NO, THE Timberwolves didn't unload Kevin Garnett to fund a production of No, No, Nanette (as legend has it the Red Sox' owner did in trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees). Nor was the move made as a precursor to relocating the team (the Nets' motive for selling Julius Erving to the 76ers). But losing a franchise player for whatever reason invariably means, well, losing, which is what Minnesota (a league-worst 4--29 through Sunday) has done all too repeatedly. "There's not much you can ask from a young team that's only been together a short time," says guard Rashad McCants. "We've been in some games, but we've yet to gel as a cohesive unit."
While 'Sota, as Garnett affectionately called his former club, is a lock for the lottery this May, the Timberwolves could contend for a playoff spot within two seasons. Big man Al Jefferson, the 23-year-old pi√®ce de résistance of the Garnett trade and a future All-Star, is almost an automatic double double: He had 25 at week's end, tied for second in the league, and was averaging 20.6 points and 12.2 rebounds, one of five players to put up 20 and 10. And on the perimeter Minnesota is flush with young talent, including McCants, guard Randy Foye and rookie forward Corey Brewer from Florida.
The T-Wolves still have deficiencies at center (where the 6'10" Jefferson has been playing out of position) and point guard. (The team was averaging just 18.4 assists, 28th in the league.) But they should be able to address the latter in the draft, using their No. 1 pick on Memphis's Derrick Rose or USC's O.J. Mayo. Further, injured center Theo Ratliff's $11.7 million salary comes off the books this summer, leaving them about $9 million under the salary cap to pursue a free agent such as Bulls guard Ben Gordon, who could help them close out fourth quarters; through Sunday, Minnesota had lost an NBA-high eight games in which it has led or been tied going into the final period. "They are doing all the right things—clearing cap space, accumulating draft picks," says a Western Conference G.M. "There is some good young talent there. If they develop quickly, they stand a good chance at turning that thing around."