Wally's World is Minnesota

Why Ray Allen's playoff heroics makes it even more likely Szczerbiak will remain a Timberwolf

Against stiff competition, the lamest lament of the postseason thus far has to be Kings' coach Rick Adelman complaining about the physical play of Seattle's Danny Fortson and Jerome James. First of all, if Adelman's crew is getting pushed around by the notorious "run-and-gun but don't bang too much" Sonics, imagine the carnage they would face at the hands of Detroit, San Antonio, or most any other team left in the playoffs. Secondly, the primary inside dudes for Sac, Brad Miller and Kenny Thomas, are both making well over half their shots (64% and 53%, respectively). It's the clowns on the outside who are clanking. Peja has tightened his choker collar another notch, nailing just 28.6% of his treys and 43% overall. Cuttino Mobley, who loves jacking up shots early in the shot clock, is at 30% behind the arc and 44% overall. And Mike Bibby is the worst of the bunch at 21% from outside and 34% overall.

Two years ago, the Kings were the best-passing team in the NBA. But after dumping Vlade Divac, trading dependable defender and ball-mover Doug Christie for the selfish Mobley, and unloading versatile Chris Webber for a trio of mediocre bangers-Thomas, Corliss Williamson, and Mike Skinner-this club loves to watch each other take bad shots in the half-court sets. Meanwhile, with the dubious booty they reaped for Webber and the prototypical big lug Greg Ostertag also sagging the end of the bench, Adelman is not without resources for a roundball scrum if he feels the Sonics are kicking sand in the face of his squad.

He'll be fired before the month is over, a beheading only partly deserved, given the dogs GM Geoff Petrie saddled him with on the roster.

Over on the other bench, Ray Allen has stepped up to genuine stardom in this series, leading all NBA playoff scorers as of Sunday night with a 33 points-per-game average. And nobody has boosted their stock more in the past week than center Jerome James, a perpetual underachiever who always showed glimmers of athleticism, especially against weak interior teams like the Wolves. The Kings' array of psychologically little big men have swelled Jerome's confidence to the point where he's playing with physicality and fluidity on a consistent basis for the first time in his career.

 

This is bad news for Wolves fans. It's been tragic-comical listening to the post-mortems on Minnesota's just-completed lost season, as misguided pundits and fans claim that Wally Szczerbiak will be traded because he is the only player capable of fetching the team anything in return. Huh? A player is good trade bait if his overpriced deal is about to expire (enabling the acquiring team to quickly clear space under their salary cap) or if his long-term deal provides good value for the skills he brings to the team. Wally-a $7 million player (tops) who will be paid an average of more $11 million over the next four years-has neither virtue.

One day last month I killed an afternoon scanning rosters and concocting Szczerbiak trade scenarios that didn't seem too far-fetched and might help the Wolves keep Kevin Garnett from putting a gun to his head or bolting town. My personal favorite was a deal in which Seattle signed Ray Allen to a five-year, $80 million deal--$10 million more than their current offer over the same period-and sent him to the Wolves in exchange for Szczerbiak and center Michael Olowokandi. The thinking was that Wally would literally be a poor man's Ray Allen, providing Seattle with two-thirds the overall skills at two-thirds of the price. In addition, the Sonics could lop another $6 million off their cap when Kandi's contract expired at the end of next year. Meanwhile, the Wolves would have an ideal complement to KG.

The trade was probably wishful thinking even before the Sonics-Kings series. But after watching Allen's majesty, including his ability to rise to the occasion in clutch situations and improve the play of his teammates, no reasonable person could suggest that Szczerbiak is two-thirds as valuable. And the emergence of James makes a year of trying to get something good out of Kandi even less appetizing or necessary.

In other words, Wolves fans, it's time for a reality check. Under what scenario do you envision the Wolves improving their team by snookering somebody into accepting the four years and $46 million remaining on Wally's deal?

 
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