TheTimberwolveshad their greatest success three seasons ago, when MVP forward Kevin Garnettand All-Star guard Sam Cassell led them to the conference finals. Last year,without Cassell, the team had its first losing record in nine years. Whichexplains why, in the off-season, Minnesota shelled out $24 million over fouryears on a free-agent point guard who's in the Cassell mode: high-energy,high-scoring Mike James.
The 31-year-oldJames was a minor revelation last year in Toronto, where he averaged 20.3points and hit 44.2% of his threes. Those stats made him ideal for theT-Wolves, who ranked 28th in scoring last season (91.7 points per game) and29th in three-point percentage (32.9%). Coach Dwane Casey says he likes James's"moxie" as well as his championship experience from the half season hespent with the Pistons in 2003--04. "He can be a leader for our guys in somany ways," Casey says. James bounced among four teams in six years beforehaving his breakout season, so he provides the right example for a rostersprinkled with players who've moved around. "This is a great group ofguys," James says, "but at some point in their careers they've all beencounted out."
Garnett, 30, isno stranger to shouldering the load for his team, but during the summer heindicated that his patience is wearing thin. It will take help from James andthe rest of the supporting cast to keep the Big Ticket from wanting out. If hegoes, the Timberwolves know that it won't be so easy to replace him. --BillSyken
ProjectedStarting Lineup with 2005--06 statistics
Record: 33--49(14th in West)
Points scored: 91.7 (28th in NBA)
Points allowed: 93.6 (8th)
Coach: Dwane Casey
(second season with Timberwolves)
Mike James *
Kevin Garnett's streak of 351 straight starts ended on April 9, when he sat outwith right-knee tendinitis against the Hawks; he wound up missing six games,the most in his 11-year career.