The Three-Pointer: A lot of talk
1. KG's comments.
All the beat writers and columnists were in a state of high alert, smelling blood, or at least controversy, so I assume by now you are aware of at least parts of Kevin Garnett's interview with TNT's Cheryl Miller. (If not here's the link to the brief print synopsis and access to what I assume is the entire 3:17 video.) Here's my take.
KG's absolutely right that "business should have been done in summertime" last year, before it infected the team and led to that dysfunctional pratfall. But then he gets vague and says that it was wrong to suggest that the Wolves lost because of Cassell or lost because of Spree. He claims that it was everybody's fault, that everybody needed to look in the mirror, and that the Wolves win or lose "as a team." And to his credit, that is the way he usually conducts himself.
But then there is reality. That wasn't the entire Wolves roster on the cover of Sports Illustrated and on Craig Kilborn's coach in the early months of 2004; that was the "MV3" of KG, Sammy, and Spree. They appropriately got the lion's share of the credit for the team's magical run to the Western Conference finals, and Cassell and Spree appropriately got the lion's share of the blame for the Wolves' implosion last year. So yeah, I'll repeat it: The Wolves lost last season because Cassell and Spree wanted to get paid what in hindsight is now revealed to be an unrealistically exorbitant amount of money, and sulked, dogged it, and otherwise corroded team chemistry when they didn't get it. If you're doing an autopsy on the team's collapse, Cassell and Spree (or vice versa) are exhibits A and A1.
Later in the interview, KG takes a few pointed shots at Kevin McHale, saying that McHale "really in his heart wanted to coach but he didn't want to be the coach," adding that if things were handled differently he believes Flip Saunders would still be coaching the Wolves today. No question that, according to his mood, McHale can either be a lovably grumpy old man or an arrogant prick about how he thinks today's players are playing the game. And that must have been hard on Flip.
When Flip was canned, I thought it was wrong, and wrote about it in a Hang Time column entitled "Scapegoat Time." Here's the link to it.
But, as Garnett said to Miller tonight, "everybody" needed to look in the mirror. If KG had as much of a problem with McHale firing Flip and taking over the coaching reins as he intimates in the TNT interview, he could have done something about it. He was the reigning MVP of the league, for chissakes. Then as now, he was the most powerful person on the Wolves franchise. All he had to say was, "If Flip goes, I go."
Instead, sitting in front of his locker after the second game coached by McHale, this is what KG did say: "This is my third coach. Compared to the first two, he is probably the most fulfilling. He is like a breath of fresh air."
There is more that could be said here--I devoted an entire Hang Time column to it, entitled, "With Friends Like KG..." back in late February. For those who want a detailed rehash, here's the link. Suffice to say that, as much as I love Kevin Garnett (and there are dozens of columns in the archives to attest to that--or simply flip back to the final words of my last Three Pointer), it is more than a little disingenuous of him to now be inferring that Flip was unfairly sacrificed and that McHale was the one who didn't truly take responsibility for what went down.
2. Smith and Barkley's comments.
KG's interview opened the door for Smith and Barkley to trash the Wolves' prospects for this season and declare during the TNT halftime show that the best course of action would be for Garnett to be traded. There were no specifics--it was patently obvious that neither man had seen more than a glimpse or two of the Wolves beyond the first half of action that had just transpired. Barkley flat-out declared that the Wolves wouldn't make the playoffs, which, given the man's abysmal track record, should kindle the hopes of Wolves fans everywhere. I loved Barkley as a player, at least until the final few years of his career, when he was already devolving into schtick. Still, the dude is barely over 6-4, and rebounded like a madman. He had a lot of heart.
But Charles Barkley the commentator is an engaging loudmouth, who is, at his core, a self-marketer. Back in the early 70s, guys like him were disparaged as "suits," even if Barkley's suit is a little more colorful than most. His "controversial" and "irreverent" statements don't make anybody uncomfortable because he isn't taken seriously, because everybody knows he throws opinions like so many strands of spaghetti up at the ceiling and sees what sticks.
Smith said the Wolves have no set style, no identity, no way of playing. As examples he referred to the Pistons' D, and to the "way L.A. used to play," and to "Miami...pounding the ball inside." Well, between the time Zo left and Shaq came, Miami didn't do any pounding. L.A. "used to play" Showtime, and then they used to play the triangle offense, and then they used to play whatever Rudy T was peddling last season, and now they are playing the triangle again.
In other words, unless you've gone to the championship series a few times in the past decade, odds are you don't have a set style; at least not one anybody needs or wants to remember. The Wolves have a revamped roster and a new coach who has never been the top dog before. So, granted, they are feeling each other out. And that's the extent of the judgment on the team? C'mon Kenny.
That said, tonight's win over Washington left me with a weird feeling, one that, if repeated often enough, may make me go back and apologize to Kenny Smith. Coach Casey keeps talking about going into his tool box for the right part. After saying just before the season started that he wanted to pare the rotation to nine guys, he now concedes that all twelve players are viable participants, depending on game conditions and flow. I hope this is a relatively brief phenomenon. There is a difference between building for the future and purposefully messing around; between going into your tool box to make something of lasting value, or jerry-rigging a quick fix.
Like any hoops junkie, I've got my preferences on who plays or sits. And some of the folks I've been ripping lately, including Troy Hudson and to a lesser extent Michael Olowokandi, had pretty good games. I'll eat that, and hopefully give credit where it is due (T-Hud defended Gilbert Arenas as well as Hassell) because on balance I think it will be demonstrated that Anthony Carter or Marko Jaric and Eddie Griffin are the ones you ride when it matters.
But when Casey is vindicated by inserting sharpshooter Richie Frahm in the game, at the expense of Rachad McCants, it doesn't feel right. Playing a second under 11 minutes in the first half, McCants succinctly rebutted the criticisms and doubts people express about his game. He defended decently, registering a nice steal on a help-out manuever, and provided two assists--one on the break that caught KG by surprise, a rare occurrence under any circumstance--without taking a single shot. In short, he earned the right for more minutes in the second half. Instead, the journeyman Frahm got them, and shot the lights out, propelling the Wolves to victory. Short term: A needed win. Long term: A mixed message to a rook trying to play the coach's way, and a slight delay in fulfilling his enormous potential.
3. Reader feedback.
I'm flattered by the quality of comments that have greeted my past couple of entries. I know some of you guys, like Brauer and Walsh, and have come to look forward to Moroni's input. I would love it if this site became a forum for people to kick around their thoughts about the squad, or the NBA in general, on an in-depth basis. But I'm going to be a bit of a jerk when it comes to gate-keeping, so that the basketball IQ remains high, at least by my arbitrary standards. (The webmaster and I have control over what makes the cut.) That means I'll doink any entry that contains less than ten words and four exclamation points, consider comments about Wally's hair gel, albeit clever, to be a borderline waste of time, and seek to honor thoughtful submissions with a response, events in the rest of my life permitting.
So, to wrap up: I disagree with the writer who says Wally can't create his own shot. Wally can't create his own shot very well off the dribble. But he knows how to move without the ball in the half-court sets, when to release downcourt for the baseball pass in transition (KG found him tonight), and when to take it to the hole on the break. And when he's open off the catch-and-shoot, he has been, until this year, deadly accurate with his jumper. Put simply, he is an adequate, though far from perfect, number two option on this team. Unless he chokes, of course, and in another few games, we may be considering that prospect if he doesn't turn things around.
The comparisons of Wally and the Big Dog are legit; they share a lot of vices and virtues. The crucial difference is that Wally is 27 and the Dog is 31, and those four years are often prime time in the NBA. In other words, let the Big Dog lay wherever he is now and go with a guy who can contribute to your rebuilding.
The question about Marbury coincides with my last Hang Time, in which I expressed a stubborn fondness for the guy now generally regarded as a cancerous presence for whatever team is unlucky enough to countenace his marvelous talent and toxic chemistry. Would I package Wally and somebody else--Jaric, Hudson, Kandi, or Hassell--in a deal for Marbury? Absolutely.