Wednesday, September 16, 2009

And people thought the Herschel Walker trade was bad

Six or seven years ago during a late night at The Forum, while waiting for either a Dodgers-Giants game to finish before 1 a.m., or a Fargo girls volleyball coach to call in with the details of how his scrappy club fell in three games ("Laura Smith had 67 digs." "Is that possible in three games?" "Yes."), I cracked open a Timberwolves media guide and stumbled upon the page that lists every trade in franchise history.

It's the kind of information an organization with the track record of the Wolves should suppress. Year-by-year, transaction-by-transaction, the entire page features a blueprint for failure, all presented in tiny type. It was like discovering the minutes to the meeting when execs decided that New Coke was what the soda-buying public really needed.

While catching up on some stories about the Ricky Rubio....insert own word: debacle, fiasco, unfortunate incident, I went searching for the list contained in that old media guide. And here it is.

Every trade in Minnesota Timberwolves history

People everywhere ridiculed Kevin McHale's front-office reign, but the team's history of odd decisions, laughable draft picks and outrageous trades dates back to when Hibbing's finest was still wearing short green shorts and collecting paychecks from the Celtics. Maybe the poor guy never had a chance. Call it the Curse of Brad Sellers. Or the Curse of Gary Leonard. Some highlights:

Jan. 4, 1990: Traded forward Brad Lohaus to Milwaukee for center Randy Breuer and a conditional one-time exchange of second-round draft picks in 1991 or 1992.

One of those rare deals where no one wins. Rare for most teams, though strikingly frequent for the Wolves. "Well, we have a tall, below-average white guy who can do nothing but shoot threes but was born in this state, and we have a need for a really tall, below-average white guy who is also a homestate guy. How don't we make this trade?"

Feb. 22, 1990: Traded center Steve Johnson and a conditional 1991 second-round draft pick to Seattle for forward Brad Sellers.

The winter of 1990. Lohaus for Breuer, followed by Johnson for Sellers. In the history of the NBA, has there ever been a seven-week span when one team took part in a pair of trades that were so inconsequential? Johnson, a center, led the NBA in fouls in 1982 and again in 1987. Sellers had decent athletic ability, but his claim to fame was being the guy Michael Jordan didn't want the Bulls to draft in 1986 (he wanted Johnny Dawkins). When that tidbit is featured prominently in the second paragraph of a Wikipedia entry, the guy's career likely didn't live up to expectations. In 14 games with the Wolves that season, Sellers averaged 3.4 points per game. He returned to Minnesota in 1993, a shell of his former self, as his average plummeted to 2.5 points per game.

June 2, 1990: Traded a 1990 second-round draft pick to Philadelphia for guard Scott Brooks.
Nov. 10, 1990: Traded a 1991 second-round draft pick to Philadelphia for forward/center Bob Thornton.

These two teams apparently had a suicide pact. The Wolves fleeced you there, Philadelphia. Brooks is one thing. But then they stole Bob Thornton from you as well, only five months later? Good thing the Wolves didn't have another second-round draft pick to offer, or they would have traded for Mike Gminski to top it all off. Thornton played 12 games that year, scoring 16 points and committing 18 fouls, a Steve Johnsonesque pace fouling pace, a not-quite-Wilt-like scoring pace.

Nov. 15, 1992: Traded guard/forward Gerald Glass and forward Mark Randall to Detroit for guard Lance Blanks, forward Brad Sellers and a future second-round draft pick.

Sellers returns! Not quite as successful as Fran Tarkenton's second stint with the Vikings.

June 30, 1993: Traded center Felton Spencer to Utah for forward/center Mike Brown.

A big stiff for the Big Brown Bear. The Wolves of the early 1990s had more overmatched centers than any franchise since the Lakers of the 1960s sent victim after victim out to be dismantled by Bill Russell. And, oddly, they kept trading them for other centers of equal or even worse value. Speaking of which...

Feb. 23, 1994: Traded center Luc Longley to Chicago for center Stacey King.

Stacey King was a dominant, scoring machine in college for the Oklahoma Sooners. He was not such a player for the Timberwolves.

June 29, 1994: Traded a 1996 second-round draft pick to Seattle for the rights to center Zeljko Rebraca.

Nearly a year to the day that the Wolves acquired Brown, they picked up the second part of the Twin Towers. Unfortunately, Rebraca never played for the Wolves. But would it surprise you to learn he played two seasons with the Clippers? And has any team made more bad trades using second-round draft picks than the Wolves?

Nov. 1, 1994: Traded a conditional 1996, 1997 or 1998 first-round draft pick to Dallas for center Sean Rooks (restructured the conditions on June 29, 1996: acquired center Cherokee Parks from Dallas, who received Minnesota's 1997 first-round pick.)

So the Wolves acquire Rooks, then a few years later the after effects of that deal lead to them grabbing Cherokee Parks. No, the Wolves didn't win the title the following season.

When McHale took over in 1995, the trades actually improved, meaning the team acquired players who actually functioned on the court and helped them win games, from Marbury to Gugliotta. Drafts remained...sketchy, but the trades improved.

For the most part.

June 25, 1997: Traded center Stojko Vrankovic to the Los Angeles Clippers for center Stanley Roberts.

Former LSU coach Dale Brown wrote in his memoir that he used to motivate Stanley Roberts by telling him he was better than his teammate, Shaquille O'Neal. It didn't work.

Rooks, Parks, Longley, Spencer, Breuer, Leonard, Paul Grant, Stanley Roberts, Stojko, Andrew Lang, Olowokandi, Ervin (not that one) Johnson. A pattern exists somewhere in that list. A pattern that reveals the clues to success in the NBA and life itself. There has to be a secret message in there. Something. That can't just be a list of centers the Timberwolves have willingly acquired over the years. It's not only a blueprint for failure, it's night reading for a masochist.

It's the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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