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INSIDE THE NBA
As a 17-year-old point guard from Abraham Lincoln High in
Brooklyn, Stephon Marbury spent two weeks in Minneapolis,
training under University of Minnesota coach Clem Haskins before
the 1994 World Games in Buenos Aires. "I hated the place,"
Marbury says. "And that was in the summer! It was culture shock.
By the time we were done, I couldn't wait to go to Argentina,
and who ever thought I'd say that?"
Two years later, in June 1996, Marbury was picked fourth in the draft by the Bucks, who then dealt him to the Timberwolves. The T-Wolves hoped that Marbury and forwards Kevin Garnett and Tom Gugliotta would form the nucleus of a dynasty. After that trio led the team to the playoffs for the first time last season, Minnesota re-signed Marbury's friend Garnett to a six-year, $123 million deal. Timberwolves fans felt the team had cleared the most imposing hurdle to keeping its nucleus intact.
They were wrong. Marbury tells SI that he still hasn't warmed to Minneapolis and its frigid winters, and that he daydreams about returning to New York to play for the Knicks. One thing Marbury made abundantly clear: He isn't sold on signing away his career to Minnesota, which will try to extend his contract next summer. "People are talking about me taking less for the good of the franchise," Marbury says. "I'm not taking less for nobody. This is a business."
Even though Gugliotta is the Timberwolves' most polished player and Garnett has the most potential, Marbury makes Minnesota go. Before their loss to Boston last Friday, the T-Wolves (16-15 at week's end) had won six of seven, including victories at Detroit and Seattle and a home win over the Bulls. Marbury averaged 19.6 points and 10.1 assists during that stretch. "On our team," Marbury says, "everyone knows that in the last minute, Stephon Marbury is going to take the last shot, like MJ. It's not Kevin doing it. That's not how our team works."
Garnett's huge payday followed months of acrimonious negotiations between agent Eric Fleisher and the Timberwolves. Fleisher also represents Marbury, guaranteeing another tense summer in Minnesota. "I know they won't be offering me KG money," says Marbury. "Is that all right? I don't know. I don't want to come across as some cocky guy. I'm just speaking truth.
"They know Minnesota isn't the greatest place for me. I'll never say I like living in Minnesota. No one likes living in 20-degree weather all the time, where you have to walk through tunnels to get everyplace because it's so cold."
What kind of deal would it take to keep him in the Twin Cities? Marbury himself doesn't seem to have a clear answer to that question. "It's not that simple," he says. "All the money in the world won't matter if you're losing. We can win a championship in two years if we do things right. Me, Kevin and Googs are playing together real well right now, and God help the NBA if we get to a level higher. I wouldn't be thinking so much about the cold if we were winning 70 games."
Minnesota's 8-12 start was the result of what Marbury calls a "slight chemistry imbalance" caused in part by the departure of free-agent center Dean Garrett (also a Fleisher client) to Denver. Yet the T-Wolves also grapple nightly with the inconsistency that is inevitable while talented young players such as Marbury learn what they canand can'tdo on the job.
"Our guys are guilty sometimes of trying to do too much," says team vice president Kevin McHale. "Steph is getting better at looking ahead. He can get by his own guy almost anytime he wants, but now he's realizing there's no sense driving in there if two 7-footers are waiting for him."
Marbury was dazzling in Seattle on Dec. 23, scoring 35 in a 112-103 win over one of the best defensive teams in the league. But his thoughts keep returning to the night of Dec. 11, when he poured in 22 and dished out nine assists in a 107-103 loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the venue of all his boyhood dreams. "[Before the game] I was stretching in the middle of the court, and I caught myself looking down at the logo, and I felt like I was playing at home, where I belonged," Marbury says. "But then I had to smack myself upside the head and get myself back to reality."
Many of Marbury's friends and relatives, including his mother, Mabel, would love to see him stay in Minnesota, where he can remain focused on basketball. Even Marbury concedes that advantage to the Twin Cities. "I concentrate better here," he says, "because there's nothing else to do but play ball."
Issue date: January 12, 1998
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