Wolves Grab Garnett

KG's Rookie Season
June 29, 1995

So finally it came to this: If the NBA's fickle lottery system never is going to reward the Timberwolves with a No. 1 overall pick, then the league's second-most beleaguered franchise decided it would get one by itself.

They searched through countless collegians and reached all the way to a high school on the rough west side of Chicago for the kid named Kevin Garnett. And if Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale and his staff are correct in their analysis of the 6-11 forward who plays like a guard, the Wolves someday might no longer be known among NBA cynics as Clippers East.

"Had he gone to college, he would have been the No. 1 pick in two years," McHale said.

Garnett bypassed visits to Ann Arbor and Chapel Hill because he hadn't achieved the necessary college-admittance test scores and because the NBA was dangling big money. After Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace were picked ahead of him in Wednesday's college draft at Toronto's SkyDome, Garnett instantly became the Wolves' choice. In the second round, the Wolves picked Mark Davis, a forward out of Texas Tech, and Jerome Allen, a guard out of Penn.

The risks of drafting Garnett are obvious. He could be the next player who, in time, will revolutionize the game with skills previously unseen in such a tall player. Or he could become the next in a long line of NBA casualties destroyed by too much fame, too much money and too much free time at such a young age.

"Is he a franchise player?" Timberwolves coach Bill Blair said, repeating a reporter's question. "I can't say that. But this kid does some things that excite you. From a maturity level? No way he can be. He's not ready for the airplanes, the four games in six days, for the free time he's now possessing. Those things we have to help him with. You just hope he's so interested in basketball; you hope he wants to be the best player in the league."

That Blair combined a Timberwolves draft pick with the prospect of being the best player in the league supplies an answer to those who would ask how the Timberwolves, for the third consecutive draft, could chose promise over purpose. In 1993, they wagered on the considerable talents of J.R. Rider over the dependability of Calbert Cheaney. In 1994, they chose Connecticut's Donyell Marshall over Michigan's Juwan Howard.

Of course, McHale didn't make either selection. Wednesday, in delivering the first major decision of his administration, he chose a player he never had seen play a game in person. A workout Garnett offered for NBA teams three weeks ago in Chicago - plus a telephone conversation McHale had with Garnett on Wednesday morning - was more than enough.

"He's mature in his thinking," McHale said. "He asked some tremendous questions. He wanted to know when we're going to win, and he asked, `What's going to change if I come there?' He said he didn't want to go to a place where the players put themselves above the team.

"He knows that eventually you're thought of by how your team does and not how you did. And that's impressive for a 19-year-old."

The biggest question now concerning Garnett is not where he will play in the pros (small forward) or how long it will take his skinny body to mature. Rather, the Wolves must find the proper environment in which to raise a 19-year-old whose biggest liability is his immaturity.

Wolves general manager Flip Saunders said the team already has begun to set the groundwork to protect such an investment. "Safety nets," are what Saunders calls ideas proposed to ease Garnett's transition from Farragut Academy to the NBA. One such proposal is placing Garnett with a family for his rookie season.

So who would be a better mentor and roommate than the coach? How 'bout it, Bill Blair? "Not in this lifetime," Blair said. "I've had my two kids and put them through college. I've done my duty to society and contributed enough money to Georgetown and SMU."

Garnett said his mother, Shirley, will move to the Twin Cities for the season but will not live with him. Asked if he would be receptive to living with a mom, dad and a couple of kids somewhere, Garnett said, "Anything that helps me develop as a person."

The addition of Garnett leads to this question: Can Garnett be nurtured in the same locker room with a newsmaker such as Rider? The Wolves peddled both Rider and Laettner in countless predraft trade talks, both to improve locker-room chemistry and to balance the roster, but were unable to make a trade.

"The locker room is going to change drastically," Blair said, "even if it's addition by subtraction. And I'm sure it will change some more as we get closer to Oct. 6 [the opening of training camp]."

Timberwolves draft capsules

Kevin Garnett

Height/ 6-11-Weight/ 220-Age/ 19-Position/ F-School/ Farragut Academy

Outlook/ Garnett said he has patterned his game after Magic Johnson. Pro scouts liken him to a quicker Danny Manning. Handles the ball exceptionally for a big player, and some suggest he already is the best passing big man in the draft. Detroit coach Doug Collins called him a "genetic freak," in a most complimentary way. The questions are that slender body and how he'll make the emotional adjustment without a year or two in college.

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