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The Wolves' future: Transition game

  • Article by: Kent Youngblood
  • Star Tribune
  • June 28, 2007 - 8:25 AM

For more than a decade, Kevin Garnett has been the geographic center of Timberwolves Nation. From Da Kid to the Big Ticket, every plan of action included the letters K and G.

The Wolves tried to build around him, to assemble a team that would complement him. He was the sun around which all things revolved.

Is that sun about to set somewhere else?

Perhaps today, but maybe not. Garnett has been the subject of constant trade speculation, from Boston to Phoenix to Los Angeles, each report more breathless than the last. By the time the NBA draft kicks off tonight, the Wolves might have parted ways with the best player in franchise history. Or perhaps the Wolves will ultimately decide no deal is worth that risk.

But at some point in the not-too-distant future, KG will exit. Today, maybe. Over the summer, possibly. Maybe at February's trading deadline, or after next season given his opt-out clause. Heck, maybe he retires a wrinkly old Wolf in a few years. The Wolves will have all these scenarios in mind tonight.

So perhaps this is the first post-Garnett draft, a time when the Wolves' draft strategy will focus on finding complements to young players Randy Foye, Craig Smith and Rashad McCants.

If that's the case, here's some good news: The Wolves believe the top of this year's draft class is filled with players ready to make early contributions.

"It's a good, solid draft," said Kevin McHale, Wolves vice president of basketball operations. "I think there are 10, 12 really good, solid quality players, [and] most of these guys you're talking about are NBA-ready. That's the difference in this draft. Some drafts are absolutely not NBA-ready. All projects. [Kevin] Durant's going to play. [Greg] Oden's going to play. And a lot of the guys that we're looking at right now are going to play."

The question is where? Even before the Garnett trade rumors ran rampant, McHale talked about the need for his team to get bigger and stronger. The Wolves, he said, need a player who can protect the basket, perhaps defend in the paint and certainly has a nose for rebounds.

This draft is full of tall, athletic forwards who could do much of the above, and do it sooner than later.

That doesn't mean the Wolves won't go in another direction. If Ohio State point guard Mike Conley Jr. falls to the Wolves' turn at No. 7, he might be a hard player to pass up. Or what if Chinese big man Yi Jianlian is still there? Would the Wolves be able to resist his potential?

Given the number of players ready to contribute right away, that might be a difficult decision.

"There are some drafts when you look at the top 10, one or two guys play for the first three or four years," McHale said. "But this year there are more guys who are ready. Some of the project guys will go 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, probably the way it should.

"I would be shocked if we don't get a guy who can step in next year and play."

Kent Youngblood • kyoungblood@startribune.com

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