Consider: the Wolves landed heralded point guard Stephon Marbury in 1996, allegedly giving the team a championship-caliber nucleus for the next decade; two years later, Marbury forced a trade out of town. In 1998, the Wolves signed peripatetic swingman Malik Sealy, who became Garnett’s closest friend on the team but was killed by a drunk driver in 2000 — coming home from Garnett’s birthday party. Also in 2000, the Wolves signed Joe Smith to a shady deal that violated NBA rules; the league responded by stripping away five (!) future first-round draft picks. We signed Celtics castoff Chauncey Billups, jettisoned him when he wanted to start over porcelain-ankled Terrell Brandon, then watched him win a championship and an NBA Finals MVP award with the Pistons. We squandered extra-precious first-round picks on Will Avery and Ndudi Ebi. We lost five first-round playoff series in a row, made it to the Western conference finals in 2003, and built on this success by trading crucial starting point guard Sam Cassell to the Clippers for subpar Serbian Marko Jaric . . . and a first-round draft pick. (Nice move, McHale.)
Rooting for a shitty sports team is bad. Rooting for a talented team that could be great but remains shitty is much, much worse. And that’s exactly what the Wolves have been throughout the Garnett era: a sorry franchise that repeatedly frittered away the myriad talents of one of the NBA’s elite, marquee names.
When the Wolves limped to 50 losses last year, it was obvious Garnett had to go; Minnesota wasn’t headed for a championship, and the team needed to get something for him before his contract (five years, a relatively deserving $100 million) expired next year. But this ostensibly logical conclusion was simultaneously absurd: how could anybody talk about moving Garnett to help the Wolves, when he’s the only reason the team has ever mattered?
This, more or less, was what ran through my brain as I frowned at Grousbeck’s interviewer and fake-read the New Republic. The wait went on. Every few minutes, the room suddenly got quiet and people looked to the doors; false alarms, time and again. Finally — at 6:30 pm, a full hour after the press conference was supposed to start — Garnett walked to the podium, along with Pierce, Allen, and the Celtics front-office brass. And I realized that I was way, way more emotionally invested in the proceedings than I should be. I hoped Garnett would seem happy, because I fervently wanted him to be happy in Boston. If possible, though, I wanted this happiness to have a slightly wistful edge; if it didn’t, it would be a tacit rebuke to me and a few hundred thousand other Wolves loyalists who’ve made Garnett the focus of our fandom.
The best analogy for my situation, I realized with some mortification, was a jilted lover watching his ex pair up with somebody new. No one’s to blame; it wasn’t the right fit; both sides needed a new start. No, no, stop — this is premature, too drastic, totally unnecessary! We can make it work!