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Generation next (cont'd)

Posted: Friday September 28, 2007 10:42PM; Updated: Sunday September 30, 2007 12:20AM
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Kevin McHale is looking to move Juwan Howard after the veteran requested a trade after the KG deal.
Kevin McHale is looking to move Juwan Howard after the veteran requested a trade after the KG deal.

"But that's kind of sunk in,'' said Wittman, whose first glimpse of Garnett will come when he and the Wolves face the Boston Celtics in London Oct. 10. "I've reached the point that, this is reality and I'm looking forward to it. I really am. There's an opportunity here to mold a team the way I want to mold this team.''

Uh huh. It's like the Lakers in 2004 not having to cope with that same old, same old Shaquille O'Neal. Or the Utah Jazz a year earlier no longer forced to run those predictable pick-and-rolls for Stockton and Malone. Freedom. Good times.

And not many victories, most likely. They won only 71 the past two seasons with Garnett.

"I feel cheated a little bit because I feel like I could have done something special with him,'' Foye said, after one season as Garnett's rookie, now thrust ready-or-not into a budding star role.

Veteran Juwan Howard, initially delighted by his trade from Houston for the chance to play alongside Garnett, was even more blunt. "Obviously, my dream has been crushed,'' he said. "But I wish him well in Boston.''

The Wolves will try to patch together, from the contributions of two or three players, the large and small things Garnett gave them. Getting that level of scoring, rebounding, passing and defense in one package -- even at an old 30, with the mileage of 12 pro seasons on Garnett -- won't be happening.

Jefferson has moved into Garnett's dressing stall at Target Center, but the staff has been cautious about heaping replacement expectations on Big Al.

"I don't believe in the comparison thing,'' Wittman said. "Al Jefferson and Kevin Garnett are two totally different type players. ... We're not going to have one guy who averages 25, 12 and five.''

With Garnett, Minnesota always felt as if it had a chance, even as the past three seasons fizzled in lottery finishes. Without Garnett, the club's pecking order will form from scratch, with several players willing to take, if not make, that last shot.

With Garnett, the Wolves always knew who their leader was -- or who it was supposed to be, anyway. Without Garnett, there is a void to fill but more voices and more equals on hand to fill it.

"Last season in the locker room, there were times when Kevin had to speak up,'' one Wolves insider said, "and there were times when no one spoke up.''

With Garnett, the goals to maximize the expiring asset of their All-Star forward's career and to keep him happy by winning overshadowed other priorities. Without Garnett, the Wolves can unabashedly concentrate on teaching, developing, moving pieces around and preaching patience. While hoping that will sell a few tickets and navigating the expected mood swings, defensive lapses and authority challenges from Ricky Davis.

Said Foye: "KG had been here for a while and we wanted to win for him. He'd been out of the playoffs for [two] years, so everything basically we was doing last year was for him.''

Everything Minnesota will do from this point forward will be without Garnett, a day many hoped would never come, a transition that probably was inevitable, a sentence that feels strange to write.

Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He served as president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association from 2005-2007.

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