Timberwolves begin future without their Big Ticket
Posted: Friday September 28, 2007 10:42PM; Updated: Sunday September 30, 2007 12:20AM
MINNEAPOLIS -- For once, that elephant no one ever wants to talk about was not in the room.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were back from another too-long offseason, gathering for photos and interviews Friday on the eve of their first practice, a few days earlier this year in advance of their training-camp trek to Istanbul and London. Only this time, some familiar annual rituals were absent.
There was, for a change, no armchair psychoanalyzing of Kevin Garnett's mood. No probing for the Big Ticket's views on Kevin McHale's summer maneuvers. No speculation about a possible mega-deal by the trading deadline, and certainly no softballs lobbed to elicit the old "I'm 'Sota'' refrain.
There was none of that Friday, because there was no Kevin Garnett.
The last time the Wolves suffered through an October without Garnett, baseball suffered through an October without a World Series, and you would get an argument in the Twin Cities over which one felt worse.
Back in 1994, a crew built around Christian Laettner, Isaiah Rider, Doug West, Sean Rooks and Winston Garland prepped under rookie head coach Bill Blair for yet another season (four in a row) in which Minnesota would lose 61 times or more.
In 1995, a raw, lanky kid with omnipresent Walkman headphones, a ski cap and a habit of handing over his per-diem money to Mom showed up at a college gym in St. Cloud. On that first day, veteran Sam Mitchell sent him sprawling into the bleachers in a harsh "Welcome to the NBA'' moment, but the kid sprang back. And the Wolves, there and then, had their franchise player.
Now they don't. The Wolves have Al Jefferson and Randy Foye and Ricky Davis and Corey Brewer and Gerald Green and Craig Smith and Rashad McCants, but they don't have anyone immediately capable of giving them, on the court and off, what Garnett gave them. They might never.
"It's different, there's no question,'' said Randy Wittman, about to run his first training camp since taking over as head coach in January. "I think I'll find out even more as we get practicing and playing. I'm sure there are going to be a lot of things I took for granted that he was able to do because of his talents.''
Wittman was in his second year as an assistant in Minnesota when Garnett arrived. Each head coach since then -- Blair, Flip Saunders, Dwane Casey -- went to camp with Garnett as the team's key player on both ends. Now Wittman, whose two-season stay in Cleveland was hobbled by Zydrunas Ilgauskas' bad feet, goes to work without Garnett.