. Louis airport awaiting their flights home after the McDonald's High School All American Game. While preparing to board the plane, they discussed their plans for after graduation. "We talked about going to the same college, playing together," says Billups. "There was a certain bond we had." It wasn't to be, though. Billups committed to Colorado; Garnett went straight to the NBA.

In the five years since, their careers have followed drastically different paths. Garnett has become a mainstay in Minnesota, putting himself on the Next Jordan shortlist while turning the Timberwolves into a perennial playoff team. Billups has been vastly more peripatetic: After two years in Boulder he has played for four NBA teams in three seasons. While choosing his fifth team as a free agent this summer, he thought about the conversation he and Garnett had in St. Louis. The two of them also had a few fresh talks in which Da Kid told Billups what he could expect in Minnesota. "He kept it real," says Billups. "He said, 'Of course I want you to be here. But what's good for me might not be good for everybody.' "

When Billups met with the T-Wolves, he immediately felt something he hadn't felt in years: wanted. He signed a three-year deal, which, in the first season, is worth just $2.25 million. It's less money than he could have gotten elsewhere—say, in Utah or Orlando—but he feels as if he's finally found an NBA home.

The reunion of Billups and Garnett doesn't come under the happiest of circumstances, though. Billups replaces shooting guard Malik Sealy, whose death in a car accident in May left a gaping hole in the Timberwolves' organization. Sealy was a quiet, steadying presence off the court; the team has covered his old locker with Plexiglas, and most players touch it on their way onto the floor. The third choice in the 1997 draft, Billups is more of a three-point threat than Sealy, and his ability to handle the ball should make life easier for point guard Terrell Brandon.

Billups, however, is just 6'3"; Sealy was 6'8". "[Malik's] defensive presence with his size is going to be sorely missed," says 6'7" Wally Szczerbiak, who expects to spend more time at the two than he did last year. As a rookie playing mostly small forward, Szczerbiak shot the ball exceptionally well, but he says, "I'm hoping the coaches will lighten up the reins."

At coach Flip Saunders's urging, Szczerbiak has worked on his lefthanded dribble and his three-point shooting, though surgery to realign his right kneecap in July slowed him a bit in training camp. As for being matched up against quicker guards, Szczerbiak doesn't foresee a problem. "I think I play very good position defense, where I'm not going to overly pressure those guys and just let them dribble around me," he says. "I'm going to make them earn everything they get by shooting over me."

Szczerbiak, though, may find himself back at the three if Minnesota loses Joe Smith. On Monday an arbitrator ruled that commissioner David Stern has the authority to void Smith's current deal (one year, $2.4 million) because Smith signed an undisclosed agreement with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor. The agreement, which was in violation of league salary-cap rules, reportedly started in 2001-02 and paid the 25-year-old forward $40.6 million to $86.6 million over seven seasons. By voiding Smith's current contract, Stern would make Smith a free agent.

With or without Smith, the T-Wolves will lean heavily, of course, on Garnett, who by improving his passing became just the second player in the last 15 years to average 20 points, 10 boards and five assists in a season. ( Charles Barkley, in 1992-93, was the other.) But without Sealy's leadership Garnett will have to curb some of his trademark enthusiasm. "Kevin is a big-time leader, although his head is sometimes here, there and everywhere because he gets so emotional," says Szczerbiak. "Malik was really good at calming him down."

Garnett won't be the only one struggling to make up for Sealy's absence. Says Billups, "This town lost a great player and a great person for the community. But as sad as that is, I feel that they are gaining one also."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]