Da Kidz Are All Right

The moralistic sportswriters currently calling for the Wolves to dump Rider are the same ones who warned Chicago about taking Dennis Rodman last year. They are the same ones who would have approved a Rider-for-Rod Strickland trade, despite the fact that Strickland was once considered such a bad actor that San Antonio dropped him for no compensation. A couple of years ago, Scottie Pippen was considered a jerk and a malcontent for refusing to play the final seconds of a key playoff game; this year Pippen was regarded as one of the three or four most valuable players in the league. Rider may indeed be a punk, but as the third- or fourth-best player on the team, he doesn't have the influence he wielded a year or two ago, before Garnett and Googs arrived and veterans Sam Mitchell and Terry Porter were brought in to add stability in the locker room. Saunders knows his strengths and weaknesses well enough to get the most out of him on the court--and his best is considerably more than the Wolves will get from James Robinson and Billy Curley. Finally, don't think that Rider is the only Timberwolf who has ever toked a joint or played fast and loose with the phone company--or missed practice, for that matter.

As Pippen, Rodman, and even Strickland can tell you, winning changes everything. If McHale and Saunders can plug the hole at center and either cut Rider yet more slack or find a suitable replacement, the '96-'97 season could easily be the most enjoyable and successful in the history of the franchise. In Garnett, Marbury, and Gugliotta, Minnesota has three pieces of the playoff puzzle, players who can pass as well as score, who can play uptempo or settle into the half-court game. (Their defense is another story.) Da Kidz are the tone-setters for this long-suffering franchise, and they have no place to go but up.

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