An aspiring rap star with three albums to his credit and a fourth in the works, backup point guard Troy Hudson turns to his music when confronted with adversity on the job. That was especially true last season, when a pair of ankle sprains sidelined him for 53 regular-season games plus the playoffs. While on the Target Center bench, he took comfort in knowing he'd get some playing time: His hip-hop video Shut 'em Down appeared regularly on the Jumbotron. "It was exciting to see myself up there," Hudson says, "doing something else that I love to do."
His first love proved fickle. The 6'1" Hudson missed the first 25 games after planting awkwardly on his right ankle in a preseason game. Just as he appeared to regain top form--he scored 22 points against the Mavericks last March 3, then 19 against the Lakers nine days later--he sprained his other ankle on March 29 to finish the season on the injured list. The loss left Minnesota without a quality guard to spell starter Sam Cassell, who was bothered by a bad back and hip throughout most of the postseason. "It was tough sitting and watching those guys," says the 28-year-old Hudson. Adds Cassell, "We just needed one of us [healthy]."
Recognizing the value of Hudson's playmaking and scoring--as a starter in 2002-03 he averaged 14.2 points and 5.7 assists, while shooting 90.0% from the line--the Timberwolves re-signed him to a six-year, $37 million deal in August. Now, after surgery last April on his right ankle, their resident emcee must find his groove again. "Once I'm out there, I'm going to go 100 percent," Hudson says. "I want to come in and play the brand of ball they've been playing without me." --Andrew Lawrence
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Timberwolves
The clock is ticking on the backcourt of 34-year-olds, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell, so they had better do everything they can to win it all now.... Cassell had a good year, but at the beginning he was fighting Flip Saunders's play-calling. Then Saunders relented and pushed it more to give Cassell freedom in the early offense. Cassell has been criticized in the past for shooting too much, but that's not a factor here because Kevin Garnett doesn't need the ball all the time. He'll score off the offensive boards, or he'll start a break rather than finish it. Garnett's all-around ability allows a guy like Cassell to flourish.... That brings us to three reasons why Minnesota always plays at a high level: Saunders gives his players well-defined roles; Garnett accepts responsibility--and criticism--which forces his teammates to also be held accountable; and no one complains about playing time because they know that G.M. Kevin McHale will back Saunders every time.... That also explains why role players like Fred Hoiberg, Trenton Hassell and even Oliver Miller excel with Minnesota. The T-Wolves show year after year that players thrive on structure.... I would caution them against dealing Wally Szczerbiak. He's overpaid at $55 million over the next five years, but if he leaves, they'll be short on shooters.... The team's big weakness is at center. Ervin Johnson is a smart player who doesn't try anything he can't do, but at 36, he can't do much. Michael Olowokandi is turnover-prone and has poor footwork, hands and reactions. Every once in a while he'll do something, and you say, 'Wow, if he could do that every night, he'd be amazing.' But you'll be saying that about him until he retires.
Sam Cassell, Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell scored 20 or more points in the same game 17 times, the most by three teammates since 1991-92.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003-04 statistics
Record: 58-24 (1st in West)
Points scored: 94.5 (10th in NBA)
Points allowed: 89.1 (7th)
Coach: Flip Saunders
(10th season with the Timberwolves)
G-F WALLY SZCZERBIAK
G TROY HUDSON
C MICHAEL OLOWOKANDI
G FRED HOIBERG
F MARK MADSEN
*PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)