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Updated: April 14th, 2010 10:48pm
Wolves' rebuilding operation needs a cornerstone

Wolves' rebuilding operation needs a cornerstone

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- The carnage came to an end the only appropriate way, with the Minnesota Timberwolves blowing a 16-point lead in a 103-98 loss to fellow bottom-dweller Detroit on Wednesday night at Target Center.

Players said they didn't know about the record -- the few who stuck around long enough for reporters to ask about it anyway -- but they knew it was bad.

Fifteen wins. Sixty-seven losses. Tied for the worst mark in the Timberwolves' lousy-more-than-not history.

They lost their last seven. They lost 23 of their last 24. They won exactly two games after a blind-squirrel four-game win streak ended Feb. 9 in Philadelphia.

"It's never a good feeling to lose," guard Corey Brewer said. "We've been losing all season, so it's been a lot of bad feelings."

The last time things were this bad?

That was in 1991-92, when Jimmy Rodgers' soapsuds hair was floating on the sideline and the Wolves' brainless trust had just sunk consecutive top-seven draft picks into Felton Spencer and Luc Longley -- two centers who went on to a career average of 12.4 points per game. Combined.

Those missteps ushered in the "Trader" Jack McCloskey era, featuring win totals of 19, 20 and 21 before the T-Wolves traded McCloskey for Kevin McHale in 1995. And it was only then that lightning struck and settled in the bottle atop McHale's otherwise undistinguished GM desk in the form of Kevin Garnett.

Even in Garnett's first season, things were different. By his second, the T-Wolves were a playoff team (albeit one that went 40-42 and got swept in the first round). By 2004, Garnett was an MVP and the Wolves were two wins shy of the NBA Finals.

Sure, the last two years of the KG Era were forgettable, but at least the team was occasionally competitive. In three seasons since Garnett's departure, the Wolves have lost more than three out of every four games they've played.

"Turnovers, miscues on defense, easy layups -- things of that nature was (because) we weren't together for a long time," forward Ryan Gomes said. "I think teams that become very successful have been together for two, three, four years and then you could see the clicking, you could see the continuity and the things that they know each other."

Since taking over McHale's old post in May, General Manager David Kahn has shown he's not afraid to deal. And deal. And deal again.

The Wolves signed D-league center Greg Stiemsma on Wednesday in part because they might need one more warm body with the right salary to toss into a trade this summer.

Kahn is a convincing salesman when it comes to his long-range plan, and even the players in his locker room -- the same players he's made clear could all, to a man, be chips in this high-stakes rebuilding game -- were speaking optimistically after their final confounding defeat on Wednesday.

But this situation isn't just about finding a couple of missing pieces. There is no centerpiece -- not a single line on a young roster someone can point to and definitively say, "There's the future."

Say what you will about Ricky Rubio, but to date he's played zero NBA games and might never play one in a Wolves uniform. Who would leave home and a comfortable salary a year too soon to be the highest-profile clown in the current circus?

Not to demean the process Kahn and coach Kurt Rambis are going through, but three first-round picks and $12 million in cap space isn't a guarantee next year will be a whole lot better for a team Kahn openly has said may still be two or three years from playoff contention.

"We'll be in constant communication over the summer," Rambis said before Thursday's game, "but so much of it depends on how lucky we get when the lottery comes out and all of our other draft picks and then free agency comes about and ..."

Rambis didn't finish the sentence, and he didn't have to. The operative word in that run-on was "lucky."

Kahn can plan and deal and scheme and deal again, but none of it will matter if he doesn't find that one future superstar who is both willing and able to lift a franchise from its nadir.

The Wolves need to catch lightning again.

They need KG II.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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