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Jim Souhan: Wolves hope they can bring out best in a talented point guard

  • Article by: Jim Souhan
  • Star Tribune
  • August 8, 2007 - 12:44 AM

It wasn't long ago that a hopeless franchise in Minneapolis, after a run of losing seasons that placed its general manager under fire, traded a star for a bunch of kids, drawing the ire of the sporting public.

It happened last week, when the Timberwolves traded Kevin Garnett to the Celtics. It also happened in 1998, when the unaccomplished Terry Ryan traded Chuck Knoblauch to the Yankees for a bunch of no-name minor leaguers. Four years later, the Twins started a run of six consecutive winning seasons, including four division titles.

The Timberwolves need the Garnett deal to be their Knoblauch deal. The keys to the trade were budding star Al Jefferson and intriguing talents Gerald Green and Ryan Gomes.

The kid who could hasten the Wolves' return to the living is the 22-year-old who already has inspired a book, a documentary and a Sports Illustrated cover, the crossover-dribbling, gun-toting, Coney Island-matriculating Sebastian Telfair.

By the end of the coming season, when his contract expires, Telfair could be the youngest vagabond in NBA history, or the caulk filling the Wolves' hole at point guard.

Telfair once lived in the apartment beneath his cousin Stephon Marbury's family in Coney Island. He, like Marbury, played daily on the neighborhood court known as "The Garden" and built his endurance with sprints on the beaches and up the tenements' staircases.

In the fourth grade, Telfair was proclaimed the best player in his class nationally. By the time he starred at Lincoln High he was the subject of a book and an ESPN documentary.

He became the first point guard to jump from high school to the pros, signed an endorsement deal with Adidas, got drafted 13th in the first round by Portland in 2004, and that's where the fairy tale ends and the travelogue begins.

After three NBA seasons, Telfair has failed to shoot 40 percent from the field. He's begun the past two seasons as a starter, gotten benched in December and finished as a third-stringer on terrible teams.

He's known for explosive speed but often goes nowhere fast, and if he's starting to sound like Marcus Banks -- a fast, talented, underachieving point guard acquired from the Celtics -- congratulations, you've been paying attention.

Telfair, like the other players introduced Tuesday at a Wolves news conference, made a good first impression. I asked him about Marbury's recent statement that Telfair should "be careful" around Wolves boss Kevin McHale. Telfair said he hadn't previously heard the quote.

I asked him about being stopped with an expired driver's license and a firearm he didn't own being found in the car, and about the time he carried a loaded firearm onto a Blazers charter.

"I have not been charged with anything," he said. "I've been in some unfortunate situations where I've been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I fully take responsibility for that. I grew up learning how not to be in those situations ... and now I've taken myself out of New York City and moved to Vegas so I can concentrate on basketball."

Wolves coach Randy Wittman has three options at point guard -- Randy Foye, Marko Jaric and Telfair. Wittman wants to use Foye more as an off-guard and scorer, and Jaric lost the point guard job two years ago, although he does offer defense at the position.

Telfair is the Wolves' only pure point guard, their only open-court jitterbug. "It's all up to Sebastian," Wittman said. "The opportunity is there."

Even after three failed seasons, Telfair doesn't regret skipping college. "There's nothing like playing under those NBA lights," he said.

Only pop stars and athletes can become former legends by the age of 22. The rebuilding Wolves might represent Telfair's last, and best, chance.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. jsouhan@startribune.com

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