- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

It was never about the money with Kevin Garnett.

It is never about the money with athletes.

It is about the love of the game, about giving back to the community, about saving the whale.

"It was never a money issue," Garnett said after signing a six-year, $125 million contract with the Timberwolves before the 1997-98 season. "It was about timing."

Garnett could have spared the Timberwolves a considerable amount of turmoil if he had alerted them sooner to his preoccupation with timing.

The Timberwolves were thought to be one of the NBA teams of the future in 1997. They had Garnett. They had a dynamic point guard in Stephon Marbury. They had an All-Star forward in Tom Gugliotta. They had the makings of a 55-win team.

But that was three years ago, and now, because of the money, because of Garnett's contract, the Timberwolves are going nowhere, reduced to trying to maintain a modicum of dignity.

It did not take Marbury long to skip town, because it was about the money with him. He wanted a Garnett-like contract, which just wasn't possible. Not even the Timberwolves could be that creative with the salary cap, and as the Joe Smith case reveals, they are a pretty creative operation.

So Marbury left Minneapolis, and soon Gugliotta was out the door as well. He had to eat, too, perhaps not as well as Garnett, but the Timberwolves were talking bread crumbs.

Garnett, as expected, has evolved into one of the premier players in the NBA, and the Timberwolves have become one of those steady first-round playoff teams. They are not a serious playoff team. They are only a modestly fun playoff team, largely because of Garnett.

They are stuck, destined to take a fall, and three years after the fact, it obviously is about the money. It is about Garnett's contract.

Smith is taking the scenic tour around the NBA, talking here and there, seeking employment after David Stern uncovered the Timberwolves' inventive salary numbers.

The Timberwolves no longer have Smith, and they have been fined by the league and stripped of their first-round picks the next five seasons.

Smith was not worthy of the fuzzy math, which just goes to show you the level of desperation in the Ice Box State.

The Timberwolves believed Garnett to be the future, and paid him accordingly, but it was a future with limited maneuvering room. They are, in a way, a glorified version of the Wizards.

The Wizards invested $105 million in Juwan Howard one crazy offseason, and they, too, are stuck because of it. Howard is a capable player. But he is not a $105 million player, not even close, really, and so the Wizards function with a ball and chain at their side.

Their wins and losses are a product of the commas and zeroes in a contract, and nothing against Leonard Hamilton's expertise on the bench. Plays tend to work or fail according to the quality of the personnel.

The Wizards are in for another long season, and the Timberwolves are in for a pretty long stay in purgatory.

Garnett, who started it all, has two more seasons on his contract after this one. By then, in 2003, the Timberwolves will be in the throes of Stern's death penalty, and a player of Garnett's ability just might be weary of his one-round-and-out playoff existence.

It really won't be about the money then. It will be about having a chance to claim a ring. It will be about what might have been in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves were going to be something special. The same was said of the Wizards.

Marbury dumped 41 points on the Sonics the other night from his arena in the Meadowlands, and Gugliotta, when healthy, has been a model of efficiency in Phoenix.

Smith, meanwhile, the least of the trio, is trying to figure it out. He was the No. 1 pick in the 1995 draft, and now he is just one more footnote in the Garnett-inspired saga.

No, it was not about the money.

It is never about the money.

That must be one of those cultural things of the incredibly wealthy.

You are not expected to understand.

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