Friday, April 17, 2015

10 Awful Minnesota Timberwolves Horror Stories - Off the Top of My Head

After another 60+ loss season, I am feeling all Britt McHenry, so I will rip off just 10 for now.  I am not saying these are the worst 10, or I couldn't think of 50 more, but here are ten bad memories from my 26 years as a Wolves season ticket holder.

10.  Joe Smith Fiasco -- It was common in the late 1990s and early 2000s to violate the salary cap by telling your own players (whom you could sign for any amount) to wait for contract renewals until after you signed new free agents (where you were capped) and then you would sign the currently rostered guy to a big deal.  There were dozens of secret deals done, and everyone knew it was being done.........but the Wolves got caught,  As I recall, Smith fired his agent and the agent sued, saying he wanted a percentage of the $84M deal that Glen Taylor had put into a writing brought to him in the hospital by Kevin McHale before Taylor's surgery.

We lost 5 1st round picks, later reduced to three.  The Wolves became a laughingstock for putting a secret illegal agreement into writing, and chances to improve the team got even slimmer.  On the plus side, Smith didn't get the $84M.  But he got worse, and still was re-signed by the Wolves.

9.  Stevie J, The Target Center DJ -- Stevie J was an African-American guy whom the Wolves hired to do in-arena entertainment.  He was a very loud and obnoxious guy.  Very few, if any, fans liked him.  The Wolves had, I am pretty sure, Gary Trent and Marc Jackson at the time.  Marc Jackson had gone on a fitness program in the off season and lost around 50 pounds.  Stevie J goes into the crowd and has a trivia question, "What Wolf weighs the most?"  Everyone is trying to help the guy -- I am pretty sure he answers "Gary Trent."  Ooooh, no,  The correct answer is Marc Jackson.....  Jackson was none too happy with Stevie J., and J disappeared from the public eye shortly thereafter.   A Wolves staffer stated that he could not understand my distaste for Stevie J. since the Wolves believed he was "edgy entertainment" that the fans wanted.

8.  The Despair of Andrew Lang -- the Wolves got rid of Christian Laettner because he had the gall to claim that his Wolves teammates and coaches weren't high quality.  WHAT!?!?  Jimmy Rodgers, Sidney Lowe, Bill Blair, not high quality?  Laettner gets traded to Atlanta where he becomes a one-time all-star and solid playoff performer for the Hawks.  The Wolves get Spud Webb and Andrew Lang.  Lang comes to Minnesota and just about literally wants to kill himself.  He hates the team, hates the city, hates everything about being here.  He looks and acts like a guy who literally has to cry himself to sleep every night.

The Wolves eventually have to move Lang because they fear for his life.  The "upside" story of Andrew Lang is that Lang was good enough that Milwaukee felt he was a good enough piece to the puzzle to trade Milwaukee's higher pick to Minnesota for a lower pick (if Milwaukee got Lang).  The Wolves at the time touted this development that allowed them to get Stephon Marbury and only give up........Ray Allen.  Sigh.

7.  The Departure of Cheerleader Natalie Kane (Nyhus) -- the most gorgeous Timberwolves cheerleader of all-time was Natalie Kane (now WCCO personality Natalie Nyhus).  Two things to note about Natalie:  1) she is FAR better looking in person than on TV; and 2) when she was early 20s, she was even BETTER looking.  Natalie left the squad for a year, causing a deluge of calls to the Wolves to ask where she went (study abroad was the reason given).  She then returned and was later promoted to the in-arena hostess (basically Stevie J's old job).   I sat near Natalie for half a quarter once.  I do not remember anything that occurred during that time frame other than that she sat near me and maybe talked to me briefly.  Although she was a great in-game hostess, the loss of Natalie as a cheerleader is a loss from which the organization has never recovered.  Some say it was Garnett's departure....could be either, could be both.

6.  Jonny Flynn and Ndudi Ebi -- The Wolves drafted these two guys, I am pretty sure, without ever having seen either play a full game live in person.  Flynn was drafted for his charisma and the fact that he "fought hard" when posted up by Tyreke Evans during a workout.  Now, he couldn't dribble the ball with any degree of skill, but hey.  He was selected ahead of Stephon Curry.  Ebi was picked with the 26th pick in the draft ahead of ACC 1st Team player Josh Howard (who played the same position) because Ebi had once held LeBron James to around 20 points in an all-star game.  You selected a guy who weighed like 175 pounds over a first-team all-ACC player on the basis of an all-star game.  Flynn and Ebi were both out of the league quickly.

5.  Paul Grant Hits the Side of the BackBoard....Twice -- the Wolves drafted large white stiff Paul Grant from Wisconsin in the first round (ahead of Bobby Jackson, a local hero whom the Wolves subsequently acquired, then let go right before he got really good).   In an exhibition game, Paul Grant comes onto the floor to the hopeful cheers of Wolves fans.  His legs were almost the same color as his brand new white socks.  If you had to ask me which was whiter, I would go with the legs.  Anyway, Grant gets the ball.  15 footer, baseline.  Hits the side of the board.  Yikes.  It is hard to hit the side of the board on a 3, much less a 15 footer.  The very next time that Grant gets the ball on the baseline.  Same shot.  Same result.  Now, I have watched thousands of high school and college and NBA games in my 51 years.  To this day, I have never seen anyone else hit the side of the board twice in the same game.  Never.  Three years later, the Wolves are playing an early season game.  The Wolves had improved, so the fan base is pretty active.  Guy takes a shot from 18 feet on the baseline -- hits the side of the board.  A fan 6 rows behind me stands up and shouts, "We have a Paul Grant sighting!!!"  I was howling with laughter.  Grant, by the way, hung around on NBA benches for a few years and was quickly out of basketball.

4.    Kurt Rambis and His Players at Media Day -- I get an invite to attend Media Day and there is Kurt Rambis.  You almost literally cannot hear what the guy says.  He speaks in almost a whisper.  But if you stand close enough and use context clues from the question he is being asked, you can figure out what he is saying.  Is Corey Brewer a starter for you?  No.  Is Kevin Love a potential all-star and rebound champion?  What?  Kevin Love?  God, I cannot see him ever being a star in the NBA.  Questions for Brewer and Love -- do you expect to start?  Yes.  Play 40 minutes a game?  Yes.  How a coach and his players could be so far off from the same page is/was baffling and astounding.  It is also unclear who Rambis felt would start instead of these two, given the absolute dearth of talent on the roster, but maybe he was thinking he could go with three guys?

3.  The Wolves' Various Draft Day Reports On Their Own Draft Choices -- For first round choices -- "We really didn't get the guy we wanted."  For second rounders -- "There was no one left we liked." or "You cannot get anyone good after the first 15 picks."   Some other great efforts -- the confusion of Fred Hoiberg when the Wolves traded O.J. Mayo (whom he had just got done anointing the next Michael Jordan); the despair in the voices of guys who had actually selected players they didn't want.  Now, this remarkable history of player hate has been, of course, offset by a lot of the ridiculous optimism of the Wolves on certain other guys based upon.......basically....nothing.  Flynn - played hard in a tryout and smiled big.  Ebi - one game of some medium success against LeBron.  William Avery - he really looked great in unguarded three point shooting drills.  Louis Bullock and Bracey Wright and Glenn Robinson III -- "These are basically the equivalent of first round picks." 

It is very, very difficult to get through a Wolves draft night.  This is particularly true when you start hearing the inside scuttlebutt.  "I mean, yeah, we love Jonny Flynn."  "We aren't picking Danny Granger, we really like Rashad McCants (the 4th best player on his UNC club) because no one could stop him in 3 on 3 and 4 on 4 scrimmages."  "We selected Wes Johnson (the knock on him being that he was disengaged as a player) because he is a safer bet than Paul George."  "Derrick Williams has physical talent no one can teach."

2.  Darko -- Oh, Darko.  We got him from the Knicks for nothing, and he played so hard in his first action (and was so horribly out of shape)  that I literally thought he was going to die.  Rambis continued to play him (Rambis also would regularly leave an injured Love lying in the 3 point lane in harm's way and refuse to call a time out).   Darko had some upside skills, but my God was he a dog.  He would regularly attempt passes that were sidearm, underhand, flipped over the soldier, which would be great, except 50% went for turnovers.  Once the Wolves decided they just couldn't hack him anymore, I watched a few minutes of a Wolves scrimmage one day.  Darko would literally jog down the court as the last guy down, ask for the ball just inside the three point line and then attempt bank shots from 22 feet.  I would have thought it just a lapse in judgment, but he did it twice in a row and, thereafter, would request the ball at the same spot (and not receive it).

Early on, David Kahn said to Chris Webber about Darko -- "We think he can be like Vlade."  Webber was shocked into asking "Vlade Divac!?!?"  Kahn stuck by his claim and basically told Webber he didn't know WTF he was doing and Darko would be great.  Webber's famous reply, "Good luck."

1.  The Best of Times, the Worst of Times -- ironically, the Wolves' best season of 2003-04 was also one of the most heart breaking.  One must remember that the Wolves got extremely lucky in 2003-04.  The original plan was to cut Ervin Johnson immediately after trading for him.  However, due to injuries, the Wolves had to keep him for a while to fill out their roster.  By pure happenstance, Johnson proved to be a perfect fit and gave the Wolves tremendous interior defense, even against Tim Duncan.   The Wolves also added as a throwaway free agent Trenton Hassell for under $1M per year and he was their best perimeter defender.  The Wolves actually finished 6th in the NBA in Defensive Rating!  Let me repeat that - Flip had an elite defensive team!

But few remember that the Wolves had home court advantage on the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals and should have advanced to the Finals to play Detroit, except for the horrors that befell the Wolves late in the year.  First, Troy Hudson's leg, foot, ankle, etc. blew out completely (Hudson, by the by, is another tremendous Wolves horror story - the Wolves wanted to pay him $X if he was healthy and $xminus20 million dollars if he was not healthy.  The Wolves submitted the contract to the league in that manner.  The league said that such a contract was improper and would not approve it.  So, you would guess the Wolves offered him $Xminus10M as a compromise, right?  Nope.  He got the higher figure even with no guaranty he would be healthy).

Anyway, Hudson being sh-sh-sh-sh-shutted down left the Wolves with Darrick Martin as a backup, but Sam Cassell had been second team all-NBA that year and in the playoffs he would be playing 44 mpg, so who cares?  Well, in the Sacramento series Cassell was hampered by what Wolves medical staff identified as "back spasms" so Martin had to play more, even contributing some key late free throws one game.  Then Cassell reached the point where his "back spasms" made it impossible for him to run.  He couldn't play at all.  Diagnosis -- torn hip socket.  Out for the last 5 games of the Lakers series.

During the Lakers series, Darrick Martin or Fred Hoiberg were the choices at PG.  Garnett regularly brought the ball up the court and started the offense.  Despite this awful situation at point guard, a position where, again, Cassell had been second-team all-NBA and had run up over 12 Win Shares during the regular season, the Wolves managed to take two games off the Lakers. 

But, even during the greatest season ever, they were still the Wolves and were cursed, denying them of their chance to win an NBA title.

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