I’m a supporter of the popular theory that it takes three exceptional players to form a true contender for an NBA championship,

The Wolves appear to have two-thirds of the formula taken care of with center Karl-Anthony Towns and forward Andrew Wiggins, the NBA’s past two Rookies of the Year. There are certainly occasions when guard Zach LaVine shows the gifts to complete the circle.

Wiggins and LaVine are 21, and Towns will join them at the legal drinking age on Nov. 15. It would be superb to be walking around with gee-willikers optimism, but there’s a problem for followers of this NBA franchise:

History.

You have to go back 20 years to when the Rule of Three seemed as likely to make the Wolves serious contenders for playoff glory.

Jack McCloskey traded Donyell Marshall to Golden State for forward Tom Gugliotta on Feb. 18, 1995. Gugliotta was 25 and would become the team’s first All-Star two years later.

Kevin McHale, McCloskey’s replacement, then landed a pair of 19-year-old prodigies on draft night: forward Kevin Garnett on June 28, 1995, and guard Stephon Marbury in a trade on June 26, 1996.

People look back now and suggest trading Marbury for Ray Allen was an ill-advised move. There was no feeling like that two decades ago. There was more excitement for the Wolves when they traded for Marbury than at any time other than the franchise’s lone playoff run in 2004.

The required three-pack of difference-makers had been put together in a period of 16 months. It would take some nurturing, but with Garnett, Marbury and Gugliotta the Wolves soon would be a threat in the Western Conference.

It came apart even sooner than it came together. During the lockout of 1998-99, Gugliotta got in a feud with the front office and signed with Phoenix as a free agent on Jan. 23, 1999.

When the season finally started, free agent-to-be Marbury insisted that he wouldn’t re-sign and was traded on March 11 for Terrell Brandon.

Forty-seven days. Pfft. So much for fulfilling the Rule of Three.

PLUS THREE

More on the Wolves and the Rule of Three:

• Sam Cassell was 34 and Latrell Sprewell 33 in 2004 — short-term solutions to Rule of Three.

• Marbury, explaining his desire to leave here: “You live inside your house. You go from garage to garage. That’s no way to live.’’

• If Zach LaVine doesn’t get there, the other option as a third star has to be Kris Dunn.

Read Patrick Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at preusse@startribune.com.

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