Telfair surprised, inspired by the Wolves' point guard bounty in draft
Point guard Sebastian Telfair has played with three teams in five NBA seasons
Minnesota drafted point guards Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio last month
Telfair has tried to make 500 jump shots a day in workouts this summer
Each summer day, there is time for Sebastian Telfair and his family to relax, to swim, to throttle back from the in-season pace, demands and whereabouts of his job with the Timberwolves. Each summer night, he's back in the gym at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., sweating through drills e-mailed to him by the team's assistant coaches. It doesn't end until he makes, not just takes, 500 jump shots.
"I've got my cousin and my little brother with me and that's what they do for the summer, that's how they get paid," Telfair said in a phone interview this week. "They rebound and count, that's all they've got to do. They hang out at my house, swim all day, eat all day, but they rebound all night also."
Not a bad life. The house Telfair and his wife, Samantha, had built in New York's scenic Hudson Valley is maybe 75 miles, yet worlds away, from where he grew up in Brooklyn. It sounds peaceful, pastoral, bucolic even -- until you realize that Telfair is sharpening his knife for the coming season as surely as if he held a steel or whetstone in his other hand.
"You don't think Bassy wants to show those guys that you don't just walk into the NBA and have success as a point guard?" a Wolves insider said recently. "After everything he's been through?"
"Those guys" would be Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, the prospects Minnesota took with the Nos. 5 and 6 picks in last month's draft. With former starter Randy Foye traded to Washington for the pick that became Rubio, Telfair is the Wolves' incumbent at point guard. And while it happens all the time that an established NBA player gets drafted on top of by his team -- proud veterans face it near the end of their runs while younger players always are subject to the search for upgrades -- this one felt a little different, a little much. Two rookie point guards?
"I knew for sure they would get a guard, but I was a little surprised to see two picks ... go ahead of me," Telfair said, phrasing it as awkwardly as it felt. "I mean, two point guards and I'm there. But the guys that we got, I know they can play basketball. My thing was gaining somebody that can help us win. I talked to Al [Jefferson] this morning, and like he said, we want to win right now. So it wasn't a disrespect for me in any way, but I know I've got to come to camp prepared and ready to work."
Rubio is an unknown to him, Telfair said, a one-glimpse memory from the Beijing Olympics. Flynn, he's more familiar with from viewing a few Syracuse games. At 18 and 20, respectively, they're relative kids, raw the way he once was. Still, Telfair, 24, is right to take this all personally. Twelve months ago, when he re-upped with Minnesota for $7.5 million (two years plus a player option), he said: "I felt like I got a home." Now his team has spent consecutive lottery picks on his position. It fired Kevin McHale, too, the team executive who acquired him in the first place, signed him to that contract and, as coach, worked with Telfair for most of last season.
But then, what else is new? Telfair already has played for three franchises; drafted at No. 13 by Portland straight out of Lincoln High in 2004, traded to Boston on draft night in '06, then packaged with four others in the Kevin Garnett deal in July '07. In five seasons, he has played for six coaches, with a seventh on the way as soon as Wolves president David Kahn hires one. "I mean, I can't blame that on me," Telfair said, with a little laugh.
He might have to stand in line anyway, behind the people who blame him for not being as good as his cousin Stephon Marbury (at least the early Marbury) or the fix to the Blazers' or Celtics' needs -- especially after Boston removed the nameplate from above his locker when news broke of a handgun possession charge. He got blamed shortly after arriving in Minnesota for not being Rajon Rondo, the player McHale could have extracted from pal Danny Ainge in the Garnett trade if owner Glen Taylor hadn't pushed instead for an extra draft pick. Now Telfair isn't Rubio, though he once rivaled the Spanish playmaker in sheer prodigal hype. Nor is he Flynn.
In short, it's always something. "I get that feeling sometimes," Telfair said. "But I have to face reality. I think I'm on a steady path now. I think I'm doing the right things. It took me some time, but I think I've got it now. Sometimes you've got to hit the bottom to get to the top."
Telfair had what he considered a steady season in '08-09, bad games standing alone, not stacking up into his bad "spurts" of the past. He averaged 9.8 points, 4.6 assists and 1.95 turnovers while shooting 38.3 percent, but over the final two months boosted his scoring to 12.5 points (on 44 percent). He started 43 games and played 75, second most for him as a pro. He has dedicated himself to improving his game for the second straight summer and, assuming he's around in October, figures to add some mentoring chores the way teammates like Damon Stoudamire and Nick Van Exel did for him in Portland.
Like a lot of ordinary folks in this job market, Telfair might wind up training his replacements. He'll show Rubio (if he comes over) and Flynn moves they can use or watch and, just as important, share ways to think and carry themselves as point guards.
"It's all competition, but they're not just competition," Telfair said. "Ways I am right now is because of things [Stoudamire and Van Exel] told me. And I'll pass that on. I helped Rondo from the day he got to Boston. It was competition, we went at it in practice. But ask anybody there, I helped him from Day One."
Time enough for that. In the meantime, Telfair will keep working with two other guys -- cousin Eli Crossway, 20, and brother Ethan Telfair, 14 -- in the gym at Vassar, honing his game, sharpening his knife.
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