Rider still a valuable commodity to Wolves

Isaiah “J.R.” Rider’s three-year career with the Minnesota Timberwolves might soon come to an end, thanks to Rider’s recent arrest in California and a proposed trade with Portland. Rider’s inability to keep his nose clean, coupled with continued punctuality problems, has apparently convinced Wolves officials the time has come to say goodbye.
Rider has spent much of his time with the Wolves teasing fans and management — and indeed the National Basketball Association as a whole — with his enormous potential. Several draft pundits even said during the 1993 NBA draft that Rider, who was chosen fifth, may eventually prove himself the best player of the draft. That, of course, has yet to happen.
But Rider, it should be stated, remains one of the Wolves’ top players. His off-court demeanor notwithstanding, Rider has averaged 18.8 points per game during his career, more than any other Wolves’ player. For a team desperate to climb out of the cellar it’s inhabited for the last seven years, trading away another quality player does not seem like a wise idea. If Rider is traded (or if he is convicted for his latest offense, which would void his contract), the Wolves will have said goodbye to the franchise’s first six first-round picks — a sorry record for any team.
Hours before his arrest on June 28 for possession of marijuana and an illegal cellular phone (programmed to charge calls to someone else’s bill), the Wolves had apparently worked out a trade that, it seemed, would bring the team’s much-publicized headache to an end. Rider would go to the Portland Trailblazers for two career backups and a late 1997 first-round draft pick, and the Wolves would be rid of their resident enfant terrible. Because of NBA guidelines, however, trades can’t be made official until July 9.
Trading Rider now, with his market value at its lowest point, makes little business sense. Of course, we are not NBA experts. We do, however, know it’s difficult for any team — regardless of the sport — to win without talent. And Rider, at his very worst, still merits more than a couple of second-rate players and a low pick. His upside remains high, and for a team desperate for success, Rider is too valuable a commodity to let go.
Rider’s behavior off the court, while questionable, should not be a determining factor of his worth to the team. It’s reasonable for Wolves owner Glen Taylor to want to spend his money wisely, but we question whether removing Rider serves that end. Rider’s flashes of brilliance are indisputable, and those flashes led the Wolves to a fair share of their paltry 26 wins last season. It’s easy to believe, with the addition of a point guard in recently drafted Stephon Marbury and the further development of Kevin Garnett, that total can only improve.
It’s understandable that fans would like to see players live by a higher moral code, as if a million-dollar paycheck should somehow impart responsibility on an individual. But, as we’ve all heard before, professional basketball is a business, and players need not be in the business of role modeling. As long as Rider can put points on the board and butts in the seats — both of which he has done quite well — he merits a place on the Timberwolves roster.