Swap Meat

It would also be nice to see West exiled from here to a consistent winner--if not Indiana, then perhaps Houston again, where point guard Kenny Smith is suddenly getting almost no playing time. While not as tenacious or as physical as Workman, Smith is a better three-point shooter (which would shore up another glaring Wolves' weakness), and, like Workman, he can both ignite the fast break and settle a team into a more deliberate half-court offense. Finally, trading West for a point guard would enable Terry Porter to switch over to shooting guard as Rider's replacement, which might be a better fit at this stage in his career.

Another rumor that sounds too good to be true has the Wolves dealing center Sean Rooks to Indiana for center/forward Antonio Davis, a reliable shot-blocker, and a smart, tough warrior in the battle for rebounds. Rooks has been the chief victim of Garnett's extended playing time; rather than sitting Mitchell, Saunders uses him at power forward to spell Laettner and Gugliotta, which is also Rooks's role. The question is why Indiana would be willing to part with Davis, who has been invaluable filling in for both Rik Smits and Dale Davis when they've been out with injuries. The Wolves have dramatically improved their rebounding this year, but they play in a division loaded with powerful 7-footers who overwhelm their big men down near the basket. Not many people overwhelm Antonio Davis.

If West and Rooks are the most viable pawns from the Wolves' perspective in this trading game, much of the talk still centers around Rider. But his stormy history in Minnesota diminishes his trade value, and the Wolves would be stupid to let him go for somebody like Dee Brown or Eric Montross of Boston, especially since Rider has continued to work like a banshee on defense--he had another superb effort on Monday night, outplaying Dallas's great guard Jimmy Jackson at both ends of the court. Besides, McCloskey's long string of wretched trades demonstrates that many ex-Wolves can flourish when they go to teams with galvanizing stars. Why not wait for Garnett to emerge, or for enough justice in the draft for the Wolves to gain the rights to a primo center like Wake Forest's Tim Duncan or a point guard like Georgetown's Allen Iverson?

For that matter, if McHale and Saunders want to vary the mix on the roster, they don't have to resort to a trade. All year long, I've wondered why the Wolves don't create a second unit devoted to a zone-trapping, full-court press, unleashed when opponents lack great ball-handlers in the backcourt, or when Minnesota is down by 10 points or more very early or late in the game and needs to gamble on defense. The personnel is certainly there: Between Doug West and Mark Davis, the team has a couple of remarkably agile athletes who thrive on pressure defense. Garnett stands just an inch under 7 feet and has an amazing wingspan that is almost impossible to pass around. Then add Jerome Allen, a large (6-4), dedicated defender with point-guard quickness, and have bruising power forward Marquis Bragg back to provide the hard foul if the opponents break the press and go for the lay-up. This would give at least three forgotten Wolves an identity on the team, similar to the way some of the obscure New York Knicks responded when coach Rick Pitino tried a similar thing during the 1980s. It would be synergy without star power, a gambit that sounds like it would be right up the Wolves' alley.

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