Saunders to Garnett: Start Whining

May 27, 2004

LOS ANGELES -- See if you can guess what this is.

"Hey ref, open your eyes!"

"What are you waiting for to blow that whistle?"

"Call a foul, you dummy!"

No, it's not an angry fan in the cheap seats yelling at the officials. It is part of the Timberwolves' new game plan against the Lakers. At least, coach Flip Saunders would like it to be part of the plan. And he wants Kevin Garnett to be the one mouthing those unkind words.

"You see Gary Payton and Karl Malone complaining all the time," Saunders said after Wednesday's practice. "The reason they do it is because it works. Sometimes, you can have too much respect for the officials. You've got to take care of yourself."

Apparently, Garnett needs to enroll in Disrespect 101.

Saunders is convinced Garnett has too much respect for the officials. Which might make K.G. the only man in America with such an attitude. As a result of not being a squeaky wheel, he says, the league MVP has been getting a raw deal in the foul department.

At times, Lakers defenders put both hands on Garnett's lower body and shove him off balance. Yet Garnett went to the free-throw line just four times in Game 3.

Meanwhile, after the Lakers complained that he never has fouls called on him, Garnett fouled out of Game 3. He went from two fouls in two games to six in 42 minutes of Game 3.

Coincidence or conspiracy? Hmmm. . .

So, like a prairie dog rearing up on his hind legs, Flip has decided to take on the Lakers' P.R. mongoose.

He clearly believes the Lakers, by virtue of their constant complaining, have manipulated the thought processes of the officials. The refs are easy targets, of course, but there probably is a smidgeon of truth to this one.

If Saunders were to complain that the Lakers played rough basketball, he'd probably get a memo from the league warning him about criticizing the officials. When Phil Jackson complains that the Wolves were overly aggressive in Game 2, the league breaks into a cold sweat.

Saunders said he reviewed the film of Game 3 and counted 33 times officials made bad calls or non-calls.

"Thirty-three times we didn't get what we deserved," he said. "That's got to change."

He is particularly perturbed about Garnett's situation and wants him to speak up more. Give those dang officials a piece of his mind.

"Sam (Cassell) complains a lot," Saunders said. "The point of doing it is that it works. K.G. is not one to complain. It's not in his nature. He has a lot of respect for the game.

"That may be one of the negatives of him coming into the league as such a young player. He has respect for everyone."

I asked Cassell, one of the all-time great squawkers, why he doesn't teach Garnett how to yap at the refs.

"Kevin is Kevin," Cassell said. "Everybody goes about things in their own way."

But Sam, you're so good at it.

"He'll be fine."

Garnett apparently sees complaining as a violation of his own quirky code of ethics.

"Where is it going to get me?" Garnett asked. "I don't (squawk) and moan when a guy hits me. What good does it do me? I can't be having a conversation with the referee when Karl Malone is sprinting down the court.

"I'm not going to lean on the refs to help me win this series."

OK, but the Lakers will. They groused so much about the Wolves' rough play in Game 2 -- which was a joke because Minnesota is a finesse team -- that the officials called Game 3 altogether differently.

"These things that happen between games do affect how a game is called," Saunders said.

Over at the Lakers practice, Jackson said Garnett's sudden rash of foul trouble simply was a coincidence. Jackson's theory seemed to be that Garnett's two fouls on offense are what hurt him with the refs.

"We always tell Shaq, 'Stay away from the offensive fouls and you can play the type of defense you want to,' " Jackson said.

The Wolves finished practicing at about noon Wednesday. No word on whether Garnett then went off for private tutoring. But he should have because he has a lot to learn.

"Hey stupid, you choke on your whistle?"

"What game are you watching?"

"How many times are you going to let him do that?"

Garnett needs to speak up and get the officials' attention. And after he cusses out one of the refs, he can't pat him on the fanny on the way down court.

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