Wolf at the Door

Sooner or later, Kevin Garnett will leave Minnesota without a championship

Let's get specific. Because he intuitively tries to score instead of drawing fouls, and wants to involve his teammates in the offense, one of the very few weaknesses in KG's arsenal is his lack of inclination and ability to produce points on his own in the fourth quarter. During his decade in Minnesota, Garnett has been teammates with probably the top two crunch-time shot-makers among NBA point guards, Chauncey Billups and Sam Cassell. Neither one is still with the team. Instead, McHale traded Cassell (whose attitude compelled the move) for Jaric, who both last year in L.A. and this season in Minnesota has proven himself skittish and unreliable late in the game. Among the other legitimate options, Marcus Banks is way too green for the role and Ricky Davis is a turnover machine, willing but frequently not able to put up shots when the game is on the line. Consequently, one of the very few roles for which KG is not ideally suited falls to him anyway.

One element of the game in which Garnett takes inordinate pride and pleasure is his ability to move the ball and serve as a way station on offense. Put simply, the more KG touches the ball, the better he plays. Ditto Ricky Davis. Before the trade with Boston brought Davis to the Wolves, Garnett led the team in assists 15 times in 40 games, with the Wolves going 11-4 when he was top assist man and 8-17 when he wasn't. Since the Boston trade, KG has led the team in assists just four times in 33 games, with the Wolves 0-4 when he's the premier passer and 12-17 when he isn't. Davis has been top assist man in 13 of those games, and the Wolves are 6-7 when he's dishing and 6-14 when he isn't. There are not enough touches for both players, or by extension the team, to flourish.

Mark Blount also arrived in the huge trade with Boston engineered by McHale. Garnett's main comfort zone as a shooter seems to be about 15-18 feet from the hoop. Ditto Mark Blount. Blount has been the one to compromise, frequently setting up in the low block to discourage the double-teaming of KG as he roams the mid-range perimeter. But Blount is a terrible rebounder—in 19 starts operating out of the low post, he's led the team in boards just once. And, like the other two expat-Boston starters, he's lazy on defense. KG's rebounding totals have soared since the Boston trade, largely as a matter of necessity.

Add it up and the net result of McHale's 2005-06 roster overhaul has been to provide Garnett with fewer touches and less control over the passing game, and much more responsibility for rebounds, defense, and crunch-time scoring. The team's record is the worst it has been since KG was a rookie.

Bottom line, the influx of new Timberwolves is incompatible with the team's franchise player. Because many of these newcomers carry large, long-term contracts, the array of possible solutions to the problem is limited and expensive. The Wolves can try to package a few of their pieces—Jaric, Hudson, Trenton Hassell, Davis, whomever—for a risk-fraught player of damaged reputation, such as Stephon Marbury. They can fire McHale and try to find some bright, creative soul who can transform the $12 million worth of deadwood at point guard (both of them on the books through 2009-10) into useful assets, and rehabilitate the standing of a franchise flirting with oblivion.

Or maybe it's already too late for that. 

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