Shortly after Minnesota was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by San Antonio, Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders turned to Kevin McHale, his friend and boss, and said, "We've got to get more shooting." Consider it done. The Timberwolves drafted the best pure marksman in the draft, Wally Szczerbiak, with the No. 6 pick, then gleefully plucked Duke point guard William Avery off the board at 14. Those selections made Minnesota one of the biggest winners of the draft, especially since its top Western Conference rivals—San Antonio, Portland, Utah and the Lakers—didn't upgrade significantly.
Saunders says he envisions implementing a big lineup that would include Szczerbiak, Kevin Garnett, Joe Smith and center Radoslav Nesterovic, who was signed the day before the '99 season ended. The 6' 7" Szczerbiak would play shooting guard on offense, but the versatile Garnett would assume defensive responsibility for opposing two-guards.
There has been speculation that Minnesota picked Avery as insurance in case free-agent point guard Terrell Brandon bolts or leaves in a sign-and-trade deal, but Avery's presence may make it more likely that Minnesota will keep Brandon. The biggest knock on Brandon is that he's injury-prone, but with Avery on the bench, Minnesota could reduce the wear and tear on Brandon by reducing his minutes.
If that isn't enough good news for Minnesota fans, be advised that Smith, their power forward, is coming back, even though the Timberwolves can give him only a 20% bump from his $1.75 million salary of last season. "Joe has already told us, 'I'm not going anywhere,' " says Saunders. "And my sense is well keep Terrell, too."
Saunders declined to comment on how much the Timberwolves are willing to pay Brandon, but team sources say Minnesota won't shell out the maximum salary, which would start Brandon at $9 million a season. The Timberwolves hope to get him for around $7 million a year.