It's difficult to imagine that the Wolves will marginalize a 26-year-old player just embarking on a six-year contract that makes him the third-highest paid performer on the team. But Szczerbiak's injury-related absence from the lineup hasn't prevented Saunders from gushing about his team, in terms that don't reflect Wally's strengths.
"Of all the teams I've had, this one has the most basketball intelligence," Saunders says. "I am more excited about intangibles than talent. We're sharing the basketball. We already run our zone better than before. We're versatile--we can go with so many different looks. And that basketball intelligence is what takes you over the top. At this point I'd have to say that I think we'll be among those elite teams."
Clockwise from bottom left: Sam Cassell, Troy Hudson, Michael Olowokandi, Wally Szczerbiak, and Kevin Garnett; add in Latrell Sprewell, Mark Madsen, Fred Hoiberg, and Ervin Johnson, and the Wolves have their strongest roster in team history
Nearly all of those are in the brutally competitive Western Conference. Yet nobody is impregnable. The Lakers have the distraction of Kobe's court case; the Kings are without Webber until December; the Spurs have to adjust to new personnel; the Mavericks still can't play defense; and the Suns need another year to gel. To break out of their rut and register their first-ever playoff series victory, the Wolves will almost certainly have to beat one of these teams. And they will.