The brash new guard says he can take this team to the next level
By Chris Ballard
Team Page | Conference ranking: 5 | Overall ranking: 6
Ten-year veteran Sam Cassell may be lacking in some departments, chief among them hair and a conscience when shooting, but confidence is not one of them. To hear the Timberwolves' new point guard tell it, the key to this team will be, yep, Sam Cassell. "Every team I'm on has an attitude," he says. "I'm very competitive. I'm bringing that to this squad."
His competitiveness helped the Bucks reach the playoffs in three of the five seasons he was in Milwaukee, though they never went to the Finals. Now he joins a club that has suffered seven consecutive first-round exits from the postseason and is counting on him and fellow newcomers Latrell Sprewell and Michael Olowokandi to get it over the hump.
All-Star forward Kevin Garnett is wearing a big smile these days primarily because, he says, the new backcourt combination of Cassell and Troy Hudson "makes us, at times, unstoppable because the break is going so fast."
Cassell, who averaged 19.0 points per game over the last four seasons, scoffs at the notion that he has to modify his game now that he's playing in a system with so many other potent scorers. "I don't have to change a damn thing," he says. "I just play my game." What about a potential point guard controversy with Hudson? "In the half-court, I'm the point guard," says Cassell with finality. "We play well together, but I'm running the point."
Cassell likens the Timberwolves to the championship teams he played on in Houston in the mid-1990s. Minnesota has two capable big men in Garnett and Olowokandi, scoring firepower, a strong bench, a veteran coach and a floor general unafraid to take big shots. "All the pieces are there," says Cassell. "This is a team that can go all the way."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Timberwolves
"This is the best talent they've ever had, but the season could still turn ugly if all the strong personalities clash on the court. That's where Kevin Garnett comes in: He is not only an elite player but also a vocal leader who backs up his talk by playing hard every day. On the good teams the stars buy into the team concept and demand that everyone else buy into it. I'm betting that this team will play well because Garnett will accept nothing less.... Sam Cassell is about to turn 34 and Latrell Sprewell is 33, but that shouldn't be a problem. Flip Saunders is a good coach and does a great job of mixing zones with man-to-man, which gives his players a little breather.... Sprewell has a reputation as a controversial guy, but the bigger concern is Cassell. He's a constant jabberer, and his new teammates are either going to love it or want him to shut up. He also overdribbles as a point guard, which makes him predictable and easier to defend. It's also going to be interesting to see if Cassell runs the plays as Flip calls them because Cassell used to argue with George Karl about play-calling. If it were me, I'd start Troy Hudson, with his great quickness pushing the tempo, and then bring Cassell off the bench to provide leadership and scoring for the second unit.... Flip has to get into Michael Olowokandi's head and make him focus on rebounding, running the floor and staying in the paint -- no shots from farther than eight feet.... The Timberwolves need to finish among the top three in the West so they can avoid a first-round matchup against the Lakers, Kings, Spurs or Mavs -- but I don't see how they can do that."
Issue date: October 27, 2003