St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
Copyright 2004 Saint Paul Pioneer Press
May 4, 2004
GARNETT SIMILAR TO BIRD, OLAJUWON
Only a select few in the Timberwolves organization know first-hand what it's like to bask in the reflected glory of an NBA most valuable player.
In his rookie season of 1993-94, Sam Cassell played with Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston when the center took home the award. Backup center Oliver Miller played with 1992-93 winner Charles Barkley in Phoenix. And Timberwolves assistant coach Jerry Sichting played with Larry Bird for the last of Bird's three consecutive MVP seasons in 1985-86.
And those few think newly minted MVP Kevin Garnett ranks with any of them.
"There's a lot of similarities," Sichting said Monday of Bird and Garnett. "They're both highly competitive, both team leaders, emotional leaders. Both multifaceted, great players that most of the time control the game. Kevin is a better athlete. They're both real good team defenders, but Kevin is one of the best team defenders that I've ever seen."
"He's up there with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler," Cassell said, though Drexler never won the MVP trophy. "It's tough to say who is No. 1, who is No. 2, who is No. 3. Kevin's preparation before a game reminds me of Hakeem. His will to win reminds me of Clyde Drexler. It was an honor to play with Hakeem and Clyde. Being Kevin's teammate takes a load off my back. And I think I take a load off his back."
The common denominator seems to be this: The MVPs tend to have a maniacal work ethic and the will to win, generally lifting the level of their teammates -- though those teammates usually don't have a choice in the matter.
"When your best player is out there practicing harder than everyone else, and being competitive and diving on the floor, everybody else just kind of steps right in line," Sichting said. "You don't have to wonder what you're going to get from your best player, because you know every game what you're going to get. You're going to get an unbelievable effort."
Getting to the point: While Sacramento likely will send the bigger Doug Christie at Cassell to disrupt the point guard's rhythm, Wolves coach Flip Saunders doesn't expect to alter his defensive matchups to throw off red-hot Kings point guard Mike Bibby.
"By going bigger, what we're doing is taking away our best defender (Trenton Hassell) from guarding the second-leading scorer in the league (Peja Stojakovic), which we're not going to do," Saunders said. "And we don't want to put Sam matched up too much with Christie, because Christie's going to be around the bucket a lot, and we aren't going to be able to get out and run our breaks. We'll probably stay matched up the way we are."