P.J.R.: Gaborik and a look at failed greatness in Minnesota
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The Los Angeles Kings made a deadline deal with Columbus to acquire Marian Gaborik. The arrival of the 32-year-old forward has had as much to do with the Kings' upset run to the Stanley Cup finals as any element.
Gaborik has 12 goals in the first three rounds of the playoffs, including the tying goal with 7 minutes left in regulation of Game 7 vs. the Blackhawks on Sunday night.
Gaborik's return to the spotlight caused me to ask this question of my colleagues, Cory Roufs and Chris Reuvers, on Monday afternoon:
"In this generation of Twin Cities pro athletes, meaning the past 20 years, does Gaborik rate at the top of the list when it comes to giving us strong indications of greatness and then failing to achieve it?''
I wasn't talking about a player like David Ortiz, who was allowed to leave Minnesota and then became a fabulous hitter. Ortiz only showed potential in his time with the Twins ... not an actual run of greatness.
A name that came to mind was Stephon Marbury with the Timberwolves, but I don't think Steph fit the criteria, either. Marbury was only three weeks past his 22nd birthday when the Wolves decided they had no choice but to trade him before he became a free agent.
Marbury did achieve something very close to NBA greatness, only it did not occur in Minnesota.
A similar scenario is being played out now with Kevin Love and the Wolves. He has shown us greatness in Minnesota more clearly than did Marbury, and that level of play will continue elsewhere.
Again, that's not the criteria I was attempting to describe with Gaborik. I'm not talking about players who were tremendous here, left as free agents or in trades, and remained tremendous ... not talking about Torii Hunter or Al Jefferson.
I'm talking about players of recent times with Minnesota's big four sports franchises showing us a glimpse of greatness, and never had it come to fruition, here or elsewhere.
Don't bother to offer up Joe Mauer as your example. His decline is precipitous at age 31, but the greatness we saw early already has been achieved, with three batting titles and an MVP award.
What we saw from Gaborik as a 21-year-old, leading the drive to the Western Conference finals in 2003 and the anticipation that he would rank among the NHL elite ... did that ever happen?
He was very close from 2005 to 2008 with 110 goals in 190 games over three seasons for the Wild. He did score 40-plus goals in two of his three seasons with the Rangers.
But great, as we imagined the kid from Trencin, Slovakia would be, as we're seeing in a glimpse once again in these playoffs? Nope.
That's why Gaborik stands No. 2 on my list of failed greatness among Minnesota athletes of this generation.
The blue ribbon in this category, sadly, goes to Daunte Culpepper, the fleet, huge, accurate quarterback who I often stated would be the one to lead the Vikings to a Super Bowl victory.
Culpepper gave us periods of greatness through is first four seasons as the regular (2000-2003). In 2004, he gave us one of the best seasons ever for a quarterback. He gave us bona fide greatness for 16 games, and in a playoff upset in Lambeau Field.
And then, it all came apart in the disastrous autumn of 2005 ... and soon Daunte was gone, from a star at age 28 to a desperate journeyman by age 30.
My Twins' nominee for this category - greatness offered but not achieved - is Cristian Guzman. To repeat, don't give me an Ortiz, or a Carlos Gomez, because we didn't see greatness from them ... only potential.
With Guzman, as a 23-year-old All-Star shortstop in 2001, we saw actual greatness. He batted .302 with 52 extra-base hits (including 14 triples and 10 home runs) while playing 118 games.
Tom Kelly told me this winter if Guzman did not get hurt right after the All-Star Game that as the then-manager he feels the Twins would have won the AL Central in 2001. Instead, they finished six games behind Cleveland.
Rather than continuing his upward arc, "Guzzy'' slowly went backwards after that All-Star season. He should have replaced Zoilo Versalles and/or Greg Gagne at shortstop for those of us who like to name all-time Twins teams periodically. It didn't work out that way.
The other nominee with the Twins would be Francisco Liriano. We saw more than greatness for a few weeks in that rookie season of 2006 ... we saw a phenom. Tommy John surgery changed the future for Frankie, and maybe the franchise's postseason fate in the several tries that followed.
As for the Timberwolves, did we see from greatness from Wally Szczerbiak? I don't think so, even if he was a 24-year-old All-Star in 2002, his third season, when he averaged 18.7 points and shot 45.5 percent on threes.
How about Christian Laettner? Wolves fans remember him now as a pain and poor consolation prize for Shaq and Zo as the No. 3 pick in the 1992 draft. He did average 18.2 points and 8.7 rebounds as a rookie, and he rated much higher for greatness potential at that time than would Love as a rookie in 2008-09.
So, here's my top handful for failed greatness for this generation:
1-Culpepper. 2-Gaborik. 3-Guzman. 4-Liriano. 5-Laettner.
(Note: Percy Harvin has a chance to gain a prominent position on a list such as this. We'll see what happens this season in Seattle).
--PATRICK JAMES REUSSE