T-Wolves Howl for More
The fun is over for the Timberwolves. Now the real work begins. Although Minnesota's first playoff appearance ended in a sweep by the Rockets, the young T-Wolves earned the adoration of their fans, the endorsement of Charles Barkley ("They are not only great players but great kids," said Sir Charles) and a rare visit to the Target Center by commissioner David Stern. However, the Timberwolves are acutely aware that to keep their fans passionate and retain their 20-year-old stars, small forward Kevin Garnett and point guard Stephon Marbury, they must take another step upward and make roughly a five-to six-victory improvement over this season's 40-42 mark.
The immediate priority is to sign Garnett this summer, a goal Minnesota is not as confident it can attain as it was two months ago. Garnett, who can be a free agent in the summer of '98, loves Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale and loves playing alongside and hanging around with Marbury. But Minnesota is a small market, which limits Garnett's endorsement opportunities.
To attract free agents, the T-Wolves will try to clear some salary-cap room. If, as expected, center Stojko Vrankovic returns to Europe, that will free up $4 million of cap money. Minnesota also hopes to address the nettlesome situation caused by guard Micheal Williams, who has clayed just 10 games in the past three seasons because of a left plantar fascia injury and refuses to retire. Williams has two years left on his contract at $2.7 million a season; the Timberwolves plan to petition the league to remove him from their cap.
If it succeeds in these cap maneuvers, Minnesota will have significant money to spend in the free-agent pool. Look for the team to make a big push for Bulls forward- center Brian Williams.
Around the Rim
File this under "Truth is stranger than fiction": The Greek team Panathinaikos, which last October accused Dominique Wilkins of feigning injuries as an excuse to return the U.S. and took him to court over the dispute, hopes to woo him back. Wilkins bailed out on a two-year, $7 million contract in Greece to play for the NBA minimum ($247,500) in San Antonio. Wilkins will not be with the Spurs next season (he'll look for bigger money elsewhere)—nor, we can assure you, will he be with Panathinaikos.... Center Robert Parish, a 43-year-old grandfather and the oldest player in the NBA, quietly told Bulls officials he'll retire at the end of this season, his 21st.