Timberwolves are set to go nowhere, need a second star

Three years ago, the prognosticators who make a living off meaningless predictions toasted Timberwolves town for the direction and future Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders were taking the Timberpuppies.
The optimism came on the heels of the first playoff appearance by the team in franchise history. The Woofies were swept by the two-time defending champion Houston Rockets in the opening round of the NBA playoffs. A rookie point guard named Marbury and a couple of forwards named Gugliotta and Garnett spearheaded McHale and Saunders’ quest for postseason success and respectability after seven years of nightly comedy shows.
My how things change.
Gugliotta couldn’t stand playing with Marbury and defected to Phoenix. Marbury couldn’t stand the idea of playing second fiddle to Garnett. He bolted back home, desperate to play for (ha!) New Jersey.
Three years later, Minnesota opens its home regular season this evening against the New York Knicks. All that’s left from McHale and Saunders’ grand vision is Garnett. Now in his fifth season, he is the undisputed leader of the team and one of the three best players in the game (you can play mix ‘n match with Garnett, Tim Duncan and Gary Payton).
I sense a distinct sense of apathy. Saunders sensed it too back in May when he said, “We have to bring in a dynamic player … to put a spark back into our organization.”
It never happened.
The two biggest flaws the Wolves have are a lack of consistent outside shooting, particularly from the shooting guards, and the lack of inside toughness.
Wolves management is gaga over rookie Wally Sczerbiak, and believe he can be the yang to Garnett’s ying.
I’m not ready to buy into that just yet. Sczerbiak is a very good shooter, which the Wolves need, but his defense needs a lot of work. I’m not convinced he can create his own shot or is willing to take the ball to the basket and take the punishment to get to the free-throw line.
Brandon is a solid point guard, and a healthy Joe Smith is a solid power forward, but they’re not going to carry a team to titletown the way Garnett, with some help, is capable of.
“I wished we had another psycho out there,” said Garnett in the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine, recalling their playoff series loss to San Antonio in May. “I needed another dog jerking the chain. It’s like losing at the playground and saying ‘If I had my boy here, we’d beat you,’ and they say ‘Well, go get your boy.'”
The Wolves might not have been able to keep Marbury in town, but the management wasn’t creative enough to find replacements capable of taking the team deep into the playoffs like they promised.
Payton comes to mind. He was vocally upset with Seattle Sonics management and the team’s mediocrity. Rumblings ensued that he could be on the trading block. The Sonics squashed that by patching things up with the All-Star point guard and resigning him.
Once again, the Wolves are stuck muddled in the middle. Fans are getting restless. Certainly they should be expected to do better than a .500 team, but a trip to the conference finals isn’t going to happen.
Garnett is seeing a dim light around him.
No Marbury, no Gugliotta, no Payton equals no enthusiasm on the side of the public.
Until McHale and Saunders are able to once again add someone willing and capable to be the second dynamic player that must help Garnett, expect more of the same — a team good enough to get in the playoffs but not good enough to stay in.

Mark Heller covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]