Ricky Davis or Steve Francis?
New helpers for KG, Pierce
They chose Davis.
Knowing it needed a shakeup after a 12-6 start was followed by a 9-15 nosedive -- and finally prepared to break up the Kevin Garnett-Wally Szczerbiak combo after 6½ solid but contentious seasons together -- Minnesota decided that it had to move quickly to pair a more athletic scorer with Garnett.
The Wolves could have packaged Szczerbiak with defensive specialist Trenton Hassell to put Orlando's Francis alongside KG, but Davis comes at a much more reasonable price ... along with a center (Mark Blount) whom Minnesota was already chasing.
Surely you recall our recent assertion that no player at Garnett's elite level needs a scoring sidekick more than KG does. He's averaging just 16 shots a game, after all. He's essentially the Wolves' point guard and can deal with a doubles partner who puts his head down sometimes. What scouts say fits best next to KG is a create-his-own-shot scorer who can capitalize on Garnett's passing vision, willingness to share and ability to dominate the game everywhere else. The one thing KG lacks, remember, is a Kobe mode. He's not going to rip off a succession of 40-point games to carry a roster of journeymen.
So with the versatile Davis available again after Kevin McHale tried for years to get him, and with some of the Wolves' recent body language suggesting that the Garnett-Szczerbiak union was teetering anew, Minnesota expanded its recent Michael Olowokandi-for-Blount talks into something bolder.
From the Celtics' side, it's some tangible proof that they're still intent on building around Paul Pierce -- as they keep insisting -- as opposed to shopping Pierce. It's also confirmation that the Celtics, who team sources say had Pierce's blessing to chase Artest, were determined to do something splashy if they couldn't win the Ron-Ron derby.
Szczerbiak carries the most onerous contract in the deal, owed nearly $38 million over three seasons after this one, but he's shooting the ball as well as he ever has. Since Dec. 1, Szczerbiak is averaging a healthy 23.0 points per game after averaging just 14.8 points in November.
Put a marksman of Wally's class in a mix with Pierce and Boston's three promising youngsters (Delonte West and power players Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins) and McHale's buddy Danny Ainge just might have the start of something.
Emphasis on start, but a little something nonetheless.
Minnesota? The Wolves are starting over in their attempts to infuse the lonely Garnett with some hope, and this is just a first step.
But a good one, I'd say. Olowokandi-for-Blount, on its own, didn't offer any hope. A package of Blount and Davis is better, especially if Davis accepts his spot in the pecking order behind Garnett. Davis chafed in a secondary role behind a rookie-year LeBron James in Cleveland but did better meshing with Pierce. KG's presence is one reason I (and others) thought Artest actually made sense in Minny and you can say the same about Davis and KG.
Yet you can probably expect an adjustment period, because Garnett is famously averse to change. For all his clashes with "World," as he called Wally, chances are he'll need some time to get over the shock of playing without him.
You can likewise expect the Wolves to keep looking for upgrades, hard as they'll be to find after they parted with their Szczerbiak and Olowokandi trade chips, because getting to the playoffs will still be a struggle. Minnesota's guard play and bench remain suspect.
So it's up to Davis, for starters, to play so well that the Wolves don't come to wish that they gambled on the riskier Francis instead.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
Now hear this: Wally Szczerbiak, who was averaging a career-best 20.1 points per game in his seventh year in Minnesota, will no longer get comfortable for the Timberwolves' postgame show. He's now Paul Pierce's right-hand man.
Atma Brother #1 (Golden State Warriors BLOG): Please tell Warriors Nation we're not headed to the lottery.... AGAIN!
I know Mullin feels that they both have a lot of upside, but at some time you have to decide that your franchise is going to more than a farm team ... you have to actually win. Artest was a great fit for that team and I think Mullin overvalued his young guys. In two or three years, they may look back and Diogu and Pietrus will be great players. But, another two years of missing the playoffs and Mullin may not have a job.
Miller Might Grab Sixth Man Award
Ron Artest seemed to accept some blame for the way things ended in Indy ...
Artest: "I'm Different"
Celtics forward Ricky Davis changed his usual cornrows for the full afro look on Dec. 30. Now, he'll have a new look in a Timberwolves uniform.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
How will Ron Artest fit in with the Kings? Here's what Pacers president Donnie Walsh told ESPN Insider Chad Ford:
"I think Ronnie will be great for them. They're a much better team with Ronnie on it. I think he'll love Sacramento; it's kind of Indy West. . . . It's just when the team is losing, Ronnie starts feeling pressure, and he loses it. They're going to have to be prepared for it."
Jermaine O'Neal is expected to miss eight weeks or more with a tear in his left groin. But over the last two seasons, the Pacers have managed to post a better record without O'Neal in the starting lineup (27-22) than they have in games that he has started (38-36).
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The news of Raptors GM Rob Babcock's firing came as a surprise, but not a shock, to Rod Thorn, the man partly responsible for his colleague's demise.
"To have been a part of it, even in an ancillary way, I'm not happy with that," Thorn said via cell phone Thursday from Portland about an hour after the Toronto Raptors pulled the plug on their general manager. "He's a good guy, he has a lot of experience in the league and I'm sorry that it happened."
Plenty of poor decisions contributed to Babcock's demise, but none stood out anywhere near as much as the Vince Carter fleecing.
Babcock got only a pittance for one of the league's few superstars, accepting Eric Williams, Aaron Williams, Alonzo Mourning and a pair of No. 1 draft picks from the Nets. A little-known fact that makes the decision look even worse: Babcock decided not to pull out of the trade a day later, as was the Raptors' right, when it became clear that Mourning would refuse to report to Toronto. The team ended up giving Mourning a $10 million buyout, a decision that benefited no one but Mourning and made the trade even worse, by several degrees, than it already was.