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With the new decade approaching, I felt it was time to look back at the good ole days of past teams. Teams that actually reached the playoffs and beyond. Players that stepped up and made plays as fans tuned in to be wowed by their talent. This year’s team hasn’t given that to us quite yet so let’s look back at who my all-decade team would consist of.
Point Guard: Sam Cassell
It was hard to look past Terrell Brandon here but after being traded for after the ’02-’03 season, Sammy C led the Timberwolves to a Western Conference Championship in 2004.
In his potentially best season of ’03-’04, Cassell averaged around 20 points a game while dishing out more than 7 assists a game. He was voted to the All-Star game in 2004 as well as the All-NBA’s second team.
It wasn’t just stats that drove that great season for Cassell and the Wolves though. Cassell played with pure heart and brought true leadership to a team that was destined to make a run. He had fun when he played and always had a smile on his face. Much like former Timberwolve’s guard Chauncey Billups, Cassell loved being counted on during the clutch. He knocked down big shots one after the other. I think Sam Cassell fulfilled his short tenure with the Wolves well and deserves to be my captain on the court.
Shooting Guard: Anthony Peeler
This was probably the hardest decision to make. The Wolves haven’t had a secure #2 throughout the decade. I based my decision strictly on my boyhood memories of remembering Peeler chalk up big 3′s when the team needed it most.
He was used as a scoring threat, something the Wolves never truly had. Peeler played 6 total seasons with the Wolves averaging nearly 10 points a game and shot around 40% from the three-point line. A sniper nonetheless, Peeler also played hard, as did Sammy C. One of the top clutch performers, Peeler was reliable down the stretch, especially beyond the arc. I think most Wolves fans enjoyed watching Peeler play, at least up until he punched Kevin Garnett in the face while with the Sacramento Kings, but let’s just forget about that one!
Small Forward: Wally Szczerbiak
One of the oddest yet funnest last names to say in sports (and hard to type!), Szczerbiak was one of the most hated and beloved players on the Wolves.
First off, most white guys that play the wing position seem awkward, especially in today’s day and age. But don’t underestimate a white man’s ability to chuck one up! Szczerbiak’s shot selection was always very questionable but somehow still managed to shoot around 50% in his seven seasons with the Wolves.
2002 was by far his best season with the Wolves averaging 18.7 points per game and while shooting 45% from three-point range. He was selected by the coaches to the NBA All-Star team, his only selection of his career.
To me, it’s hard to disagree with this one even though he threw up off balanced floaters from the lane and three pointers contested by 3 defenders. Somehow, someway, he always managed to make me smile.
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett
Garnett is easily the Wolves best player, not only from this decade but the entire existence of the franchise. Garnett, the long, lean and lanky forward, was selected to nine All-Star games with the Wolves and won the MVP award during the 2004 season.
He holds all major records in franchise history including points, rebounds, assists, blocked shots, steals and games played. In 1997, Garnett was signed to a 6-year, $126 million contract, which locked him as the Wolves franchise player and boy did he deliver. “The Big Ticket” averaged over 20 points and 11 rebounds a game, as well as four assists (that’s a lot for a big man!) while with the Wolves.
I’m not sure if I can even put into words the importance of Kevin Garnett to this franchise. KG formed a great relationship with owner Glen Taylor, which in turn gave him some influence to who was on the court for the wolves. The 2004 Conference Championship run was largely due in part to KG’s determination to get past the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Garnett even made pushes for certain draft picks, such as attaining Stephon Marbury, who helped the Wolves become a contender in the late ’90′s and jump started his botchy career.
A true competitor, teammate, and friend, KG gave the Twin Cities what they needed most; a player to depend on and fall in love with that helped unite and grow a healthy fan base. It’s sad to see KG become riddled by injuries in his time with the Celtics, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much emotion come from a human being during his interview preceding his championship win in 2008. A true role model to kids and adults alike, KG has the utmost respect from fans, coaches and all players from around the league and will one day be seen in The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Center: Michael Olowakandi…Kidding! Al Jefferson
Michael Olowakandi was a strong consideration…Ah! Who am I kidding?! Al Jefferson is entering only his third season as a Timberwolf and a strong acquisition he was. Coming over in the Garnett trade the summer of 2007, Big Al is close to an elite center in a league where they run sparse. Although Big Al has been rumored in trades around the league, he hasn’t been phased this season. He’s averaging a team high 17.3 points and pulling down nine boards a game.
Big Al came over from the Celtics as a young center developing his game. With the help of Kevin McHale, yes, McHale was good for something, Jefferson established himself as a dominant force underneath the basket. The new acquisition of coach Kurt Rambis and the implementation of the triangle offense has slowed down Big Al’s effectiveness. The triangle offense isn’t designed for big men under the basket but as the season rolls on, Big Al will continue to get his looks in the paint.
Like a Caterpillar, Jefferson bulldozes the paint clear of scum on his way to the basket (that’s why I nicknamed him the Big Cat). His ability to create space and get a decent shot off gives this young team a sturdy rock to depend on, especially Jonny Flynn. The swirling rumors are only rumors and we would hate to see him go but we will be on top of it all as he is my pick for center of the decade.
Sixth Man: Fred Hoiberg
This is a popularity pick for me. Hoiberg has meant a lot to this franchise. He only played two seasons with the Wolves but was a vital part of the 2004 Conference Championship run. Hoiberg led the league in three-point shooting percentage and was the first person not invited to the 3-point contest at the All-Star break while leading that category.
Hoiberg is strong at heart, but not literally. His career was halted after a surgery to repair an Aortic Aneurysm. The surgery was successful and shortly after a brief comback return, Hoiberg became a part of the coaching staff and soon after was announced Vice President of Basketball Operations, which he still currently holds.
Coach: Flip Saunders
Flip was and still is one of my favorite coaches. Flip was an alum of the University of Minnesota, so he has always been familiar with the area and people. He guided the Wolves to their first playoff berth in the ’97-’98 season. The success continued as the Wolves made the playoffs every season after that but never made it out of the first round until the 2004 Conference Championship run.
Flip was a calm-headed coach who showed with a strong passion for the game. His talents are proven through his 411-326 record with the Wolves and is currently seventh on the winning percentage list with a 59.7%. He is now coaching with the Washington Wizards after a brief break from being fired in Detroit after three seasons and I still wish the best for him even with a different team.
Latrell Sprewell only played one season but was another big part in the 2004 run.
Terrell Brandon was a solid PG for a few years but was nagged by injuries toward the end of his career.
Chauncey Billups had one great season with the Wolves but is the franchise’s biggest “What if…?”
Trenton Hassel was one of the team’s best defenders yet but his offensive falters didn’t help his chances.