Wolves-Clippers games always seem to have a peculiar hum. Perhaps it’s their interlocking histories and their penchant for duplicating one another’s rosters (like, literally–see: Gomes, Foye, Smith, Telfair, Jaric, Cassell et. al.). Perhaps it’s their shared legacies of baffling mismanagement. Maybe it’s just a sense of futility that has characterized both teams; when they face one another, their common penchant for goofy mediocrity, for playing just below the level of their opponent, is multiplied exponentially.
Archives For Chauncey Billups
Its been more than a week since ESPN opened voting on (and we gave some rather capricious consideration to) the greatest Wolves teams of all time. The results, so far, are decisive enough that I think we can declare some winners:
Point Guard: Stephon Marbury (64.3%). This is not really surprising considering a) how much more fun to watch Stephon was than Terrell Brandon and b) my guy isn’t even on the ballot.
Shooting Guard: Isaiah “J.R.” Rider (82.2%). All the people that voted for both Stephon and J.R. should be punished by being forced to actually coach that terrifying team for a year. Call it the McHale treatment. Impossible to imagine without deep, healing meditation.
Small Forward: Tony Campbell (55.8%). This is the closest of all the races, and it isn’t even that close–Wally Szczerbiak trails Campbell by more than 20 percentage points. That reminds me, didn’t Tom Gugliotta play more three than four? All things being equal, I might consider taking Googs over Campbell, Wally and even my original choice, Sam Mitchell (although it hurts me a little and doing so would immediately make this team significantly less good defensively. One to think on.)
Power Forward: The Pharoah (98.8%). At least one of you hilarious people voted for Christian Laettner.
Center: Al Jefferson (95.2%). On this squad, KG would have to guard all five positions simultaneously.
Incidentally, ESPN is also curating a little popularity contest/tournament between those greatest teams of all time. The Wolves drew the Jazz (featuring John Stockton, Karl Malone, Pete Maravich, Mehmet Okur and Adrian Dantley) in the first round and lost by an overwhelming 85 percentage points.
Now, I would agree that the above roster (the one featuring Steph, J.R., no defense and tons of terrible shot selection) would get handled by those all-time Jazz. But I just might give my bunch (KG, Billups, Mitchell, Big Al, West) a fighting chance. Ah, who am I kidding.
So the fellows over at ESPN are asking us all to choose the Timberwolves’ all-time starting five. Sounds like fun right? the kind of idle thought experiment that’s so good at whiling away those long workday afternoon, right? Wrong. Here’s my take:
On the face of things, it would seem that the only clear choices are: the very young, very confident, very skilled Stephon Marbury; Sam Cassell, who hit some seriously huge jumpers and then did the testicle dance; Terrell Brandon, who was actually really productive in his Minnesota years. Of course, Brandon’s career was prematurely ended by injuries (and anyway, he was never the dynamic backcourt player the Wolves needed during those years) and Sammy’s two ill-starred seasons are still killing the Pups (see: the Marko Jaric trade). As for Marbury: he got us really excited and then he broke our hearts; he gave some insane interviews, he ate vaseline on the internet, he went to China. It was all over so quickly.
So I could choose those guys, or I could choose the guy with the Finals MVP trophy and the World Championship gold medal, the guy who resurrects struggling teams upon arrival, the guy who is clearly (if you ask me) the best PG the Wolves have ever had on their roster. Do I care that Lord Chauncey Billups was only a backup for the Wolves and that his best years came after he went on his merry way? I do not.
And anyway, anytime we anthologize the Minnesota Timberwolves we should make some mention of one or more of their many terrible, terrible decisions. Letting Chauncey go was one of the worst.
Answer: Chauncey Billups
It’s ironic and appropriate that the little ESPN voting gizmo lists Randy Foye as a shooting guard. Foye actually manned the point for most of his time as a Wolf but you would never have known it from watching him play; the way he overdribbled and jacked contested threes, he certainly looked for all the world like a shooting guard. ‘Course he couldn’t defend the two or any other position for that matter.
As for Latrell Sprewell, I have always dearly loved the Professor for his utterly fearless, utterly brazen scoring as a Knick and Warrior, and for his role in the best season in Wolves history. But one year of fading glory and another of dead-legged jumpers and pure locker room poison just aren’t cutting it.
By the way, thank you ESPN for allowing me to see in my mind’s eye Isaiah “J.R.” Rider and his breathtaking skills and his stunning dunks and the ridiculous things he said and did.
Rashad McCants? Ricky Davis? Can I vote for Gerald Glass?
Answer: I dunno, Doug West I guess? See how hard this is?
The offensive stats tell me I should choose Wally Szczerbiak or Tony Campbell. Campbell scored 20.6 points per game as a Wolf and Wally hit more than 45% of his three pointers one year, but I’m not going to go with either of these guys. I’m going to go with Sam Mitchell because he gave the best years of his career to some godforsaken teams, because he defended and rebounded with passion on those unwatchably bad squads, because he played professional basketball in the Metrodome, because he mentored KG and countless others, because he was a completely righteous dude.
Answer: Sam Mitchell
Clearly, there is only one player who can fill this spot and that player is, of course, Joe Smith. I’m sorry, that wasn’t funny.
Answer: the best defender and rebounder of the last decade, who is still the best reason, geography aside, to love the Wolves, who (along with Flip Saunders) was the only reason the Wolves ever won more than 40 games, whose throbbing heart still pounds inexorably under the Target Center parquet, I don’t care what his uniform says.
By the way, wasn’t Trent Tucker the best?
I have three observations about this:
1) I have a soft spot for Rasho Neterovic, don’t get me wrong. But the fact that Rasho and Michael Olowakandi are candidates for anyone’s list of the best of anything pro basketball related is hilarious.
2) Did the Wolves just trade the best center in their history, at age 25, for two first-round draft picks?
3) This is getting depressing.
Answer: Al Jefferson
This starting five–Chauncey, West, Mitchell, KG and Big Al–is pretty good. Throw in a solid crew of all time Wolves bench players–maybe like Kevin Love, Pooh Richardson and Trenton Hassell for example–and you just might have a contender (although I wouldn’t put any money on them beating last year’s Lakers). You heard me: the best team 20 years of Timberwolves history can produce, might conceivably have had a chance to win last season’s Western Conference. Sigh.