Marbury or Iverson: Saunders and McHale Must Choose Whom to Pair with Garnett

May 21, 1996

A major test awaits the Timberwolves management tandem of Kevin McHale and Flip Saunders. After one year on the job together, they are faced with the critical decision of whether to improve the team's position to select Georgetown's Allen Iverson or Georgia Tech's Stephon Marbury in the June 26 NBA draft or make a trade to obtain a veteran point guard.

If McHale and Saunders believe it's better to keep the No. 5 pick and take the best available player, that player will have to bring immediate improvement to the club.

Improvement was a buzzword repeated by McHale and Saunders after Sunday's draft lottery, but that seems dependent on the club finding a point guard.

Whatever course McHale and Saunders decide to take might be the difference between a 35- or 40-victory season in 1996-97 or a return trip to the lottery.

Realizing the limited time both have had in running the basketball operations of an NBA team, Wolves owner Glen Taylor maintained his confidence in the longtime friends and said Monday neither should feel any pressure.

"I know what's coming up will be a challenge for them," Taylor said. "That's why we do things by committee. But they have a lot more control this year to do what they feel needs to be done. Last year they inherited a lot of situations."

Taylor insisted he has not told McHale and Saunders the club has to move up in the draft to ensure a chance to land Iverson or Marbury. Both are expected to be among the first four picks.

Forward Marcus Camby of Massachusetts, Connecticut shooting guard Ray Allen, California forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Syracuse forward John Wallace also figure to get top-five consideration.

McHale and Saunders indicated after Sunday's lottery they will explore moving up. The day after the lottery, both took a day off to attend a golf tournament. But McHale told Taylor on Sunday the team will still get a "pretty good player" at No. 5 if no deal is made.

"What I worry about is whether moving up will cost us too much," Taylor said. "We don't want to do anything that would interrupt the program we've started here."

Kevin Garnett is the Wolves' featured attraction and most likely the team's one untouchable player. Most teams know the Wolves are unwilling to include him in a trade, so Garnett's name will not be mentioned.

But McHale and Saunders might have to dangle Isaiah Rider, Tom Gugliotta, Doug West and Andrew Lang to attract interest. If McHale and Saunders believe it's essential to move up in the draft, they may have to put together a package involving one or more of the four players and possibly draft picks.

"It could be tough for them to do what they really want to do because they don't have much to bargain with," one NBA general manager said. "If they put Rider out there, he's got baggage and a history. Gugliotta has an out-of-this-world contract ($23 million over the next four years). Beyond those two, there's not much there (on the roster)."

Another league source said Philadelphia is leaning toward taking Iverson with its No. 1 pick and that No. 3 Vancouver and No. 4 Milwaukee both want Marbury. No. 2 Toronto is not seeking a point guard because it has rookie of the year Damon Stoudamire at that position.

That leaves McHale and Saunders to determine how important it is to land Iverson or Marbury. In Marbury's case, the Wolves have added motivation to move into the right spot to draft him.

Marbury and Garnett are good friends. Marbury spent the weekend with Garnett in the Twin Cities to help Garnett celebrate his 20th birthday on Sunday.

If the Wolves can draft Marbury, it might go a long way toward convincing Garnett to sign a long-term contract. Garnett becomes a free agent after the 1997-98 season. How the team improves over the next two seasons will be a major concern for Garnett.

Taylor, McHale and Saunders are aware of that. Which is just one more reason they need to make the right moves in the next few weeks.

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