The Timberwolves Came Calling

July 7, 1991
He always suspected something inviting would come along. And it did.

A year away from the NBA didn't hurt Jimmy Rodgers' resume a bit. He's back in the league as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he feels better off for his experience.

The bitter parting with the Celtics is ancient history. If there is mud to be slung, he will not sling it, though few would question he has plenty of ammunition. He won't rip the front office for the Brian Shaw blunder, or the drafting of Michael Smith, or the lack of foresight to develop a team for the 1990s. He won't curse the fates for his being deprived of Larry Bird for a season and then having a rough reentry the following year. He won't complain about not having a Dave Gavitt to lean on for advice. 

The only comment he has regarding his dismissal as Celtics coach was that he was surprised it happened. "And, quite frankly, I'm still surprised. That has not changed."

He felt he did a good job. "When I looked back over the last two years, oftentimes you can second-guess yourself. I don't mean to pat myself on the back, but I think coachingwise I did a pretty good job under the circumstances."

He wanted to stay in coaching. During his year out of the NBA, there were offers, but none that he thought he should chase. The Timberwolves then came calling, and he liked what he saw. They did, too.

"If I had a priority list, I felt coaching would be at the top of it," he said.

Until now, Rodgers was reluctant to talk about the Celtics or anything else, other than Iowa's run to the Rose Bowl. He watched some games on television and followed the league. But he shunned interviews, had no interest in doing broadcast work or analysis (he'd be good at it, too) and simply became a Private Person. Why?

"I really recognized that this was not the time for me to muddy the waters. That's just the way I'm built," he said. "I was part of something special here Boston for a long time. There was no reason for me to . . . the only way I could do that was not to bother people. I didn't call guys. I didn't call coaches. I just stepped back and stayed out of everyone's way. I didn't want to be perceived as someone who was stepping on someone's toes or disrupting things. That's not me."

Rodgers said the one big void in his life was the day-to-day competition of the NBA. To satisfy that craving, he became a tennis junkie. But the upside included more time with his family, a chance to get around (he spent a month in Florida) and a chance to enjoy life.

"We decided to make the best of a bad situation, and I think we did that," he said.

The Timberwolves? They will run, Rodgers said, and this time he has the players to do that. He didn't in Boston. He will not only have the time to develop players, he will have a mandate from management. There will be pressure, but it will be unlike what he experienced in Boston, an emotional buzz saw that tore at him.

"I don't foresee me being an awfully different person," he said. "I think maybe I'll have a little different perspective. The year has given me a chance to reflect a little bit, and I'm really happy about the way everything turned out."

What gives with Ewing?

Just what is Patrick Ewing's problem, anyway? He doesn't want to play anymore for the Knicks? Fine. Then come out and say so. And is there any doubt that's what he wants? He whined all year about his contract, was given a tremendous extension offer, and said, "No thanks." We keep hearing what a franchise player he is, but the team struggles (did anyone ever locate Ewing in Game 1 against Chicago?), and he comes off like a spoiled brat. He's frustrated? Join the club. Presumably, he has a mirror in his house, and that's where he might look to find one reason for the Knicks' ongoing problems . . . Knicks president Dave Checketts thinks rookie salaries will be more closely monitored this season for two reasons: Many teams lack big bucks because of the salary cap, and there were an astounding number of millionaire, first-round flops the last couple of years. "I don't know if the salaries for rookies are going to be lower," Checketts said, "but teams are going to be tougher. Some are going to say, 'Here's what I can give you. Take it, or go to Europe.' And Europe has turned out to be a low-cost way of seeing how a guy can play." . . . Speaking of salaries, Robert Parish will make about $ 3 million this year. "I never thought I'd see salaries get this high. It's unbelievable," said the Chief. "And not to mention you make that kind of money for only two hours a day. And sometimes we don't even have two hours. We work hard when we're there, but for how long? An hour? An hour and a half? I don't care how many games you play, that's a lot of money. You only got to do it 2 or 2 1/2 hours a day. And then you can spend the rest of the day doing whatever you want to do. I can't complain about it. Even if I don't feel like it, and there are nights you stink out the joint, I just tell myself, 'You should be embarrassed for complaining about what you're doing.' "

Tub floweth over

Charles Barkley has his wish list intact: a center for the Sixers and an Olympic berth for himself. "We gotta get a center. If we don't get one, we're just kidding ourselves. We're in a tough situation. We'll be glad to take Rik Smits if Indiana don't want him. We'll give up Manute Bol." Given that trade scenario, Indiana personnel chief George Irvine told Barkley, "We'll make that deal - if you throw yourself in, too." As for the Olympics, Barkley said, "I think they should let me pick the team because I know who can play and who can't. You need a short, rotund forward to start with. One who has a great sense of humor. Gotta have one short bald guy to go around." Would he consider his career to be unfulfilled if he doesn't get selected? "No, that wouldn't be a void in my career. I just think it would be fun to go to Spain and party all the time. I mean that seriously, too. I just think it would be fun to go over there, play basketball, and just have fun." . . . A friend of Olympic coach Chuck Daly, meanwhile, thinks the Prince of Pessimism dearly wants to have Larry Bird on the 1992 team. Daly has always been an unabashed Bird lover and the ardor only intensified when he coached Bird at the 1990 All-Star Game. But Bird, who would be 35 when the 1992 Games begin, still says he isn't interested. "If I was healthy, and 24, yeah. But hurt and 35 don't do me no good. I'm at the end of my career and it'd be great to have a gold medal - it's something you always want and always dream about - but for somebody 35 or 36 years old to take something away from a kid 23 or 24 years old, I just don't think it's in my best interest." But those "kids" might get another shot in 1996, right? "Sometimes that's the way it goes. Sometimes things don't fall in place for you. The Olympics never came around when I had an opportunity to play.". . . Why is there zero interest out there in Joe Kleine? Two years ago, he was an ideal backup on a team that rarely pushed the ball. Last year he was the proverbial square peg looking for the round hole. But he could help a team looking for a quality backup center. "He's an excellent role player," said Sacramento's Jerry Reynolds. "Unfortunately for us, he had to be a starter." Still, the Celticscouldn't even get a second-round pick for Kleine from Miami, and one league executive said flatly, "There's just no interest in him." But the thinking here is that he could help a team like Milwaukee or Detroit and that his value might be greater outside Boston . . . The Knicks had Brian Williams in for an interview and an exam. They didn't like what they found. "Our doctors told us that his knee is bad and might not make it through an NBA season," Checketts said. New York didn't have to ruminate, however, as Orlando took Williams with the 10th pick and the Knicks were choosing 12th.

King on the block

The Bulls were trying to unload Stacey King up to and on draft day, but there were no takers. The ex-Oklahoma star disappeared during the playoffs and coach Phil Jackson doesn't want excess baggage around. When King staged his one-day boycott of practice last March (after a DNP against the Celtics, his first ever), it was a costly one: $ 12,000. One player who upstaged King in the playoffs, North Carolina's Scott Williams, is facing offseason surgery on both shoulders. But doctors only want to do one at a time, so there's a good chance Williams will miss some regular-season time. The Bulls, meanwhile, will make their visit to the White House in the fall, before the start of the season. Considering the Washington summer, that's not a bad choice . . . One tipoff that the Nets were going to take Kenny Anderson in the draft was the news that they are shopping Tate George, last year's backup point guard to Mookie Blaylock . . . Where was the NBA's No. 1 draft pick last Saturday night at 9 p.m., the night after the Tyson-Ruddock fight? Larry Johnson was shooting hoops, by himself, in the Las Vegas Sports Club . . . Rodgers said he would not hire Lanny Van Eman to be his assistant in Minnesota. He said Van Eman probably will wind up as a head coach, possibly in the CBA, and he didn't rule out bringing him back down the road. And by the way, the coach likes Luc Longley a lot.

Hawks rattle cage

What's going on in Atlanta? After years of threatening to break up the fractious Hawks, GM Pete Babcock and coach Bob Weiss finally pulled the trigger. But did they shoot themselves in the foot in the process? Right now their first three backcourt players are Rumeal Robinson, Travis Mays and Rodney Monroe, who between them have played 2,819 minutes, or less than Bird plays in an average season. Robinson played only 674 minutes last year, but with Doc Rivers (Clippers) and Spud Webb (Kings) gone, he is their No. 1 point guard. "As hard as it is for people to realize, we were happy with Rumeal," Babcock said. "We just had a backlog of guards that had to play." Babcock said the team lacked a perimeter game, needed to get tougher defensively and needed to get younger. "We thought the time was right, and we're fortunate that the things we pursued came through." Monroe, if nothing else, is a perimeter shooter. Stacey Augmon makes them tougher defensively. And Mays, Augmon and Blair Rasmussen all are younger than the players they will replace. "Everyone we're bringing in has experience in a wide-open game, a running game. We're hoping the changes we make will move us in that direction." Babcock said he doesn't think the Hawks will re-sign free agent John Battle. "It's just a guess, but I think he's more likely to sign with someone else." And what does Dominique Wilkins think about all this? Well, before the trades, he said, "I think if we keep this team intact and get one or two other players to help, we can do it. We have the type of team. We have the type of talent. But if we just start snatching guys and putting them here, throwing them over there, getting this player, that's totally crazy. We've given up some pretty good players in the past. Antoine Carr, Kenny Smith. I don't know. I don't know. I just hope we get some good players in return."

Ferry well anchored

Cleveland's Danny Ferry has been hitting the weight machines and has gained 16 pounds, weighing in at 248. He has been working out with the strength coach at the Naval Academy and also spent a week at Babson College in Dave Cowens' big man camp. His weight program will continue despite surgery to repair slightly torn cartilage in his right knee . . . The Knicks had some decisions to ma past expressed a fondness for Walker and his work ethic. New York also passed on retaining the rights to Greg Grant, but kept the rights to John Starks . . . If I were the Celtics, I'd at least want to take a look-see at Anderson Hunt, the UNLV guard who declared early for the draft and then was not selected. He can shoot from the outside, and that's a need Rick Fox isn't going to fill. In case you forgot, Hunt was the MVP of the Final Four the year Vegas won it all . . . Does Chuck Person ever see that missed trey in the closing seconds of Game 5 in his sleep? What do you think? "If I had to take that shot again I would take it. And you guys know I would. And the next time I'd probably hit it."

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