The Minnesota Timberwolves played their first NBA season in 1989, as the city returned to the league after the Minneapolis Lakers in the 40s and 50s. The first few years were rough, but the franchise struck gold when they earned the fifth pick in the ’95 Draft, which they used to select Kevin Garnett from Farragut Academy. That day, the franchise’s fate completely changed, as they now had a young star that would put fans in the stands and bring the Timberwolves closer to winning basketball games.
Being a young franchise, however, meant that front office struggles were a regular occurrence. The organization struggled to build a contender around Garnett, and this frustrated the young star. The losing seasons only continued to ignite the competitive fire in KG, but without the supporting cast to help him win, the frustration grew to a point where Garnett was in a dark place.
“I met Sam Cassell at an interesting point in my life. If you know Sam, you know that he is the type that will bully his personality on to you.”Kevin Garnett, KEVIN GARNETT: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
Cassell came to Minnesota by way of trade for Joe Smith and Anthony Peeler, joining Garnett and the Timberwolves with two NBA championship rings under his belt. Sam had been an integral part of the back-to-back title run of the Houston Rockets during Jordan’s brief absence from the NBA in the 90s, and his championship experience was something the Wolves would need to be more competitive and keep their star happy.
“Sam changed me, and 2003-2004 was the first time I stopped being so serious and had fun.”Kevin Garnett, KEVIN GARNETT: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
Coincidentally, the ’03/’04 season was the only time the Timberwolves held the best record in the league and the only time they boasted having the league MVP on their roster. Cassell and Garnett also helped Minnesota get past the first round of the Playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Cassel was 33 years old when he joined the Wolves, averaged 19.8 and 7.3, but his impact on the team seemed to go far beyond what happens between the lines.
KG continued to ascend to new heights since teaming up with Cassell, winning his first title after being traded to the Celtics and being crowned the league’s defensive player of the year. Ironically, Boston picked up Cassell in preparation for their 2008 Playoff run, and Garnett played some of the most inspired basketball in his illustrious career that year. It is excellent to see superstars recognize the other players that help them get to the mountaintop because regardless of one’s talent, no one ever does it alone.
The idea that we measure a player’s greatness by the number of championships their teams win is foolish because, as with KG, superstars can’t do it without their supporting cast. The other players do more than just hit open shots when the stars get double-teamed. They bring character and identity to a team, which is just as critical as making open shots down the stretch. Props to KG for acknowledging Sam’s role in his success, and I hope we see superstars continue to give their teammates their flowers more and more in the succeeding generations of NBA greats.