#8 Minnesota Timberwolves A reenergized Joe Smith tries to replace Tom Gugliotta in the Twin Cities' power trio

February 08, 1999

When Timberwolves executives studied the free-agent board during
the long months of the lockout, two things about the power
forward position were obvious: 1) It was imperative that
Minnesota re-sign Tom Gugliotta, who in 3 1/2 seasons with the
T-Wolves had emerged as one of the cornerstones of the team; and
2) if Gugliotta got away, Minnesota needed to pounce on free
agent Joe Smith. The 6'10" Smith, the top pick in the 1995
draft, averaged 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as a
Warriors rookie, but he faltered so badly last season that the
Timberwolves recognized they might be able to afford him with
what little salary cap room they had. Despite Smith's decline,
both VP of basketball operations Kevin McHale and G.M.-coach
Flip Saunders were intrigued by his talent.

The T-Wolves wound up losing Gugliotta to the Suns, but they're
hoping that Smith, whom they signed to a one-year, $1.75 million
deal, can eliminate some of the sting. Nobody expects Smith to
put up Gugliotta's numbers, but Minnesota will be satisfied if
he can provide some interior baskets and be something that even
Googs wasn't--a shot-blocking presence. At Maryland, Smith was
known for his little jump hook and his ability to tip balls and
keep plays alive. But in the past season with the Warriors and
the 76ers, Smith seemed to wander farther and farther from the
basket, relying too heavily on perimeter jumpers. Saunders's
first order of business is to get him back on the blocks.

Smith has already made it clear that he relishes a chance at a
new start, alongside Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury. "I just
want to be some place where guys play hard and guys want to
win," says Smith, who will be slowed early in the season by a
right ankle sprain suffered in training camp.

Garnett, who is entering his fourth NBA season, contends that
he's ready for a break-out year. Marbury also wants to prove his
mettle during this shortened season, particularly because he'll
be a free agent this summer and has already informed the
T-Wolves that he wants to test the market.

Center Dean Garrett did just that in the summer of 1997 and was
wooed away from Minnesota by a more lucrative offer from the
Nuggets. He almost immediately regretted his decision. Garrett
was reacquired by the T-Wolves, along with backup point guard
Bobby Jackson, in a three-way deal with Denver and Toronto
shortly after the lockout ended.

Jackson became a necessary acquisition because another casualty
of the protracted Gugliotta negotiations, veteran point guard
Terry Porter, signed with the Heat. Porter wanted to return to
Minnesota, and the T-Wolves wanted him back, but they couldn't
offer him a contract while Gugliotta's situation remained
unclear. The full impact of Gugliotta's defection still remains
to be seen.


COLOR PHOTO: GARY DINEEN/NBA PHOTOS Comeback kid? The T-Wolves hope Smith can regain the form that made him a No. 1 pick.


Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF Kevin Garnett 7 18.5 ppg 9.6 rpg 1.83 bpg 49.1 FG%
PF Joe Smith[+] 50 14.6 ppg 6.0 rpg 1.2 apg 43.4 FG%
C Dean Garrett[+] 136 7.3 ppg 7.9 rpg 1.62 bpg 42.8 FG%
SG Anthony Peeler 103 12.3 ppg 3.6 apg 45.2 FG% 42.43FG%
PG Stephon Marbury 36 17.7 ppg 8.6 apg 1.27 spg 41.5 FG%

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 23

G Bobby Jackson[+] 176 11.6 ppg 4.7 apg 4.4 rpg 1.54 spg
F Sam Mitchell 218 12.3 ppg 4.8 rpg 1.3 apg 46.4 FG%
F-G Malik Sealy[+] 237 7.7 ppg 2.8 rpg 1.3 apg 42.8 FG%

1997-98 Record: 45-37 (third in Midwest)
Coach: Flip Saunders (fourth season with Timberwolves)

[+]New acquisition
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)