- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Fearless Prediction Update Time ...
The season hasn't even started and Prediction No. 1 of 2003-04 is already in some jeopardy. Kevin Garnett is indeed considering a contract extension from the Minnesota Timberwolves, after I fearlessly predicted on Aug. 4 that he wouldn't sign before the season. It was a prediction based on the belief that Garnett at least wants to see what it's like to visit other teams next summer and hear how they operate.
A recent visit by Wolves management to Los Angeles, where Garnett now spends his offseasons, apparently has convinced KG to rethink that plan. Until August, the expectation even in some Wolves circles had Garnett intent on exercising his right to test the market next July. That's even though Minnesota can pay him far more than any other team, and even though the teams Garnett would figure to have serious interest in, like Houston, won't have anywhere near the cap room to make him a representative offer.
One team insider, after the fearless prediction, went so far as to say: "I don't think KG has ever seen another home locker room. He just wants to check things out." Wolves owner Glen Taylor and general manager Kevin McHale must have sensed that because they soon were in L.A. to discuss the parameters of an extension package. Taylor told ESPN.com on Friday that he made a detailed presentation to Garnett's financial adviser and has maintained phone contact with Garnett this offseason to discuss the club's many roster moves.
What's unclear is how Garnett will respond. Besides the riches it can offer, Minnesota also has presented Garnett with a slew of new teammates: Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell and Michael Olowokandi, most notably. That combination could convince Garnett to sign a five-year extension before Halloween, which naturally is the Wolves' preference. Then again, even if Garnett gets the feeling during Minnesota's first few practices that the 0-for-7 playoff hex is about to be exorcised, he might still elect to hold off until the offseason so he can visit the Rockets or the Pistons or perhaps another title contender.
Taylor said he's "optimistic" Garnett will sign the extension before the season because "it would just seem to me that there are more reasons to do it than not do it." When the subject was broached earlier in the summer, Taylor added, Garnett's reaction was, "Let's see the team you put together first, and I just said to him, 'That's fair enough.'
"(Signing Garnett) is the only thing that's left to do," Taylor said. "We've done everything else we could possibly do.
"My sense is we would want to get this done before we start playing (real games). Knowing Kevin, his head is into playing ball (when the regular season starts) and that's the way it should be. If we're going to do it, let's get it done before November or let's not talk about it until (July). I'd be surprised if he didn't agree with that."
Either way, there remains little chance he'll actually leave 'Sota. As much as he's a fan of Steve Francis and Yao Ming, Garnett knows that Houston and virtually every other good team is well over the cap. Even the Spurs, who manage the salary cap as well as anyone in the league, wouldn't be able to create enough space next summer to make a maximum bid for Garnett. That means KG would either have to try to force a sign-and-trade out of Minny or take a pay cut of more than 50 percent to sign elsewhere.
Garnett certainly can afford it, after collecting all of his famed $126 million contract, but there likewise is plenty of value in the familiarity that comes with staying in a comfort zone, along with very handsome compensation from bosses who are spending far more than most teams to try to secure first-rate help. Should Garnett decide to hold off for now on the extension, that'll mean a skittish season for the franchise and its fans, but nothing Minnesota can't survive. New Jersey is freshly removed from the same situation with Jason Kidd and managed just fine.
Slams and Dunks
Moving onto the next Fearless Prediction: Jermaine O'Neal won't cause the Pacers significant trouble in the Larry Bird Era, even though there's no question the onus is on Bird and Donnie Walsh to rebuild the club's shattered trust with its star. I base this one on a conversation with Jermaine from August, albeit before the firing of Isiah Thomas, when O'Neal made it clear he understood that he will be the one judged harshest if the Pacers don't start living up to their promise. "The pressure is on me -- it's totally off Isiah," O'Neal said at the time. "In order to be a leader, I've got to find a way to get all our players to play together. If I have to be forceful, I've got to find a way to motivate my teammates to not only play the first half of the season."
More observations from Jermaine ...
On teammates Al Harrington and Jonathan Bender: "They are the X-factors. If they come back at a high level, we don't need any new pieces. If they don't come back and have a good year, we're going to have a rough year."
On losing front-line partner Brad Miller to Sacramento: "I actually thought the whole time he wasn't going to come back. I really prepared myself. He got a hell of a deal and he got with a hell of a team, so he has to be really happy. But I like (Scot) Pollard. He killed us in Indy last year. It's not very different from having Brad."
On Thomas as a coach: "He's a total animal. You guys wouldn't believe it. Every question I get is, 'Does he even say anything to you guys?' On the sideline he's so calm and collected, but you don't understand. He tears up the locker room. He throws chairs. He punches stuff. He gets in your face. I'm like, 'Coach, you've got to stop. You're going to hurt yourself.' "
NBA training camps are not to be confused with spring training. There will be no Rickey Henderson-inspired vigils, with folks camped out waiting for veteran players to report, because the league's new rules prohibit veterans from reporting early even if they want to. Players with less than four seasons of service time must report Monday in time for Tuesday's opening practices. Players with four or more seasons of service time must report Thursday -- generally in time for a team dinner -- and then join practices Friday.
Kidd has yet to say whether he prefers Brooklyn or Long Island as the future home of the New Jersey Nets. What he will say is that he prefers either one to the Meadowlands. "New Jersey has been great," Kidd said. "But we haven't had too have many sellouts at the Meadowlands because we need to get a subway system. East Coast people rely on mass transportation more and many of the locations mentioned as far as where we could go ... they seem to have their transportation solved. In those places, there are other ways to get to the game besides the car."
Las Vegas isn't any closer to landing its own franchise, but it was a hub of NBA activity for a small window in August. Michael Jordan held his Flight School adult camp there shortly after two of the league's most noted player skills camps were staged during the same week. Pete Newell's famed Big Man Camp, relocated from Hawaii, and Tim Grgurich's annual summer session filled Vegas with basketball players. Both camps were in jeopardy of being outlawed by the league, amid concerns that team coaches and executives such as Phoenix's Grgurich and Denver's Kiki Vandeweghe shouldn't be allowed to work with players from other teams. The league wound up giving the go-ahead for the camps to continue, with the caveat that every session must be open to viewing for representatives from any interested NBA team. Vandeweghe canceled his own L.A. camp because his GM duties with the Nuggets don't leave him the time to offer as much instruction as he used to, but he expressed relief that the camps (especially Newell's) were spared. "The NBA really has an appreciation for the development of skills because we have so many young players coming into the league right now," Vandeweghe said. "That's a real emphasis right now." Newell's camp was moved to the mainland largely to make for easier logistics, with separate sessions for pros (like Chicago's Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry) and collegians. Grgurich's workouts attracted the likes of Boston's Paul Pierce, New Orleans' Baron Davis and Portland's Rasheed Wallace.
How wild was the offseason? Player movement was brisk and the coaching carousel was even more circus-like, as confirmed by this bit of trivia: Atlanta's Terry Stotts, who had to wait most of the summer to find out he'd be landing a two-year deal to keep coaching the Hawks, now has the second-longest tenure among Central Division coaches. Crazy but true. Chicago's Bill Cartwright, about to start just his second full season, is No. 1 in Central seniority because the division's other six teams all have new coaches: Cleveland (Paul Silas), Detroit (Larry Brown). Indiana (Rick Carlisle), Milwaukee (Terry Porter), New Orleans (Tim Floyd) and Toronto (Kevin O'Neill).
5dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann