Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor should be euphoric. His frisky
team stretched the heavily favored Sonics to five games in the
opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, even though
Minnesota's best player, forward Tom Gugliotta, was sidelined
with bone spurs in his right ankle. Taylor's coach, the
underrated Flip Saunders, was terrific, deploying a small lineup
that flummoxed Seattle. Taylor's $120 million forward, Kevin
Garnett, came up big, and his point guard, Stephon Marbury, was
at times so dazzling that fans in the Twin Cities are salivating
over the team's future.
So why isn't Taylor smiling? Because he now must make some of
the most critical decisions in the nine-year history of the
team. Gugliotta, 28, will become a free agent on July 1; he
wants at least $12 million a year to re-sign. Marbury, 21, has
one season left on his deal but can negotiate an extension this
summer; he told SI in January that he believes he's worth
Garnett money, around $20 million a year.
So should Taylor sign the proven scorer and consummate pro
(Gugliotta) at the risk of losing the player with the bigger
future (Marbury)? Or should he let Googs walk and focus on
keeping his playmaker, who would be far more difficult to
replace? "I'd like to retain both," Taylor says. "What I'm
hoping is they will see we have something worth building on, and
endorsements and other positives will make it worth it to them
to sacrifice some money for a winning team."
If Marbury fails to sign an extension, his future
in Minnesota will be up in the air.
(John W. McDonough)
Don't count on it. The posturing has already begun. Gugliotta's
agent, Richard Howell, says his client will test the free-agent
market, and the Timberwolves will be merely "a candidate" to
sign him. Marbury's agent, Eric Fleisher, says his client is
amenable to signing an extension "if there is an agreement that
makes sense for both parties." But Marbury's early-season
comments about abhorring Minnesota weather and preferring to
play in a bigger market still ring in management's ears. Taylor
says he has no pecking order for the negotiations, but he adds,
"In a sense, Tommy is a priority, because he's up now. We'll be
a little more cautious with Stephon."
Though Marbury has only scratched the surface of his potential,
his one-on-one tendencies have frustrated his teammates and
coaches. Then there is Fleisher, who handled Garnett's long and
acrimonious negotiations last summer. Minnesota vice president
of basketball operations Kevin McHale vowed never to sit across
the table from Fleisher again. Indeed, McHale will give way to
Taylor's attorneys in the Marbury contract talks this summer,
which will take place later rather than sooner.
"Last year Eric told us, 'Let's do it early,'" Taylor says. "So
we came out with an offer, then watched the whole summer go by
without any solution. We were left pretty vulnerable. So maybe
we need to sit back and see how it goes for someone like [free
agent] Damon Stoudamire, who has more experience. We set the
market with Kevin Garnett. I don't think the Timberwolves want
to do that again."
That strategy will not sit well with Marbury, who believes that
henot Garnettis the team's best bet in crunch time.
Minnesota has no intention of paying Marbury $120 million, even
though he has hinted that he should be overcompensated to stay
in a city he doesn't like. Taylor warns that Marbury's
complaints should not be taken too seriously: "I've been with
Stephon when he says, 'Gosh it's cold,' and then two days later,
after a big win, he's saying, 'Wow, this is great.' He's young.
For instance, he says he wants to play in New York, but the
Knicks are so far over the cap, they never could afford him. He
might find there are only about three teams that can pay him."
If Marbury doesn't sign with the Timberwolves this summer, it's
likely that Minnesota will ship him elsewhere. According to
sources, the T-wolves have already explored possible trades and
have informed Marbury that he can forget about being moved to
New York. "Minnesota will not be held hostage by Fleisher
again," a Western Conference source says. "They'll deal Stephon
before that happens."
Taylor has no regrets about making Garnett the centerpiece of
his team. "Kevin is a person you can build a franchise around,"
he says, "not just because of his skills but also because of his
leadership and character." The unspoken message here: Garnett
was a reliable investment; Marbury isn't.
Issue date: May 18, 1998