March Madness took on a different meaning for the Timberwolves on Thursday when star point guard Stephon Marbury was traded to the New Jersey Nets in a three-team, nine-player deal that also involved the Milwaukee Bucks.
Marbury, 22, will be heading closer to his native Brooklyn to play for the Nets. Marbury said he was elated to be returning home and would immediately sign a long-term extension with the Nets.
"I'm going to sign tomorrow. It'll be signed tomorrow," he said.
He will be joined in New Jersey by guard Chris Carr and forward Bill Curley. The Nets also get Milwaukee guard Elliott Perry.
The Wolves will receive all-star point guard Terrell Brandon from Milwaukee, New Jersey forward Brian Evans and No. 1 draft picks in 1999 and 2003. Brandon is in the last year of his contract, and Evans is a former first-round pick of the Orlando Magic.
The Wolves also sent former Wisconsin center Paul Grant, who was put on the injured list Feb. 19 with tendinitis in his right knee, to the Bucks.
Milwaukee will receive point guard Sam Cassell and forward Chris Gatling from the Nets.
A tired-looking Kevin McHale, the Wolves' vice president of basketball operations, made it clear Thursday night he was frustrated and bitter with the way Marbury and agent David Falk handled the situation.
"I guess loyalty and some other words are long forgotten in our league," McHale said. "I can't stand that attitude."
McHale said the team got an indication about a week ago it would not be able to sign Marbury.
"He said the kind of money that K.G. (teammate Kevin Garnett) makes is really bothersome for him and that the town was not big enough for both of them," McHale said. "He (Marbury) unequivocally said he would not come back. We were willing to wait."
McHale continued: "We were informed by David Falk that there was a short list of teams we could deal with, New York and New Jersey. I asked Steph if he would go to Chicago and play for a team that's going to win 10 games and if winning was important and he said this is a business. At that point we had to get as creative as we could with New Jersey.
"My initial response was let's wait and see because I just didn't believe the kid would go to Chicago, but Glen (owner Taylor) said, 'Hey we have to protect ourselves.'
"I was 0-1 in calling bluffs this year. We had a list last summer saying that if we lose Steph, let's have a list of what free-agent point guards and who we would want to get, and Brandon was at the top of our list.
"We had a better deal, but that was nixed by David Falk. He told the team we were talking to that Steph would not play there." McHale would not identify the team.
"In one aspect, Falk and Steph were trying to hold our feet in the fire. Trade him now or lose him next summer for nothing. We made the move now, and I couldn't be happier with Terrell Brandon."
Brandon, 28, is expected to join the team today in Sacramento, where the Wolves play the Kings tonight.
The Wolves are confident they can sign him to a long-term deal.
Said Brandon: "It feels good. I think any player, anyone who's in any type of business, enjoys being wanted. I'm excited about being a Timberwolf."
New Jersey got Marbury after Miami, which was considering trading Tim Hardaway and P.J. Brown, backed out of a complicated four-team deal, the Associated Press reported.
The proposed deal involving Miami also would have included the Wolves, Milwaukee and Vancouver, but the Heat pulled out in midafternoon.
A source closely involved in the trade talks, as well as a league official with knowledge of the discussions, said Miami was considering sending Hardaway to the Bucks and Brown to the Grizzlies. Marbury would have gone to the Heat, the Wolves would have gotten Brandon and a No. 1 pick and the Grizzlies would have acquired a No. 1 pick along with Brown.
"I think the Miami discussions were an exploratory thing," Falk said.
The AP also reported the Timberwolves turned down an offer of Latrell Sprewell and Chris Childs from the New York Knicks that would have been part of a three-way trade with Milwaukee.
The new NBA system was supposed to help teams such as the Wolves keep their stars, but since the lockout ended the Wolves no longer have Marbury or all-star forward Tom Gugliotta. The drastic changes in the Wolves' roster came about because of Marbury, according to coach Flip Saunders.
"I tried to explain to (Marbury) about the importance of winning and being in a good situation,"Saunders said. "He said, 'Hey, Flip, it's business. Right now, whether it is right or wrong, I have a tough time playing with (Garnett) and having to play where (Garnett) makes the amount of money he makes, and I'm only going to make $71 million."'
Garnett, who signed a six-year, $126 million deal under the old system, declined to comment before the Wolves played the Golden State Warriors.
Saunders said Gugliotta still would be on the team if Marbury had been dealt in January.Gugliotta, a free agent, signed with Phoenix for less money.
"If Gugliotta knew how this situation was going to develop, he'd be here," Saunders said. "His agent flat-out said, 'Tommy had a problem playing with Stephon.' The question was asked, 'Would we trade Stephon?' If we would, (Gugliotta) basically would stay. At that time, we were not going to because the indication was that Stephon was planning on coming back. So the complexion of our team has changed based on (Marbury) as much as anything else."
Saunders said he is pleased to be getting Brandon.
"(Brandon) said thank you 10 times," Saunders said. "He's extremely excited about the opportunity to play with (Garnett)."
The trade was born a year ago when Marbury came to Saunders' hotel room in Boston to say he was unhappy living in the Twin Cities.
"He's a New York City-East Coast person, and he likes the bigger cities," Saunders said. "At that time, they were asking for a trade at that time. It wasn't feasible at that time."
After the Wolves' game against Seattle on Tuesday, Marbury had a conversation with Taylor. During their talk, Marbury said there was more than a 50 percent chance he wouldn't come back to the Wolves.
"I'm not surprised by anything that happens in the NBA," said Marbury, who was averaging 17.7 points and 9.3 assists (third best in the league). "I've had the weight of New York City on my shoulders since I was a child. This (the trade) ain't nothing. There was more pressure on me to make a foul shot to win the city championship. That was pressure."
Falk met with Taylor on March 3 to discuss Marbury's future, and Marbury turned down a six-year contract extension.
Taylor said the Wolves then asked what the likelihood was that Marbury would sign after the season and were told not probable.
"We were kind of forced into it," Taylor said. "It wasn't money. He grew up in the East and wants to play back by his family."
Marbury, who has craved to play in a big market and never expressed a fondness for the Twin Cities, didn't have any hard feelings.
"You're supposed to handle things in a business manner," said Marbury, who has helped the Wolves to their first two playoff appearances the past two years. "The correct way to handle things is to always alert the other party. If both parties are on the same page, then a business decision can always come to an agreeable head. Both sides (knew) what was going on. I don't think anyone is going to feel they were left out."
The Nets are expected to release Curley, and he is expected to re-sign with the Timberwolves after he goes through waivers.